How To Stop Procrastinating: 5 Productivity Tips For Writers

How To Stop Procrastinating: 5 Productivity Tips For Writers

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How can I be a more productive writer? How can I make the most of my limited time so I can finish my book this year?” 

And I get why this is such a common question… Thanks to social media, emails, text messages, and the millions of other notifications we receive on our smartphones daily, it’s no wonder we have a hard time focusing! 

But it’s not just smartphones to blame…

Many authors can only write in limited pockets of time. They have day jobs that keep them busy, families that they want to spend time with, and other hobbies or obligations that just result in a jam-packed day. Not every author is lucky enough to make writing their full-time job—and some don’t even want to. 

Plus, there’s that whole thing about being distracted by shiny objects. You know what I’m talking about here… One minute, you’re working on your novel, and the next minute, you’re looking at a YouTube video all about how to groom your golden retriever… 

So this begs the question: Are we doomed to deal with chronic procrastination and unproductivity forever? Or can we hack our productivity and start making more progress with our creative work? 

Luckily, I’m here to tell you that there are some mindful habits that you can EASILY implement into your daily routine to dramatically improve your focus, productivity, and even your overall quality of life...

And, in today’s blog, I’m going to share with you the 5 things I do every single day to breeze through my to-do lists and produce my best-quality work—even when I’m feeling super unmotivated to get work done. 

But before we dive into the specifics, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what productivity is and why it’s important.


What Is Productivity & Why Does It Matter? 

Many of the authors I work with associate productivity with how much they can check off their to-do lists. But the truth is, checking off items on your to-do list is not what productivity is all about.

True productivity is more about how productive you feel you are AND how accomplished you feel at the end of each day.

And that is very subjective—it’s all related to your individual goals and expectations. 

For example, you spend an entire day brainstorming different ideas for your novel. On the surface, it might not seem like you accomplished much that day (because how do you show that you’ve brainstormed?), but you’ve actually done quite a lot of important work! 

I’m a firm believer that there’s a time and place for everything in work. A time for brainstorming, a time for planning, a time for writing, and a time for review.  

Life is about balance, and that is true when it comes to your writing, too. Not every day will be a “writing day,” and that’s okay! Learn to recognize the value of brainstorming, planning, and revising days, too! 

So, with that in mind, here are my top 5 productivity tips…

Tip #1. Time Block Your Day 

The key to maximizing your productivity is to figure out when you work best—and then time block your day accordingly.

Are you an early bird who gets their best work done in the morning? Do you get an afternoon rush of energy and creativity? Or are you more of a night owl?

Here’s something I wish I had known earlier: there’s no “right” answer!

I time block my days like this: I set aside time to be creative, time to handle admin tasks and projects, and time for meetings.

I do my best work in the evening or at night, so that’s when I dedicate my time to being creative or doing bigger projects. So, this is typically when I get the most writing, content creation for the podcast, and client work done.

I schedule most of my meetings for the first few hours of my day. In the afternoon, when I’m in a very “left-brain” state, I’ll do administrative tasks, respond to emails or social media comments, or edit podcast episodes.

Now, it’s really important to note that everyone has a different creative time, so experiment with your workflow and notice when you’re at your creative best. Then schedule everything else AROUND that. If writing a novel is on your to-do list this year, then protect your creative time fiercely!

Tip #2. Be Mindful Of Your Mornings

You need to make sure that you’re starting each and every working day with the right state of mind. Which is easier said than done when you consider the stress and chaos that most of us encounter during our morning routines.  

Maybe you were up all night with a screaming baby, or maybe your dog threw up all over the carpet at 5 am… Maybe you’re going through some personal stuff or got a mean text or email or maybe the first thing you saw this morning was a mean email or text message… There’s always something, right?

These things can sabotage your productivity for the day before you even start working. And although they’re not necessarily avoidable, you can be mindful of how much stuff you let in first thing in the morning.

For me personally, I like to remove as many distractions as possible in the morning. I put my phone on Do Not Disturb, which is such a simple thing, but it makes a huge difference in my ability to have a great morning.

