If you are pursuing a dream, what is the single piece of advice everyone gives? Do it every day. And you wish you could, because doing That Thing makes you feel accomplished, valuable, and happy…. But life isn’t cut and dry, and we all have unreliable schedules and a lack of free time.
Below, I’ve outlined a few tips for increasing your productivity in writing or other pursuits… while also improving your self-esteem. These worked for me, and if geared to your lifestyle, I’m sure they can work for you too!
Step One: Break It Down
According to this famous Reddit post, the key to success is to stop having “Zero Days” – that is, days where you accomplish nothing at all. Even doing a teensy weensy task toward your future is enough to square you for the day. Author Anne Lamott calls these “short assignments.” So begin by making a general list of assignments which would determine a “Nonzero Day.”
Of course, our lives are very segmented – so start with main categories. For example, a writer who is also a parent might have a list of categories like this:
- Be a Good Parent
- Work on Author Website
- Work on Book
From there, the categories can be broken down further. For example:
Parenting: Homework Help, Have a Sit-Down Meal, One-on-One Time
Website: Write Blog Post, Format Site, Network on Other Blogs
Book: Write, Upload to Wattpad, Outline Sequel, Make Starter Cover
Bit by bit, break down your tasks into categories. This will help you feel less overwhelmed; seeing “the trees through the forest” will make your dreams feel less insurmountable.
Finally, throw in a few other minor, but important things… like exercising and cleaning. You should always give yourself credit for them – even if you consider them to be only “the basics.”
Then make a list of all the things you’d like to see yourself doing in a day – including main categories and minor tasks. Below is my list (the bolded words are my main categories):
- Post to Twitter or Blog
- Network on Twitter and WordPress
- Work on a Book task
- Work on a Branding task
- Work on a Business task
- Clean one thing
Now decide which of these things would make a Zero Day into a Nonzero Day. For me, it would be performing any one thing under a main category. Don’t make it too hard on yourself!
Step Two: Make It Tactile
Now that you have a list of things that will decide whether or not you have a Zero Day (and again, make sure you’re easy on yourself), we have to make this list a physical reality. Print it off where you can see it – and then hang the list beside a Productivity Board. This can be a bulletin board, a wall of sticky-notes, a calendar, or my personal favorite, a marker board… whichever works best for you. Below is mine:
As you can see, you have to break down your Productivity Board into categories that work for you. In my board, I broke it down into check-marks (for Nonzero Days),”W”s (for taking walks), and small hash-marks for waking up within two snooze alarms (this is very hard for me). And the magnets (uh-oh!) mark my Zero Days… with a note as to what my last Zero Day was.
You’ll notice that the list is interactive. This is absolutely essential. You must have to perform a physical act to declare you have done a Nonzero-Day… because it will make you feel good to mark them off, and to look at the filled board.
If this looks too complex for you, check out Mark Rafidi‘s productivity board of sticky-notes:
Remember, use what works best for you… as long as it is tactile, you’ll be golden!
Step Three: Reward Yourself
Often, people resort to beating themselves up rather than commending themselves. This helps no one. Therefore, you must use your Productivity Board to reward yourself. Each check-mark or torn-off sticky-note should come with a further reward, even something small.
For example, a very, very busy friend of mine rewards herself with “an hour of relaxation time” or, even better, with “tasty treats” and This last reward has the added bonus of helping her to eat better:
You’ll notice, too, that my board has a dollar amount in the corner. When the board is filled, I give myself fifty cents for each W, check, and hash-mark… which becomes a budget I can allow myself to use on buying books. This not only helps me become a better author via reading, but also contributes to the industry I one day hope to make a living in. My reward is thus a further Nonzero Day factor in my productivity… and something I’ll enjoy deeply.
And remember – never punish yourself for having Zero Days. Punishment has been proven to be ineffective in changing behavior. It will be enough just to see them staring at you from your Productivity Board… driving you (we hope!) to see a lot less of them over time.
Step Four: Keep a Record
This one is small and optional, but imperative if you are one of those masochistic people who can never feel good about themselves because “What have I even really accomplished this past year? Nothing!” (even though this isn’t true).
The problem for authors and entrepreneurial spirits like us is that the things we accomplish can be hard to quantify… so I created this little baby:
It’s a small paper strip which I fill out every day, and file away in a box. I will write anything I’ve accomplished that day… how many words I wrote, if I also went to a wedding, if I merely networked on Twitter and exercised, whatever. It’s all work.
Just writing my accomplishments down daily staves off depression – and if you get in a slump later, you can look through the old notes and see just how many things you’d gotten done the past month or year.
Again, this will be different for everyone. You could add it to your journal entry, or keep a running daily word count at the bottom of your WIP… whatever works for you!
Step Five: Get A Buddy
This one is as simple as setting an alarm on your phone to tell you every Sunday to “Text Jeremy and ask what he got done this week,” in which text you can also tell Jeremy what you did this week (make sure Jeremy agrees to all this). This will cost you almost no time or brainpower, but will turn Jeremy into your own personal cheerleader, and you into his. And who doesn’t need a personal cheerleader?
Even better, if you have children, you can create a similar Productivity Board for them… for homework, chores, an allowance, etc… and you can champion each other along the way!