The Productivity System for Writers

It was going to be different this time.


This time I was going to read the entire book, build the system, and stick with it.

I picked up my copy of Getting Things Done, managed to slog my way through the entire manuscript, set up my system of inboxes, check-ins, lists, etc and practiced it religiously for…

Less than a week.

Can you relate to this?

Over the years, I’ve tried all the things. I’m read tons of time management books, implemented the Checklist Manifesto, signed up for the software…

And it all, always quickly fell apart.

Typical productivity systems do not work for writers.

Especially writers who also have to do stuff like marketing, hold down a real job, etc.

There are a few reasons for this.

1. We need space, not widgets and todos

Most productivity systems are focused on breaking big projects, into smaller tasks, into specific todos.

But that’s now how writing works.

It’s not about organizing every moment of every day to get the most stuff done.

We have to create space in our days that is specifically dedicated to not doing anything except for being creative.

If we over-organize our days, it will kill our creativity.

2. We need freedom, not constraints

If you require us to show up every Friday to do a 30-minute inbox clearing, it’s never going to happen. In fact, many of us will not do it simply because we don’t want the constraint of having to do it. #rebel

A productivity system for writers must not fail if we neglect it for a period of time. If we don’t organize or check-in for a few days (or weeks) it needs to give us that freedom to pick up where we left off.

3. We need to address emotions, not rely on logic

Much of the reason our writing doesn’t get done is because of fear. Or what Steven Pressfield coined in his book The War of Art, Resistance.

You can’t todo list fear. You can’t inbox fear. You can’t app your way out of fear.

If you are going to have a productivity system for writers, it must address fear and other emotions that come up when facing the blank page.

Too many productivity systems rely on cold, hard logic to get things done, and writing doesn’t work that way.

4. We need simplicity, not complexity

If it takes 352 pages to explain your system, it’s not going to work.

Hell, if it takes more than a dozen pages, it’s probably too complicated.

Again, this isn’t about over-organizing a million things we have to get done. It’s about creating a life that helps us get our writing done.

That’s it.

So what does this look like?

First, what are we solving for?

What is the Goal for a Writer Productivity System?

Too many times we start with this vague, “I need to get more stuff done” goal, but we don’t really know what that will look like.

Here is the question we should be asking:

How do you organize a creative life that allows you to produce and ship great work while staying sane, sober, free?

Every writing productivity question should be focused on answering this question.

Over the last 11+ years of trying out all the things, I ended up developing a system that works very well across personality types and helps writers make real progress.

5 Steps to the Perfect Writer Productivity System

Here are the five steps, in order, that every writer needs to go through.

1. Remove the Unessential

Where are the areas in your life that you are wasting time with no benefit? How do we remove this stuff so that it leaves more room for your writing?

2. Systematize and Automate the Essential

Even if we cut out some of the Netflix binging and Instagram scrolling, there is still a lot of stuff in our life that is essential but still isn’t our writing. We have to pay bills, care for our family, eat dinner, etc.

How do we make sure this stuff takes less time and mental energy?

3. Overcome Fear

We all tell ourselves that if we had more time we’d get so much more writing done. But then, if we figure out how to give ourselves more time, usually we don’t actually get more writing done.

Because the first thing that fills that new writing space isn’t writing, it’s fear.

We have to deal with the fear.

4. Do the Work

Once we get a handle on fear, we need a plan for how we are going to get the writing done. When is it going to happen? How much are we going to write each day? How do we know we “did it” today?

5. Ship the Work

Finally, it’s not just about writing our words, it’s about putting our work out into the world. This is where many writers get stuck.

We have to have a plan of how our writing starts making it out to actual readers.

How can you build this system for yourself?

Spend some time thinking through how you can tackle each of these five steps.

Building a system to ensure you get your writing done is as important as the writing itself!

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