Then, I go to the kitchen, make myself a cup of coffee, feed the dogs… I spend about 30-45 minutes sipping my coffee or watching the dogs sniff around the yard, or doing whatever it is that I feel like doing. I like to ease into my mornings so my baseline for the day is slow, steady, and mindful, not rushed or stressed.

Easing into the day like this allows me to regulate my nervous system, calm down from anything hectic or stressful during the morning, and focus my energy on the work ahead of me. Even if all you have is 5 minutes, I highly recommend taking the time to think about how you could give yourself an easier start to your day. Trust me, it makes all the difference in how you show up for your work or your writing.

Tip #3. Prioritize Your Most Important Tasks

Many of the authors I work with spend too much time working on the wrong things. And what I mean by this is they tackle the process of writing a book a little haphazardly just because they don’t know any better. 

And no judgment because I used to be in this camp, too. 

Sometimes I would successfully carve out the time to work on my novel, but I would end up using that time to work on tasks that didn’t really move the needle in terms of actually making progress on my novel, but they made me feel busy and productive. 

For example, I would download a character questionnaire to get to know my protagonist. Or I would spend way too much time writing the opening of my first chapter because I knew how important that opening chapter was. Or I would research. Or mess around with an outline but get super lost in the weeds. 

Fast forward to months and months later, I still hadn’t made any significant progress on my novel, even though I felt like I was *so* hard.

Eventually, I realized that there’s a big difference between being busy and being productive. And that I was spending time on the things that weren’t actually moving the needle in terms of finishing my novel. 

Now, I know many of you listening can relate. Many of the writers I work with in my Notes to Novel course feel the exact same way or have similar stories. 

The reason I think we do this is because the things that *do* actually move the needle in terms of getting you to the end of your draft usually feel challenging and require us to do a lot of deep thinking. They’re also the things that will *absolutely* ask us to move out of our comfort zones—and as humans, we don’t like that very much.

The tip here is to map out your most important tasks. This will help you prioritize what you actually need to get done on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  

Every Sunday, I look through my calendar and to-do list, prioritize the most important tasks that I can realistically complete within that week's time, and assign days and times to accomplish each task. 

Personally, I like to separate my daily tasks by the 1-3-5 rule. That means 1 big task, like editing a client’s manuscript or recording a podcast episode, 3 medium tasks which could be reviewing a client or student’s scene or recording a podcast episode, and 5 small tasks which would be as simple as responding to an email that’s been sitting in my inbox for awhile or scheduling a call with someone. If I was working on my novel, this might look a little different, but hopefully, you get the idea.  

The cool thing about this is that there’s no right answer for what equates a big task, a medium task, or a small task. Some of the writers I work with might call writing a scene a medium task, while others would call that their one big task for the week. So there’s no right answer; just make sure you’re being realistic with yourself and your schedule.

Now, speaking of being realistic with yourself and your schedule, it’s important to think about when you’re the most naturally productive during the day. For example, if you’re a morning person, you might start your day with the big (or most difficult) tasks, then work your way through the medium tasks, ending the day with the small tasks.

If you wait until later to do the hardest thing—and if your most productive time is in the morning—your creativity and energy may already be depleted. So, not only will it be more difficult for you to focus on the task, but it will take longer, too. 

Personally, I’m more of a night owl, so I don’t really do my best work in the morning. Because of that, I like to start with smaller tasks and work up to the bigger ones. This helps ensure my creativity and energy are at their peak when I need them most. 

Again, it’s going to be different for everyone. Sometimes, life gets in the way of our plans, so just try to be as realistic as you can.

Tip #4. Work On One Thing At A Time

Multitasking might seem like an efficient way to get more things done, but studies show that multitasking can decrease your productivity by 40%!

Why? Constantly switching from one task to another is stressful on the brain, resulting in less efficient focus and lower quality work overall.

