Are you being productive or busy?

Are you being productive or busy? If you’re a writer it can be hard to tell sometimes. When people tell me that they’ve been writing for hours, but have very little real outcomes at the end of it, I always think of that well known quote – although in the way that the internet does, no one seems to know who to attribute it to Benjamin Franklin, Ernest Hemingway or Frank From The Pub.

“Never confuse movement with action.”

For creative writers, this something a lot of us can understand. How many times have you sat at the computer (or notepad) and thought yourself really busy, when in fact all you’ve been doing is trying to decide what Spotify playlist to listen to. I’ve done it hundreds of times, usually when tired, or if I just ‘don’t feel like writing today.’ Instead, I end up doing nothing in particular, bouncing from project to project, or procastinating by checking Facebook/Twitter/anything else. You can quite easily spend a long time looking at Amazon, deciding what TV show to watch when you’re finished, or doodling in the margins. Before you know it, it’s time for bed, or tea, or work. You just wasted those precious writing minutes when you should be taking action!

You see people every day telling you how busy they are. There’s always a new project, or a new business idea, or new story. Take a second to look at their work though – what is there actual output? The most busy people I know never actually produce anything.

So I implore you right now, take action! Push the thoughts of nothingness away, know the difference between productive or busy and start to eliminate the factors that stop you from working to your potential.

Rant over. Sorry. You’re here to improve your productivity, not read my ramblings and call to arms. So let’s do that.

1. Plan out your time

I know, you don’t like that. You’re a free spirit and don’t need to be pinned into a corner. You’re also wondering how you while watching 3 hours of Brooklyn 99 on Netflix and moved so little the cat fell asleep on you. So take a diary, or a day planner, or an calendar app, and put – WRITE MY STORY – in for a half hour block.

There’s something about that type of order that clicks people’s brains on, and before you know it, you’ll be writing properly.

2. Know what you’re working on

Make that difficult decision before you start. What story are you working on today? Notice the singular. It’s nigh on impossible to put your efforts into multiple projects at one time, especially if you have a deadline. You’ll spend so long bouncing back and forth between ideas and stories that nothing will get done. That is the opposite of being productive.

3. Give yourself a target

What do you want to achieve with that writing session? How do you know what taking action when writing means to you? Do you want to finish a scene, or a chapter? Get 500 words down or 5,000. Don’t ask me to put together a plan for you, people that tell you what you should be writing will just make you feel bad.

For example, on this blog, I can knock together a post in about 45 minutes, before edit. On my allotment blog, it takes me about 20 minutes, because I’m writing more from experience and telling a story. When I’m script writing, dialogue heavy scenes can fly past in a page every 5 minutes. Others can take 20 minutes.

Do you get it? It doesn’t matter what your target it, as long as you have one.

4. Understand why you feel busy

Busy people. They’re everywhere. If I asked you how you were and you told me ‘busy’ I’d ask why? It might be that the kids are wanting their dinner cooked, or you’re trying to write before you get ready for a big business meeting. There’s always an underlying reason that is making you feel unprepared and stressed out.

Find that thing and recognise it. Plan some time for it. Use tip number 2. “OK, the kids might need feeding, but it’s not their dinner time just yet so they can wait until I’ve finished.” Or even “it’ll take me ten minutes to get ready for this meeting now, so if I do that first I can concentrate on my story. No one cares if my suit’s a little more wrinkled anyway.”

It’s about getting rid of the busy feeling. But like an addict, before you can treat it, you have to understand it.

5. Productive or busy? Check your progress

You can do all of the above, and nothing can happen. The word count won’t increase, the hero won’t have saved the day, and the romance on the page won’t have flourished. If that happens, that’s OK. But recognise it. Recognise what happened to stop you getting anything down on paper, and take steps to ensure next time it won’t happen and you’ll be able to make sure you’re able to tell when you’re being productive or busy.

Did you get loads down? Did tips 1-4 bear fruit? Then WRITE THAT DOWN! So often we concentrate on the 1 hour we did nothing, feeling guilty for something, rather than the 4 hours we worked really hard and saw a result.

As always, I’d love to hear what you think of the tips above. Did they help you make sure you were taking action when writing? Are there any more you’d like to share with my readers? Let me know in the comments below.