Our Favorite Tools for Writers

Long gone are the days when being a writer only involved some paper and a pen. Being a writer isn’t easy, but the process of writing can be – wit the right tools. Now more than ever, writers have a wide range of tools at their disposal to help them write, edit, plan, focus, collaborate, and publish whenever and wherever. Whether you’re a writer, author, blogger, researcher, freelancer, or all the above, the right tools can make all the difference in honing your craft and producing your best writing.

Writers Tools

Long gone are the days when being a writer only involved some paper and a pen.  Being a writer isn’t easy, but the process of writing can be – with the right tools. Now more than ever, writers have a wide range of tools at their disposal to help them write, edit, plan, focus, collaborate, and publish whenever and wherever. Whether you’re a writer, author, blogger, researcher, freelancer, or all the above, the right tools can make all the difference in honing your craft and producing your best writing.

Here are a few of our favorite tools for writers:

 

COFFITIVITY – for creativity + concentration

For many freelancers and remote workers, the light buzz of a coffee shop can help create the perfect work environment. This makes sense, as research has shown that a small amount of ambient noise can help foster creativity. However, the struggle of finding a seat, outlet, and a coffee shop with just the right amount of activity can be tricky. That’s where Coffitivity comes in. Coffitivity allows you to choose from a selection ambient of coffee shop sounds without the hassle of the coffee shop. So choose your noise and get creative.

 

PROWRITING AID – for editing

Being a better writer has never been easier with Prowriting Aid.  This editing tool improves your writing immediately by allowing you to:

  • edit faster with thousands of automatic style suggestions as you write,
  • fix style issues by checking your writing for vague wording, repetitiveness, passive voice, convoluted sentence structure, and more,
  • eliminate spelling and grammar errors
  • find the perfect word using the advanced thesaurus tool
  • and gives you the opportunity to learn more about language as you write.

 

WRITING PROMPTS – for inspiration + practice

Everyone experiences writer’s block at some point. Whether you’re looking for new inspiration or simply improving your craft with practice, finding the writing prompts that inspire and spark ideas can be essential to breaking through your writing slump. Here are a few resouces for writing prompts:

 

BRAIN.FM – for a productive brain

Brain.fm is an AI music composer that uses music’s ability to influence your cognitive state. Brain.fm’s music can be used for focus, relaxation, or sleep and has been proven to improve productivity and your ability to focus.

 

POMODORO TECHNIQUE + TIMER  –  for time management

Created by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro method was created to maximize one’s focus and productivity by breaking projects into small, manageable chunks of time. The idea is to work for 25 minutes and then reward yourself with a small 5-minute break, repeat the cycle four times and then take a longer break. The Pomodoro Technique helps to manage your time, minimize burnout, eliminate distraction, and create a better work-life balance. To try it out, consider using the online Tomato-Timer.

 

SCRIBOPHILE –  for collaboration

Scribophile is an online writing community that allows you to share, edit, get feedback, collaborate with other writers, and improve your writing.

 

EVERNOTE – for organization + research

Evernote is a platform designed for note-taking, organizing, and archiving all of your thoughts and ideas. The application allows users to store text, photos, web pages, links, or voice memo, while allowing you to access and search content from all your devices.

 

FREEDOM – for distraction-free work

Of course, we’re a little biased. But when it comes to writing – especially when you’re working out of office – it’s easy to get distracted. Digital distractions are everywhere, and whether your attention and time are stolen from tweets or research rabbit holes, it’s easy to lose countless hours to digital distractions. Freedom is a platform that blocks distracting websites and apps across all your devices. You can even schedule recurring blocks to help make productivity a habit and give yourself the ‘freedom’ to do what matters most.

 

What tools do you find essential to your writing process? Let us know in the comments below! 

Adam Alter: Irresistible Technology

Meet Adam Alter. Alter is a psychology and marketing professor at the University of New York and a New York Time’s best-selling. His academic research focuses on judgment and decision-making, as well as social psychology – with a focus on how subtle cues in our environment shape our behaviors and thinking. His most recent work, Irresistible (2017), examines the troubling modern phenomena of behavioral addictions, especially in regard to many of our digital technologies, such as Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, Fitbit, and email.