Many writers multitask without even knowing it. For example, a writer might try to work on two stories at the same time. Sometimes this works—if you’re outlining one story and editing another, that’s usually manageable because you’re using the creative and analytical sides of your brain equally. But if you’re trying to outline one book while writing another, you’re taxing the creative part of your brain twice.

Another way this manifests is when writers try to write and edit a book at the same time—whether that be an entire manuscript, one scene, or just one page. Writing and editing a book are two different tasks, and it can be detrimental to your progress to try to do both at the same time. This is why I recommend writing to ‘The End’ of something (an outline or a first draft) before going back to edit. 

So, I want to highlight these examples because multitasking looks different than we sometimes realize.

Now, let’s say you have multiple things you need to get done in one day, which I know is most of us. This is where your list of most important tasks comes in handy. 

Learning to properly prioritize the work involved in writing a novel is one of the most important things any writer can do.

Focusing on the big picture elements of your story—like plot, character, genre, setting, and theme—and then moving into the granular details—like word choice or any of the smaller details—will cut down the time it takes to finish your draft. 

If you need help with this, grab a copy of my FREE Starter Kit here. This workbook will help you flesh out the five foundational elements of a solid story idea (and, more importantly, avoid getting too lost in the weeds!).

And if you really want to move quickly through the drafting process, you can use one of my favorite tips, which I call “details TK.” For example, if your characters are going to visit a bakery downtown but you don’t know what it’s called, you can simply write Bakery TK. I’m using the letters T & K because they don’t naturally occur next to each other in any word in the English language, so it’s really easy to find instances of TK throughout your manuscript when it’s time to edit.

This little trick has been a total game-changer for me. And I know a lot of my students love it as well. So, give it a try and see how it goes for you.  

The last thing I’ll share with you is that it’s okay not to enjoy every single part of the writing, editing, or publishing process. That doesn’t make you a “bad” writer; it’s natural. If you’re like me, what you like and don’t like probably changes every day.

So, anyway, if you find yourself dreading something specific or if you feel the procrastination gremlin starting to creep up, shift gears and do something you enjoy doing. Start your day with a task that you enjoy the most first. This will kickstart your momentum and help you get things done.

Tip #5. Try The Pomodoro Technique 

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It uses a timer to break down the total amount of time spent working into smaller intervals with breaks in between—typically, 25 minutes of work with 5-minute breaks in between. 

This technique works because it makes a big task much less daunting. For many writers, the thought of sitting down to write an entire scene or chapter feels overwhelming. And when you’re in this headspace, it’s easy to put off tasks for weeks and weeks (sometimes, months even!).

But when you approach your project or task with the mindset of, “I just need to work on it for 25 minutes,” it becomes much less overwhelming, and you’re much less likely to procrastinate!  

But here’s the important part…

The key to this method is actually taking the scheduled breaks. 

And yes, this means standing up, doing some stretches, leaving your desk, maybe grabbing a snack or some tea… It does not mean checking emails or working on another writing project. You need to give your brain (and body) downtime to avoid burnout, and that’s exactly what these breaks will help you do. 

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule… Every writer knows the magical feeling of reaching a kind of flow state with their work. And when you’re in that flow state, the last thing you want to do is break it and risk losing it, right? 

So, when this happens to me—if my 25-minute timer goes off, but I’m in the middle of a flow state—I will keep working instead of taking a break, but then I’ll make sure to take a longer 15-30 minute break once I feel my flow state start to dissipate. 

Want to try the Pomodoro Technique? You can set your own timer or use one of the many free Pomodoro timers online to get started.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it—my top 5 productivity tips to get more done in less time, overcome procrastination, and become a master at time management so you can finish your book and have the writing life of your dreams. 

Now, I should mention that developing more productive habits isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. It’s something you have to consistently work on and put effort into so that you can create new habits. 

If it feels like too much to implement all five of these tips, just pick one to start with! 

Give one of these tips a try this week to see if it helps increase your productivity. Over time, you can add more new habits to your routine as you learn more about what works and what doesn’t. Soon enough, you’ll be a more efficient and productive writer!

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →