I don’t believe in miracles or luck. I believe in hard graft, grit, a ton of sweat and the 70,000 words of baking time needed to make a book.
So until I either win the lottery or publish and sell enough books I can replace my salary, I’m pretty sure I will live in a constant state of unhinged mania and excessive perspiration.
It also means I constantly seek out new ways to make myself as productive as possible. ‘Efficiency’ is my middle name… mostly, when I’m not, you know, procrastinating in the time swallowing beast that is social media.
Now book 1 is done, released in the big scary world, I thought the burning desire to publish books would wither, or at least simmer down momentarily. But instead, I pressed published and it was like throwing uranium on my already lit book-flamethrower.
The knowledge that I can do it, has only fuelled my insatiable need to do it. In a way, I guess I’m a fifteen-year-old book-boy who just had his first shag and now he can’t get enough of getting his leg over the publish button.
But that provides me with a problem. I don’t have any more time in my day. I’ve given up everything, including my poor neglected wife. Which means I need to find a way to be more productive. I need to find a way to write faster or achieve that euphoric state of ‘flow’ quicker.
I’ve just read a book that blew my mind. And I want to share some of the things I’ve learned about time, productivity and output.
I get asked a lot how I get so much done. Mostly, I shrug moan it’s not enough and ask them how I can be more productive. To date, I’ve received strangled looks and wrinkled noses.
“Umm, just, you know… like write faster. Or don’t watch TV?”
I gave up TV two years ago. So for the longest time, I’ve continued in my perpetually frustrated vein, producing whatever I could, and looking rather ragged.
That was until I read DEEP WORK, by Cal Newport.
If you haven’t read it and you’re even remotely pushed for time, get that bad boy in your life. FAST.
See, one little quote explained exactly how I felt about productivity and time.
“They see productivity as a scientific problem to systematically solve-“ Cal Newport, DEEP WORK p.39.
My brain literally exploded into a trillion mind boggled, epiphany-gasmed pieces.
YES. YES. FUCK YES.
So how do you solve it? Well, you have to read the book, obviously. I’m not going to tell you everything, he’s an author after all.
But here are some principles.
TIP 1 – NOTIFICATIONS
Cal Newport hates social media. Actually, perhaps that’s not fair, he doesn’t hate it. He just never created an account. Oh, how I wish that were me. But it’s not, and in some ways, it’s pretty darned useful as an author platform building tool.
However, I don’t think anyone will disagree with me when I say that social media is the crack of the 21st century. It’s as addictive as heroin and about as useful to productivity as a coma.
Now, try not to choke, but this is about to get uncomfortable, it might even hurt…
Switch your notifications on your phones, iPads, and laptops OFF. Cut the sodding ethernet cord and LIVE YOUR LIFE.
I know. I know. BUT THE TWEETY-LIKEY-STATUSY-UPDATES…
Hate to break it to you, but no one cares that you ate left over lasagne for dinner for the 8th night in a row. Miss a few comments? Take 3 hours to reply to someone’s like? SO FREAKING WHAT.
Get over it. Really. It’s okay. If you don’t respond to my comment, you know what? I probably won’t even notice.
In an act of sheer desperation, I’d actually switched off my social media notifications the week before I read Cal’s book. You know what happened?
No one noticed, no one cared, and I got back a good hour or two of my life EVERYDAY. I’ll admit, It was horrific at first. I did check my phone incessantly, then, after a few days, I just stopped. My phone battery lasted all day and I still responded to people and no one died. My phone didn’t have a stream of alerts telling me about the consistency and frequency of the world and his dog’s latest toilet visits. I felt better, clearer even and my eyes were no longer flashing to my phone every three seconds and I concentrated. HARD.
Best of all, instead of a blog post taking three hours, it took one.
TIP 2 – SOCIAL MEDIA BREAKS
Go one hour with no social media. Then stretch it to three. Then a whole evening. You’d be surprised how easy it actually is. Remember those people that inhabit your house? Go. Speak to them.
Now repeat 7x a week.
TIP 3 – ATTENTION, PRESENCE & FOCUS
I’m terrible at being present. Mostly because of the constant multi-tasking and ‘loudness’ of my mind. But Newport says attention and focus is the prime way in which you can achieve more. He’s right of course, but I won’t give away all his secrets. Read the book. But one new thing I am doing because of him is scheduling all my time to help with my attention.
TIP 4 – SCHEDULING
I know, it sounds crazy bureaucratic, and more inefficient than productive. But it’s not. Just read the sodding book and you’ll understand the psychology of it.
The point is. Work time, going forward will be ‘internet free’. I’ve been trying this for the longest time, and it worked to an extent. But I like to research as I write. And you know where that leads to… A cheeky notification or 800 pops up as soon as I flick the internet back on and 43 minutes later I return to my neglected manuscript.
The art of scheduling means every minute of your day is blocked.
But fear not this is not a minute-by-minute schedule. It’s blocks of time.
So, I have ‘morning routine’ ‘8 hrs of work’ ‘3 hours of mum-time’ and then at 7pm the real scheduling begins. Going forward 7pm – 9pm will be internet free. NO excuses, no infractions, period.
Two solid hours, of distraction free writing time.
9pm-12pm is split in half, between blog stuff and marketing.
Now, the only problem is my need to story-research. I’ll do more before I write. But if I’m desperate, then according to Newport, you delay the ‘research’ for a short block of time, this stops the addictive gratification of notifications. 5 minutes is all that’s needed, you put place holder text in, and write on. If you find that you end up back in the flow, stick to your original writing schedule. If you need the research, then take the break after the 5-minute delay is over.
Tip 5- THE FALL OF MULTITASKING
I used to think multitasking was awesome. It’s rare that I’m wrong. But I was well and truly wrong on this one.
“People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted. They initiate much larger parts of their brain that are irrelevant to the task at hand… they’re pretty much mental wrecks.” Cal Newport, DEEP WORK p.158
That was me.
As soon as I read that, I took a shotgun to multitasking and blew it’s fucking brains out.
Multitasking is dead. Long Live King FOCUS.
One more lesson. One of the only things I actually did do prior to reading his book…
“One of the chief things which my typical man has to learn is that the mental faculties are capable of continuous hard activity; they do not tire like an arm or a leg. All they want is change – not rest, except in sleep.” Cal Newport, DEEP WORK p.214
YES.YES. FUCK YES.
Attention. Focus. Distraction Free Writing Time. And Task Changing When Tired.
I am all kinds of hot and bothered about DEEP WORK, I’m still fanning myself with its productive pages. It’s truly been an eye opener and I feel more productive just having read it, let a lone implementing his techniques.
If you want to get more done with your time, you need to read this book.
Do you see productivity as a problem to be solved? What’s your most effective productivity tip? Let me know in the comments.
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