 

Adam Alter Irresistible Technology.jpgMeet Adam Alter. Alter is a psychology and marketing professor at the University of New York and a New York Times best-selling author. His academic research focuses on judgment and decision-making, as well as social psychology – with a focus on how subtle cues in our environment shape our behaviors and thinking. His most recent work, Irresistible (2017), examines the troubling modern phenomena of behavioral addictions, especially in regard to many of our digital technologies, such as Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, Fitbit, and email.

Alter not only examines the trends of our digital behaviors, but also shines a light on programmers and developers use of practices and methods that intentionally keep us hooked.

With this in mind, we sat down with him this week to find out more about our behavioral addictions to our devices, as well as what we can do to fight back.


First off, what is behavioral addiction and how does it relate to our digital devices?

Behavioral addiction arises when you do something over and over again–compulsively–that feels good in the short-term but has negative effects on at least one aspect of your well-being in the long-term (e.g., your social life, relationships, physical and psychological health, financial well-being). It’s a lot like drug use or smoking or alcoholism–except that it involves experiences and behaviors that don’t involve the ingestion of a substance. Digital devices are responsible for a massive and sudden rise in behavioral addiction rates–by some estimates, half of us now suffer from at least one behavioral addiction.

 

What are some examples of digital features or experiences that create or drive behavioral addiction?

The major driver is unpredictable feedback–will my post attract likes, shares, comments, and so on? Will I have an email the next time I check my account? This uncertainty–as we see with gambling and lotteries–is very appealing to humans. We return to an experience over and over again if it promises the possibility of positive feedback even as it threatens to deliver negative feedback (having a post ignored or finding that your email inbox is empty or filled with unwanted mail, for example).

 

Is it as simple as staying away from Facebook, Twitter, games?  How do we participate in their potential benefits yet avoid addiction?

You can try to escape addictive tech, but that isn’t a long-term solution.

It’s too great a part of our lives, and you need tech to function at work, to travel, to communicate, and so on. The best thing to do is to draw a bright line between the tech-connected part of your day, and the rest of the day when you’ll engage with other people, face to face, spend time in natural environments, and so on.

 

Who is really in control here?  If we have to exert a ton of willpower to not become addicted to our devices, are we in control anymore?

We are in control, to some extent, but our willpower is limited, and eventually, as humans, we’ll all fail in the face of temptation. We have the choice to opt out, but it’s difficult to do that in the modern world. As a result, the designers of these forms of tech are in control, because they produce the experiences that we find so hard to resist.

 

What are some signs that we need to put our devices down?  And do you have any tips for managing device time for students or professionals, who struggle with needing to be online – but not waste time?

The best thing we can do is to spend some part of every day as far away from tech as possible. Decide that you won’t use screens from, say, 5-8pm every day. Remove all push notifications from devices so that you, rather than the device, decide when to engage. You’ll know if you need to put down your device by asking whether it’s coming between you and other people; whether it’s pushing you to spend too much money on apps and in-game purchases; whether it’s getting in the way of your health, your ability to work efficiently, and your psychological health.

 

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To learn more about Adam Alter, his research, or books – click here.

 

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang: Digital Distraction and Rest

Leisure and sleep need as much protection from digital devices as our ability to focus

We usually think of our digital devices and lives distracting us from work, or capturing our attention when we should be concentrating on other things. For critics of digital culture, checking social media at work, or texting while driving, are go-to examples of how technology takes over our lives.

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Leisure and sleep need as much protection from digital devices as our ability to focus

We usually think of our digital devices and lives distracting us from work, or capturing our attention when we should be concentrating on other things. For critics of digital culture, constantly checking social media at work, or texting while driving, are go-to examples of how technology takes over our lives.

Of course, it’s true that this kind of digital distraction is problematic and when you’re behind the wheel of a car, downright dangerous. The accountant who handed out the wrong envelope at the Oscars appears to have been distracted by a Tweet. Even some airplane and helicopter crashes have been attributed to device-driven distraction; but as people who’ve walked into fountains or off piers have shown, such mishaps can happen even without vehicles.

