Friday, April 17, 2009

The Frenemy of Productivity

It's getting harder to be alone these days. Even when it's just you, your computer, and your best intentions about getting some writing done, there's that constant distraction niggling away at your concentration like a friendly, funny neighbor in the next cubicle.

The distraction: The Internet.

How can you be productive when you've got an arm's length of bookmarked websites and blogs that you must visit every day? Among my must-visits: several literary agents (even though they all rejected my current Great American Novel); my daughter's blog,; The New York Times, Slate Magazine, Freelance Writing Jobs, and the Official Site of the New York Yankees.

Then, of course, there's all that research that absolutely must be done before starting on that first or second or third draft. Followed by yet another check of my email account to see if I've received any critical new messages since the last time I checked seven minutes ago. Thank goodness I don't Twitter... although I do follow my daughter's Tweets.

The Internet is an incredible resource for writers. But let's face it: It can also be a tremendous drain on productivity. How to deal with this friendly enemy? Here are a couple of strategies.

Identify your #1 motivator. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of that motivator throughout the day. I've found it helps to keep pictures of my daughter and son highly visible, reminding me that if I don't get some billable hours in, they won't eat, get an education, respect me or, later, visit me in the assisted living facility they've already picked out for me.

Break your day into time chunks. I divide my day into three major time frames:
1. Non-billable. I get up early, so I devote an hour or two to non-billable writing. I like to use this time for fiction or poetry writing.
2. Billable. This is an eight-hour chunk of time devoted to writing on paying projects--or searching for additional projects. I also divide the eight-hour chunk into sub-chunks, depending on the number of projects I'm working on at any one time. For example, if I've got four active projects, I work on all four--each during a two-hour chunk. Assuming I haven't over-committed on deadlines, this prevents me from falling too far behind on any single project.
3. Non-billable. I reserve a chunk at the end of the day for whatever creative stuff I was working on in the morning, or new projects. This chunk may also be used to follow up on leads, research new opportunities, or tackle some of the more prosaic aspects of being a freelancer--such as writing checks or sending out invoices (!!!!).

Manage the chunks ruthlessly. Time management requires, above all else, discipline. Don't allow your non-billiable chunks to flow into your billable chunks. Remember that you've set aside two chunks for your creative output. To make money in this business, you've got to guard your billable time/writing zealously.

Stay off the Internet. I read an article somewhere that described a writer who kept two computers: One for fiction writing, the other for nonfiction. The fiction computer was not Internet-enabled. This helped him avoid the delicious but time-eating distractions the Web offers. You may not be able to have two different computers, but the lesson is a valuable one: When you're supposed to be writing, don't surf. Write.

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