One thing I miss about being a 21-year-old writer is the really lazy way I approached work. I crawled into bed with my heavy-ass laptop (they were so heavy back in the day) and just sat under the covers writing what I assumed was a brilliant novel. Now, your girl is all about productive writing, and I do that with time blocking and task batching.
It’s not that I don’t want to be cuddled up in bed. It’s just that I’m old and now ergonomics matter.
And if I’m being honest, I used to make myself a whole pot of coffee at 8 PM, and then drink the whole damn thing while I wrote well into the night. But now, if i have caffeine after 2 PM, I can’t sleep at all.
Part of my productive writing strategy back in the day was me just playing with my brain chemicals in the only way I knew how. Which is to say, I procrastinated because that’s how I tended to get things done. So, drinking a full pot of coffee the night before something was due was just how I wrote.
God. That adrenaline rush…and impending crash.
I don’t do that anymore.
Also, I learned to plan ahead and how to take care of myself so I felt better and could be more productive. Honestly, all those things did way more for my productive writing habits than time blocking and task batching, but those are just things that kind of have to be done on your own, and no advice from a blog can get you there.
So, now that I have some distance from where I used to be as a writer curled up in bed and hyped up on caffeine, I know that there’s a better way. And after you’ve done the hard work of learning how your brain works and what you need to be successful, productive writing can be as simple as time blocking and task batching.
What is Productive Writing?
There is no one-size-fits-all definition of productive writing. And depending on where you are in your writing journey and what you need from your writing, it’s going to be different for everyone.
I will say that we can all probably agree that writing isn’t productive when you’re super distracted or struggling to keep up with the workload. So, I’ve created a little list of things that productive writing is and isn’t.
001: Productive writing is getting shit done.
Notice I didn’t put an amount or a time limit on this. Not everyone works at the same pace, and not everyone needs to. Also, a productive day as a blogger is waaaaaay different than a productive day as a novelist. And both of those are waaaaaay different than a productive day as a freelance feature writer.
So, with that, I would like to say that productive writing is getting shit done.
It may be that you get a certain amount done in a week. Or you get a certain amount of words on the page every day. It’s up to you, really. But I think we can all agree that productive writing gets you closer to being done with whatever that writing project is.
This means that productive writing can also include brainstorming or outlining or vision boarding or researching or like, whatever the hell it needs to.
Productive writing is doing the things you need to do to finish whatever you’re working on.
002: Productive writing is not burning out.
Ah yes, burn out. That ol’ chestnut.
The thing about being productive is that it’s more a state of mind than a checkbox. So you have to think about how what you’re doing in the moment will impact how you work in the upcoming moments.
Productive writing has to be a pace that you can keep. It has to allow you down time to recharge, and for the love of cheese, it can’t burn you out so bad that you don’t write again for a super long time. (This is why I don’t do the whole pot of coffee in bed the night before a due date thing anymore.)
Being productive as a writer means that you need to create habits and routines that enable you to keep being productive in the long run.
And one of the ways I’ve found I can do that is by time blocking and task batching.
Does Time Blocking and Task Batching Really Work?
It definitely can. I mean, that’s why I’m writing about it and recommending it. Of course there are downsides. But that’s the case for everything.
Before we get too much further, let’s define time blocking and task batching.
Time blocking is breaking up your day into units of time, and then scheduling each of your units of time for a specific thing. Task batching is where you do one specific thing and get it all done before moving onto the next thing.
So, what does this look like?
For me, I tend to block off my day in hour-long chunks. That’s a good amount of time to get something done. I never schedule calls or meetings in the mornings, so I usually have 4 hours in the morning to play with, and a few hours in the afternoon, depending on how many calls I have that day.
When it comes to task batching, it looks pretty simple. If I’m writing, that’s all I’m doing. So, I’ll fill up a few time blocks with writing tasks. Or maybe I need to do some outlining. I’ll fill up some time blocks just with outlining. But regardless of what I’m doing, I do just that one thing. That means I can get in the groove, and get more done. So I may take a morning and write 3 blog posts. Then, in the afternoon, I can use some time blocks to batch the editing of those posts, or to add links or whatever.
I mentioned this in my post on how to write fast, but when I’m writing, I’m writing. When I’m editing, I’m editing. And I like to do one thing at a time to keep me moving forward. It works for me.
Here’s why time blocking and task batching work.
For me, this is a really productive writing time management trick. It keeps me focused on one thing at a time, and I keep to the schedule so I don’t burn out.
It also works because I’m in charge of my schedule. I can do work where I have time to do it, and that makes it easier for me to get stuff done.
And I can also put my time blocks in places that make the most sense for me. So, I use my mornings for writing. I can get all the words out early on, and the rest of the day is easier by comparison. This really lets me create a schedule that works for how my brain works.
Here’s why time blocking and task batching may not work.
Admittedly, this strategy hasn’t always worked for me.
When I was teaching, I had to fit things in where I could. That meant that I may have only been able to write during a half-hour break between classes. And I wasn’t in control of my schedule.
So, sometimes I had a whole semester of just night classes. And other semesters, I had all morning classes. It really sucked to be one of the last ones to pick their class schedule, But I made it work.
But that often meant that I wasn’t writing at times that were good for my brain. So if I was writing in the afternoons, it was harder for me to stay focused because I’m a morning person, and I couldn’t get as much done in a time block in the afternoon as I can in the morning.
And at the end of the day, a lot of my time blocks were taken over by other stuff, like meeting with students or grading papers. So, as a teacher, I couldn’t rely on this system for productivity. At least, not during the semester.
And even now, there are seasons where I’m just busy and can’t schedule my work that way. And some mornings, try as I might, there are inexplicably 3 Zoom calls on my calendar before noon.
Other times, I may want to focus on writing, but there’s a looming deadline. So, even though I’d like to write for a few hours, I need to switch into editing mode to hit a deadline.
So it all comes down to how your days and deadlines are structured. Which brings me to my next point.
Productive Writing Means Doing What You Gotta Do.
Sometimes you get a whole-ass day to work on your writing. Sometimes you get 30 minutes.
I want to caution everyone against the idea that you can optimize your whole work life. Maybe you can, but you probably can’t.
At the end of the day, we’re all the mercy of the deadline schedule. So, sometimes, there’s space to time block and task batch. But other times, there’s not because you have to fit the work in where you can, and you have to do what needs to get done even if it doesn’t fit into a task batch.
Sometimes being productive means that you have to do the thing that needs to be done.
But if you can work ahead or find the wiggle room in your schedule to optimize at least one aspect of your writing, it can be a game changer.