But a recent survey by Freedom, the makers of the eponymous Internet-blocking software, highlights another problem with digital distraction. 491 people answered the question, “How hard is it to stay away from your phone at night?” 61% of respondents confessed that it was a challenge: 32% said it was “very hard,” and 29% described it as merely “hard.” (Only 12% claimed that staying away from their phones was “easy.”)

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The result illustrates that digital distraction isn’t just a problem when people are working or trying to focus; it can be an obstacle to resting well, too.

We don’t pay a lot of attention to rest or think of it as something that we can actually get better at. We live in a culture that treats overwork as a badge of honor, sees rest as a kind of weakness, and assumes that long hours and burnout is the price of success.

But as I explain in my book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, a century of research has shown that chronic overwork is terrible for both people and organizations. Science also makes clear that breaks, vacations, and strong work-life boundaries make people better workers. Finally, recent work in neuroscience and psychology shows that apparently unproductive leisure activities (like long walks after hard bouts of work) play a secret role in the lives of some of history’s most creative and prolific people. As I explain, very creative people often set aside plenty of time for what psychologists call “mind-wandering,” a state in which you’re not concentrating on anything in particular, but giving your mind the freedom to explore on its own. (While they sound similar, psychologists have found that there’s a big difference between distraction and mind-wandering.)

What many future Nobel laureates, bestselling authors, and important painters discover is that during those periods of mind-wandering, their creative subconscious will often generate insights and solutions to problems that have eluded their conscious efforts to solve. In other words, what first looks like wasted time is actually very valuable — indeed, valuable enough for them to make practices that support mind-wandering an integral part of their daily routines. And devices get in the way of rest, and ultimately mind-wandering and creativity.

The Freedom survey highlights one reason — they’re hard to put down. But there are others.

We systematically underestimate how much time we interact with our devices. In late 2015, research psychologists at the University of Lancaster installed a smartphone app that precisely measured how much time they spent on interacting with their phones, then compared that figure to the amount of time users estimated they spent. They found that users greatly underestimated the number of times they checked their phones, and the total amount of time they spent interacting with their devices. Most interactions consisted of short, on-and-off bursts lasting a few seconds or a minute, making them easy to underestimate. Users also tended to assume they would just quickly check one thing, but then got diverted or drawn into a conversation or video. As lead author Sally Andrews said, “The fact that we use our phones twice as many times as we think we do indicates that a lot of smartphone use seems to be habitual, automatic behaviors that we have no awareness of.”

That habit of reaching for devices whenever things get a bit dull, or reacting to boredom by checking our mail, makes it harder for us to mind-wander and learn how to practice deliberate rest. When your mind is accustomed to perpetual stimulus, to a constant stream of surfing, scrolling and jumping between tabs and windows and apps (or acquires “the bad habit of mildly enjoying and completely forgetting an infinite series of disconnected ideas,” as psychologist Graham Wallas put it), it’s harder for your mind to be still and unfocus. Those dopamine hits are hard to give up.

Finally, of course, there are only 24 hours in a day. The more time we spend online, the less time we may have to ourselves. The more time we spend seeing what others are doing, the less time we have for our own thoughts.

So how do we deal with this? As I explain in my previous book The Distraction Addiction, one way is to practice something called “contemplative computing.” The basic premise of contemplative computing is that while we can’t — and indeed shouldn’t — abandon digital devices, we can learn to be thoughtful about how we use them, more aware of how they try to use us and develop habits and practices that put us back in control.

This won’t just improve our working lives, or our productivity. It’ll improve our capacity to rest well, too. And resting well improves our work-life balance, our ability to detach from work, and even our creativity. Reclaiming our free time from digital distraction, it turns out, is just as important as restoring our ability to focus on the job.


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This week’s post is brought to you by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Pang has a Ph.D. in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania, and is currently living in Silicon Valley. He studies people, technology, and the worlds they form. To learn more about Pang or his books, visit his website here.

It’s Time for a Mid-Week Productivity Boost

At Freedom we are lucky to have many of our users write about their experience. From tweets to published articles – the Freedom community is buzzing with productivity strategy, advice, and experiments for a more focused, fulfilled life.

This week’s articles focus on tackling major productivity pain points – including procrastination, focus, digital addictions, and sluggish mornings.

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At Freedom we are lucky to have many of our users write about their experience. From tweets to published articles – the Freedom community is buzzing with productivity strategy, advice, and experiments for a more focused, fulfilled life.

This week’s articles focus on tackling major productivity pain points – including procrastination, focus, digital addictions, and sluggish mornings.


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THE BEST APPS AND PRODUCTS TO BREAK YOUR PROCRASTINATION HABIT | Allison Fox

Digital distraction is everywhere – stealing away your attention and time, while also helping you procrastinate the things that matter most. Although we now have a much better understanding of procrastination, many of us are still guilty of doing it fairly regularly. Luckily, this article has got you covered with a roundup of the best products and apps to help you fight off procrastination and get your work done.

 

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SUBTLE AND INSIDIOUS, TECHNOLOGY IS DESIGNED TO ADDICT US | Adam Alter

Thirty years ago, smoking and tanning salons were widely accepted innovations – that is until their carcinogenic and health risks were fully known. In 30 years, what products or practices will we think previous generations crazy for using? If psychologist and marketing professor Adam Alter is correct, it’s our widespread acceptance of addictive technology. Alter argues that much of the tech we use daily is designed to hold our attention for as long as possible, and to keep us coming back for more – a practice that Alter argues is unethical and should be stopped. To read more, click the link above!

 

 

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CONNECTIVITY EXPECTATION | Barry Carter

In a world where being connected and logged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week is the norm, many of us have become dependent on our digital connectedness. We expect answers to our emails within 24 hours, replies to our texts within minutes, and responses on chat within seconds – and when we have to wait longer, we get anxious. As author Barry Carter reminds us, it’s important to be aware of these trends and how our behaviors have molded to our rapidly changing digital world. To learn more about how he’s dealing with connectivity expectation and dependance, click the link above.

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YOUR ABILITY TO FOCUS HAS PEAKED – HERE’S HOW TO STAY SHARP | Nir Eyal + Chelsea Robertson

Researchers have now discovered that our attention is made up of two separate processes: our ability to focus and our ability to block distraction. Contrary to what was previously thought, these two processes are almost entirely independent of each other, yet both are needed equally in order to have focused attention. As we age, we retain our ability to focus, but lose our ability to suppress distraction. Read on to find out how you can improve both your ability to focus, as well as ignore pesky distractions.

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MOOD-BOOSTING MORNING ROUTINES WE BORROWED FROM TOP ENTREPRENEURS |  Bridget de Maine

Mornings are usually not everyone’s favorite time of the day, but they can be the most productive. Not a morning person? Well, according to behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely, the first two hours after waking are in fact your two most productive hours. Too often we waste these crucial hours browsing social media or feeling tired and sluggish. Fortunately, with the right routine, bad mornings can be a thing of the past. Read more to learn about how these successful entrepreneurs start their day the right way.

Cal Newport: On Value and Digital Minimalism

The Complexities of Simple

The core idea of digital minimalism is to be more intentional about technology in your life. Digital minimalists carefully curate these technologies to best support things they value.

The idea sounds simple when presented at the high-level, but in practice it dissolves into complexities.

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The Complexities of Simple

The core idea of digital minimalism is to be more intentional about technology in your life. Digital minimalists carefully curate these technologies to best support things they value.

The idea sounds simple when presented at the high-level, but in practice it dissolves into complexities. One such complexity, which I want to explore here, is the notion of “value.”

Revaluing Value

Measuring whether a given digital tool provides “value” to your life can be a fruitless exercise — the term is simply too vague, and applies to too many things, for it to support hard decisions about what can lay claim to your time and attention. (Everything you use probably offers you some value; why else would you use it?)

With this issue in mind, I’ve sometimes found it helpful to introduce more variation into what I mean by “value” when assessing tools. Consider, for example, the following three different types of benefits a digital technology can provide:

  • Core Value. A technology offers you core value if it significantly impacts a part of your life that you couldn’t do without — a strand of activity twined around your definition of a life well-lived. For example, a soldier deployed overseas using FaceTime to chat with her family is deriving core value from this tool.
  • Minor Value. A technology offers you minor value if it provides some moderate positive benefits in the moment. For example, browsing a comedian’s Twitter feed for a laugh, or playing a round of Candy Crush for the distraction.
  • Invented Value. A technology offers you invented value if it solves a problem that you didn’t know existed before the tool came along. A Snapchat user, for example, might note that it’s the most convenient app for keeping friends posted on what you’re up to throughout the day (it doesn’t even require typing!). But this same user, in an age before SnapChat, probably didn’t even know he wanted constant updates from his friends — the app created the behavior that it optimizes.

