The 10 Second Trick that Doubled my Productivity as a Writer

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on September 23, 2008 in Freelance Writing Business
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Lately my work days have been so much more enjoyable than before. I get a solid 7 hours of client work and administrative stuff out the way, I'm actually taking my lunch hour for myself instead of working through it, have the energy to put a few more hours into my own projects daily, and still have time to take care of housework, working out, and simply relaxing (and man, that's the part I missed the most).

Good for Me. So What?

My productivity has at least doubled recently - I'm getting far more done every day even though I have far more to do every day (client work has been booming, and I always have my own sites to spend some time on).

The Best Part?

I only had to make one little change in my routine to improve my productivity and satisfaction with my freelance writing work. Just one. What was it?

I reset my alarm clock.

Now, instead of dragging my sorry ass out of bed at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning, squeezing in a workout, and then working straight into the evening on one thing or another, I get up at 5am.

Oh, I can hear the grumbling now. "There's no way in HELL you're going to see me up, nonetheless working at 5am!" you're saying. "But I work better at night," you're thinking.


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I used to say the same things. I work very well late in the evenings - as things are winding down and getting quiet. But there's no way around the fact that our brains, late at night, are prepping to rest. We can't expect to truly be at our best when we've been working our minds all day long, even if on seemingly mundane, non-work-related things. (Now of course, I'm talking about people who actually sleep during "normal" hours in the evenings - if you sleep in the afternoon and then get up to work all night, you're a completely different animal).

I've found that the biggest reason I didn't do this earlier was the fact that I kept telling myself that I couldn't, or didn't want to. I still struggle in the mornings sometimes to convince myself I'll be happier later if I get up "now." But that's exactly what happens.

I wish I could tell you how incredible it feels when I have nearly all of my "required" work done by lunch time, and just a few things to clear up after lunch before I quit (anywhere from 1:30 - 2:30 depending on how long I was out walking or whatever before work).

The thing is, afternoons had always been my most unproductive working time. Lately though, even after putting in a full official day at work, I have more energy during those afternoon hours where I seem to be getting a heck of a lot done (either around the apartment or my less creative personal projects - I do still get into my most creative mindset after dark).

Try it. Even if you only do it for a day, or a week, try it. Make a note of your biggest problem areas with productivity, and then see how you fare with an early start-time. You may just be surprised and realize there's "more time" in the day than you previously thought. At the same time, it may very well not work for you. If that's the case, try 6am. Or try an even later time. Maybe try working overnight and sleeping in the afternoon. Obviously what you can manage will depend on some external factors, such as whether or not you have children that need to be shuttled around during the day, or if you have another full-time job. But play with your clock (external and internal) if you can, and come back to let me know if changes worked as well for you as they did for me.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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8 Comments

  1. Avid Writer September 23, 2008 Reply

    Jennifer, I really need to do this – especially since I have made a committment to start working on only my projects on weekends now. I get up at six but I need to get up earlier to get in a regular much needed workout – mustn’t continue neglecting my health.

  2. Jenn Mattern September 24, 2008 Reply

    You’re right – workouts do help. I didn’t get mine worked in this morning, but I was dragging so I just went out for a short walk to get some fresh air – it’ll work for now. The workouts help a little bit as far as energy throughout the day, but really the reason I prefer doing them early is that I simply don’t have to think about them later on (I can’t drag my butt out the door in the afternoons, and in the evenings I’m at the point where I just want to start relaxing).


    And wouldn’t you know it? No sooner do I post here about my “up early” schedule, and I end up sleeping in. lol

    Today I got up two hours later than planned, and my entire schedule and mood is thrown off – unfortunate since today was due to be a busy one. I know I won’t get as much done as I’d like, but I’m sure going to try – and I’m definitely remembering to turn the alarm on tonight! :)

  3. Avid Writer September 24, 2008 Reply

    Well, I took your advice this morning, Jennifer and I worked out – even though my email was calling me, and that’s how I end up getting sucked straight into working each day.

    I really do feel so much more productive, energetic and more positive. I didn’t get up earlier though because I stayed up working late last night. That’s a left over habit from my college days that I really need to change starting tomorrow… I have really neglected my exercise routine since I started freelancing full-time. Thanks for the push!:)

  4. Jennifer Mattern September 24, 2008 Reply

    Same here – once I sit down and look at email, I’m a goner. Here’s what I do:

    I write a short to-do list in the evening covering what needs to be done the next day. I include my workout on the list (I hate having something not checked off at the end of the day). I put that on an index card, which I place on my keyboard (so I can’t touch it without seeing that list).

    I fold my workout clothes for the next day, and put them on my desk chair – I can’t sit down to go through email without seeing them, so I just put them on immediately (I find getting ready to workout is really the bulk of the battle for me – once I’m dressed with sneakers laced up, I could go for miles and miles with no complaint – the dread always hits me before I start for whatever reason).

    I put my mp3 player and a water bottle on my desk next to my mouse. I usually put a piece of fruit, little box of raisins, or some trail mix there too depending on how long the workout will be – I find I feel better if I eat something like that before going out.

    Seeing all of that reminds me that the previous evening I was feeling gung-ho about wanting a good start to the morning. Then I start to feel guilty if I don’t drag myself out the door. It helps. It’s also helped that it’s getting cooler again. I completely slack off most of the summer, because I can’t bear to be out in the heat and humidity we get around here.

    Maybe we should get a little workout group going on the blog or something to keep us not only writing, but healthier. lol

  5. Andre Kibbe September 24, 2008 Reply

    I reset my alarm clock to 4am. I can’t claim to have actually gotten out of bed every single time since, but whenever I do, I’m amazed at how much more I get done. I get up at 4:00 so that I can start writing by 5:00, deliberately giving myself of hour to slack so that I’m not groggy when I hit the keyboard. If I get started early, which I usually do, so much the better.

    By getting a ton of writing done before noon, I don’t feel tempted to promise myself I’ll get to more writing later. Whenever I’d do that, I’d usually end up deferring thing so far in the day that I had already used up most of my energy, giving me an excuse to put things off until the next day.

  6. Jennifer Mattern September 24, 2008 Reply

    Andre, I’m completely jealous. I wish I could get up at 4am to start even earlier – that would probably be perfect for me in the mornings actually, having 2-3 hours to get some work done before I go out for a workout, then feeling refreshed to come in for the rest of my work hours.

    I completely bombed today. I haven’t felt this unproductive in ages. So maybe that will be my solution tomorrow – get up one hour earlier and take your lead. :)

    My biggest problem is that I struggle to go to bed early – I hit the sack at 9 on weeknights now, but rarely doze off until after 10, which just feels like wasted time to me. So I can’t imagine getting to sleep around 8. Maybe I just need to accept that I’ll sleep less until my body finishes adapting, or maybe afternoon naps would help to round it out.

    And I understand the issue of deferring things until later in the day to the point where you just want to give up and push it to tomorrow – today’s been one of those. I have one work project I need to get back on this evening, and fortunately the rest can be done tomorrow morning. Whew.

  7. Jennifer Mattern September 26, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for the 4am mention Andre. I started setting my alarm to that hour. It goes off at 4. I roll out of bed finally around 4:30. By 5-ish I’ve made my tea and breakfast, and am comfortably settling into my work day. It’s surprisingly a comfortable schedule. :)

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