As all my fellow writers know, being an author means being a self-employed entrepreneur. It’s a wonderful thing to work for yourself. To have no one to answer to but you, to create your own schedule, determine your own tasks and objectives, and to work your own hours. But critically, being a self-employed entrepreneur means that no one is there to push you but you. No one is going to be on your behind if that chapter doesn’t get written. No one is going to be breathing down your neck if you don’t get that next blog post out. No one is going to come looking for you if you don’t reach out for media and publicity opportunities. It’s all on you.
The productivity journey that I’ve been on for the past year or so has been motivated by this lack of oversight from outside parties. I am well aware that my performance evaluation is given by my readers who do or do not buy my books, and who like, dislike and leave comments about my work. So being my own cheerleader, whip cracker and business coach is something I take seriously. I have established a pretty good groove now, I think, but it didn’t come easy. In fact, there was a lot of trial and error in finding the tools and systems that are effective for me in the quest to work smarter, work more efficiently, work longer and generally be more productive.
I talked about using these tools and systems at a high level in my last post, 4 Strategies I Use to Avoid Wasting Time Searching for “The Next Big Productivity Hack.” In this post, I’m going into more detail about what my favourite ones are, and how I use them.
This powerful productivity, note-taking and organization app that you’ve probably already heard of (and maybe even use yourself) is amazing for keeping track of just about every area of my life. I use it heavily for my writing business, and also for my personal affairs… since the two often intersect and influence one another. I have spent the past few months building a dashboard that works for me, customizing it, adding my preferred aesthetic features, and tweaking it as I go along. My Notion dashboard includes:
- a content planner table—where I generate blog post ideas, schedule them, expand on them, and draft them
- morning admin and daily habits trackers—checklist pages to ensure that I’m not falling behind on daily administrative tasks, and to help maintain habits that make my days easier so I can focus on writing
- a media outreach tracker—where I keep pertinent information on who I’ve been in contract with about media and promotional opportunities.
And there’s so much more. I’ve got a brain dump page, a grocery list, a book list, a notes page (for keeping notes on the books I read), a Christmas gift idea page, a projects page, a home renovation wish list, a life admin page… as I said, Notion keeps my entire life organized.
In conjunction with Notion, I use a paper planner system. I can’t always be referring to Notion as I’m working on computer files and documents, but I can have my paper planner open on my desk to keep my daily plan top of mind. In my paper planner I have a catch-all calendar, with all of the appointments, events and deadlines I have in a given month. There is also my content calendar, which mirrors my Notion content calendar to a degree, but which gives me a more visual representation and also outlines my social media posts. And I have a health and wellness calendar where I track what kind of physical exercise I’m doing each day.
Where my paper planner differs from my Notion dashboard is in the planning. In my paper planner, I outline my plan for the day, and for the week, that breaks down how I am going to achieve my goals. If my goal is to write one complete chapter that week, my paper planner divides the steps I need to hit in order to make that happen—what days I am going to draft, what days I’m going to edit, and so on. For those of you familiar with the 12 Week Year (which I am currently reading), my paper planner is where I do the in-depth planning portion of the process.
This Christmas, Santa brought me an Apple Pencil. You see, when it comes to writing, I do my first drafts by hand. I find that doing so slows my brain down significantly, which results in a better quality of writing than if I were to type my first draft into Word. The problem with this method, however, is that I then have to spend extra time typing out that first handwritten draft, which used to eat at least a day (if not two) and resulted in sore, numb wrists and much frustration. With the Apple Pencil and an app called Good Notes, I can write my first draft by hand onto my iPad, and the “convert to text” feature turns my written draft into text. It’s not the perfect system, obviously. Not all of my chicken-scratch is recognized by the program as actual English, and it doesn’t convert into the format that a processor uses (specifically, paragraphs don’t go all the way across the page and wrap to the next line). The Apple Pencil /Good Notes combination does, however, save quite a bit of time getting that first handwritten draft down into digital format, which means I’m able to shorten the amount of time it takes me to write each chapter. It was a great investment… er gift (thanks, Santa!), and I’m absolutely loving it!
Believe it or not, my days aren’t all idyllic and filled with lazy, dreamy writing, or super-productive crushing of manuscript after manuscript, lol. Outside of work I’m a mom—a hockey mom at that. I’m picking up the groceries, waiting in the car for my son to finish school, and spending endless hours at the ice rink as he referees the younger ages, or plays his own games or is at practice. Or I’m at the dog park with my social butterfly of a dog, with nothing to do as tails are wagged, bums are sniffed, and balls are chased. All that endless time needs to be filled somehow, and so I’ve got apps on my phone that will allow me to continue working during what would otherwise be unproductive “down time.” (At this point, please note that I’m talking about down time where my brain is firing on all cylinders and I’m stifled by circumstance, not down time that is necessary to rest and recharge.)
For example, I’ve got the Notion app on my phone, and at a recent hockey tournament while I spent the dreaded half hour wait at the rink before the game (#iykyk), I used that time to hammer out a bunch of paragraphs for this very blog post. There are even times where I’m lucky enough to find a quite moment and a quiet corner to use the talk-to-text feature on my phone so that I can speak first drafts of my blog posts into my phone. I’ve got my Kindle app to do my reading, Canva to work on graphics, Hootsuite to schedule social media posts, and Google Drive to work on ideas for my next chapter, or even my next book. These moments of down time are never long, but they definitely help me knock the little things off my to-do list and make small amounts of progress with the nooks and crannies of my day. After all, absolutely everything is progress.
What about you, friends? Do you have any tools or systems you use to help keep you productive? I’d love to hear them, and about how they work for you!
Haha, that’s always the way, isn’t it? 🙂