The rationale for injecting nuance into your definitions of value is that it allows you to inject nuance into your strategies for curating your digital life: you can treat tools differently depending on the value they provide.

Here, for example, is a sample curation strategy built around the above categories:

Actively seek out and enthusiastically embrace technologies that provide core value. Be selective about technologies that provide you minor value and place boundaries around how and when you use them. Avoid technologies that can only provide you invented value (your life is too important to be a gadget in some random start-up’s growth plan).

The above strategy is not definitive — it’s just an example. But it underscores the larger observation that figuring out which digital technologies brings value to your life is an effort aided by reflection on what exactly you mean by “value.”


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This week’s guest post was brought to you by productivity expert Cal Newport. Cal Newport is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University. In addition to studying the theoretical foundations of our digital age, Newport also writes about the impact of these technologies on the world of work.

We recently sat down with Cal to ask him everything from career advice to his productivity routine. You can check out our interview with him here.

For more information on Cal, his books, or popular blog ‘Study Hacks,’ head over to his website CalNewport.com

Fiction Writer Deborah Willis on Becoming a Writer, Distractions, and Retraining Her Brain

At Freedom we love our users – not just because they use our product but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, best-selling authors, editors, designers, star TV actors & writers, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and efficient go-getters. We love to share their stories and advice, because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?

This week’s Freedom spotlight goes to award-winning fiction writer Deborah Willis. Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, Willis’ stories have received various awards and have appeared in The Iowa Review, The Virginia Quarterly, Lucky Peach, and Zoetrope.

debbiehigh_res002.jpgAt Freedom we love our users – not just because they use our product but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, best-selling authors, editors, designers, star TV actors & writers, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and efficient go-getters. We love to share their stories and advice, because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?

This week’s Freedom spotlight goes to award-winning fiction writer Deborah Willis.  Born and raised in Calgary, Canada, Willis’ stories have received various awards and have appeared in The Iowa Review, The Virginia Quarterly, Lucky Peach, and Zoetrope. Her first book, Vanishing and Other Stories, was called one of the best books of 2010 by NPR and praised by Alice Munro for its “range and depth…clarity and deftness.” Her latest collection of fiction, The Dark and Other Love Stories is set to release today, so be sure to check out her website at deborahwillis.ca to learn more!

How did you reach this point in your professional life? What led you to do what you do today?

This question feels almost impossible to answer because I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about nine years old. I loved to read as a kid, then studied English and Creative Writing at university, then worked in an independent bookstore for seven years, and am now an editor with Freehand Books, a small press based in Canada. But being a writer, or doing any creative work, is never a linear career trajectory.

The most important part of my development as a writer, I would guess, is that I’ve always been fairly quiet, an observer by nature. I also had to develop some skills that weren’t innate to me: the ability to stay calm in the face of insecurity, to trust my own voice, to keep working even when the result may end up being very different from what I’d envisioned. Being a writer requires a mix of self-erasure and self-confidence, and you have to accept a lack of material security while also busting your ass within the capitalist economy. Basically, writers seem to constantly walk the line between having a career and having a vocation. I feel that I’m still learning how to manage these contradictions, just as I’m always learning about the craft of writing itself.

What advice would you offer less experienced writers – especially in regard to staying productive, motivated, and focused?

I remember feeling a few years ago that my brain was changing. I was having trouble focusing while reading books, and would even switch from reading one book to another to another in the span of half an hour—just the way a person surfing the internet skips from one link to another. It truly scared me, and I decided to retrain my brain, because I knew that the ability to focus was essential not only to my work, but to my happiness and sense of self. So my advice to other writers would be to monitor your own mind, to be honest with yourself about your current capabilities, and take action to restore or improve your concentration and focus. I continually have to do this, because new distractions always seem to be conspiring against me.

What excites you most about your industry?

