I am a writer. I write slowly.
This is a problem, because I am a writer.
About a year ago, I tracked my productivity and learned that I write on average 500 words per hour. Most professional writers produce at least twice that amount.
So in order to make better progress on my books, my natural inclination was to “time manage” my writing. I could make a list of all the things I needed to write. I could prioritise them and make sure I was spending time writing a book each day. I minimised distractions and said “no” more often. I tried to “find” more hours in each day, each week, and each month. I even outsourced some of the research.
All of that helped to a degree.
But then I noticed that writing came easily around 8 in the morning. My three kids off to school, I’m feeling fresh, and coffee is kicking in. I checked, and my average words-per-hour in the morning was about 750 to 1,000. But then I checked my productivity in the afternoon—getting a little tired and already thinking about the nightly activities—I discovered that my productivity was about 250 words per hour. Yes, my overall average was 500 words, but the same chunk of time, 60 minutes, produced dramatically different results based on how I felt in the moment.
Here are two tips I’ve picked up that have made a major difference in my productivity. Instead of time management, I prefer to call this “energy management.”
Everyone’s trying to find more energy. It’s one reason why caffeinated beverages are among the most popular in the world. But in reality, your temporary increase in energy is a trade-off; for example, a caffeine boost is followed by a period of slow and steady decline.
The key is to effectively use the energy you already have. Here are two simple tips to help you do that:
1. Identify your most productive time of the day.
In the experience I related above, the answer to getting more done wasn’t to work more hours. I simply needed to identify which hours were the most productive, and then focus on my “most important thing” in this high-output window.
Johnny B. Truant feels the same. Truant’s a co-host of the top-ratedSelf-Publishing Podcast, coauthor of Write. Publish. Repeat: The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success, and the author of over 2.5 million words of popular fiction. In an interview for my book, he told me:
“I have to know when I’m at my best for my most important work (morning, for writing fiction), when I tend to slack off (after meetings or podcasts), and when I can get by with relatively mindless work (afternoons). It’s not about getting maximal amounts done; it’s about ideally matching my capacities versus my occasional need to screw around with what needs to be done at what time.”
Lesson: Identify when you work best, and focus on these high-level activities during your “maximum productivity window.” Save easier tasks–like checking and responding to email–for after lunch or during other times where your energy levels will be lower.