In this Trump-ified world, what excites me most about books is that they are objects that require thoughtfulness and deep consideration. Books are an antidote to the rushed conclusion, the simplified answer, the slogan. Well, Mein Kampf repudiates everything I just said, but I still maintain that, in general, reading is incredibly challenging, far more active for the mind than passively watching a screen. So it encourages me and gives me hope when people are willing to put the time and effort into reading because it shows empathy and deep engagement with the world.    

I also like to think that reading hones a person’s imaginative abilities. And now that we’re witnessing the mass rage that globalization has engendered, we need all the imagination we can get. I hope we can use our big, empathetic, emotional, rational, complex minds to think up alternative ways of running our communities—alternatives that might allow for more global stability, happiness, diversity, environmental stewardship, and kindness.

When are you most productive, and how does this shape your daily working routine?

I’m most productive in the mornings, which is when I write creatively. In the afternoons, I do my editing work, catch up on email, and, you know, take a nap. And I reserve the evenings for exercise and cooking, hanging out with my partner and our cat, and seeing my family and friends. Keeping the body and spirit healthy seems to me to be central to keeping my mind focused and calm.

What resources or tools do you use daily and have found most beneficial to your writing or creative process?

Writing is wonderful because it requires so few expensive tools. I have a notebook, pens, books and a laptop, and with those, I can create whole worlds! I also use Freedom every day when I write. I turn it on in the morning to block my biggest distractions and leave it on for most of the day.

What project are you currently most excited about?

I am currently most excited about my forthcoming book, The Dark and Other Love Stories, a book of eleven stories about love in all its guises. One story is about an intense friendship between two girls at summer camp, another is about a man who adopts a pet crow, and another is about a man whose girlfriend is leaving him so that she can star on a reality show and try to win a seat on the first manned mission to Mars. The book isn’t all about romantic love, but is about the bonds that tie us to each other and the world.

What are your biggest distractors?

I’m embarrassed to admit that celebrity gossip is my downfall. And I’m also not embarrassed to admit it, because I can justify it by telling myself that gossip is the study of character—what makes a person succeed or fail or sell-out or humiliate themselves are all interesting subjects for a writer. I’m also deeply interested in the public’s reactions to a celebrity gossip story because it enables us to take the moral temperature of our times. And celebrity gossip, if it’s delivered with some intelligence, tells us a lot about the social and economic system in which we live. The celebrity ecosystem is an exaggerated version of the hyper-capitalist world wherein we all attempt to survive, so it’s fascinating to watch these beautiful creatures navigate its treacherous waters.

How do you stay motivated and continue to push yourself?

My curiosity drives my writing, as does my desire to put good work into the world. I feel so grateful when someone reads my stories, so have a strong sense of responsibility to readers. If people are willing to give me their time, in return I want to do my best to give them something beautiful, funny, and meaningful.

What are you hoping to accomplish in 2017?

My goal for this year is to complete a draft of a novel. Even if it’s a terrible draft! Terrible writing can be improved upon, whereas blank pages are dead ends. I tell myself that every damn day. This project is so big and unwieldy that accepting that my draft will probably be bad—that drafts are allowed to be bad—seems to be the only way to get myself to sit in my chair and work.

To learn more about Deborah Willis or where to find her books and stories, visit deborahwillis.ca!

2017: Making a Schedule that Helps You Help Yourself

When you hear about the routines of the most productive people, they often include tasks like 5 a.m. wakeups, 6-mile jogs, and guilt-free smoothies. Tasks that should all be simple enough to incorporate if you are a well-oiled productivity machine – but unfortunately, chances are you’re not a robot.

For 2017 we’ve created a five-part blog series that focuses less on adding and doing more, and more on simply being present and focused with things as they are. If you missed Part 1 on mindful meditation or Part 2 on being present with those who matter, Part 3 on improving your habits by improving your sleep, click the links above!

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When you hear about the routines of the most productive people, they often include tasks like 5 a.m. wakeups, 6-mile jogs, and guilt-free smoothies. Tasks that should all be simple enough to incorporate if you are a well-oiled productivity machine – but unfortunately, chances are you’re not a robot.

For 2017 we’ve created a five-part blog series that focuses less on adding and doing more, and more on simply being present and focused with things as they are. If you missed Part 1 on mindful meditation or Part 2 on being present with those who matter, Part 3 on improving your habits by improving your sleep, click the links above!

WHAT HELPS PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE BE PRODUCTIVE

When it comes to creating a more productive and fulfilled life – most of us go about it the wrong way. We think that in order to be successful, happy, and healthy, we need to do more, add more, or be more.

The problem with this way of thinking is that, unfortunately, our resources are limited – our time, energy, motivation, and self-control are all finite resources that eventually run out or get depleted.

So this year, maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at what should be removed before you try to add more. It’s time to acknowledge that less is just as important as more.

UNDERSTANDING WHERE YOUR TIME GOES:

Understanding what your daily life looks like can be the first step to creating more efficient and productive habits. Being able to identify what drains your time and energy is essential in helping you to create a schedule that works with you rather than against you.

In order to be more focused and fulfilled in 2017, you first have to examine who you were and what you did in 2016.

Start by writing a schedule for your average week. Write down approximate wake-up times, bedtimes, and everything in between. Make sure you include the little things like your commute to work, showers, meetings with friends, and all the other little things that add up to form your days. But remember, this is just your estimate of how you spend your time.
Now it’s time to find out how you actually spend your time.

  1. Pick a week and carry a little notebook, or use your phone to record your day. Write down the start time of each activity, and when you switch to a new task, write down the end time. Obviously, certain tasks like brushing your teeth, hair, and getting dressed can be grouped into a more general task such as “getting ready,” however it’s important to not generalize too much and risk missing insight into sneaky time-eaters. For example, quick 10-minute sessions of email, social media, or Candy Crush can quickly add up to huge chunks of time in your day.
  2. After a week or two, it’s now time to see what your daily life actually looks like. It should be easy to see patterns. You’ll probably be surprised at how checks to Facebook and email become hours of squandered time, or how small distractions from coworkers and friends quickly consume an afternoon.

MAKING A SCHEDULE THAT HELPS YOU HELP YOURSELF

When it comes to achieving your goals, for most of us it’s the little things that get in the way. Whether it’s finding a pair of the right socks before running, grabbing a burger because you ran out of time to make yourself lunch in the morning, or finding the motivation to force yourself not to give into the temptation of binge-watching Netflix each night – it’s the little things that build up and wear you down.
Now that you know what your days look like, it’s time to optimize your schedule.

  • Remove as many decisions as possible from your daily life so that your effort and need for self-control are minimal during the times when you know you’ll be tired and when your motivation will be depleted. If you want to make lasting changes to your routine, it’s important to make it as easy as possible for you to continue to make the right decision. For example, plan your meals for the week and make a grocery list on Sunday nights, or choose which days you want to workout and which will be reserved for friends and family.
  • Find natural pairings of activities that help your day move more smoothly. For example, catch up on your Netflix shows while you work out, or call friends while cooking dinner.
  • Group chunks of digital check-ins like email and social media into designated blocks so that you aren’t losing time and focus throughout the day.
    Remove the bad options so you’re forced to take the good ones. For example, buy a water bottle instead of soda, fruit instead of chips. Get rid of your cable TV, or block the internet with Freedom.

Here’s a list of other potential productivity pairings and shortcuts to help you help yourself:

  • Find a friend to workout with to increase your commitment to exercise while also having time to socialize.
  • If you’re not a morning person, pick out your outfit the night before and set the table for breakfast. Pack your lunch for the next day while making dinner. Check the news on the metro, or listen to it while you drive.
  • Walk to lunch, (even if you pack your lunch,) to get those extra steps of exercise, or take the stairs.
  • On days where you want to work out, set out all the things you need – running band, headphones, socks, sports bra, etc. – the night before.
  • Buy healthy snacks so that when you’re hungry you only have good options to choose from.
  • Make your bed before leaving in the morning to help your environment feel tidy and relaxing when you return.
  • Keep a water bottle on you at all times, and set out a bowl healthy snacks near your door to grab on your way out

You’ll be surprised by the changes you can make to your habits when you create a routine that makes it convenient for you to succeed. How have you designed your environment for success? We’d love to hear your tips, tricks, and methods in the comments below!