Two Questions for Better Writing Productivity

Questions for determining if I’m active or productive?

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Parkinson’s Law says: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Give someone twenty-four hours to complete a project and watch them use their time efficiently and wisely. Give them a week and suddenly the project is perceived as complex and they spend half the week messing around.

Don’t believe me?

Why does the average person work eight hours a day and forty hours a week? Nothing is magical about these numbers. Do people actually need that many hours to complete their assigned tasks? Maybe. What if you gave them thirty hours to do their work? Would they complete these tasks and have ten hours to spare? Most likely. Parkinson’s Law.

What does this have to do with writing?

Many writers live under the illusion that if they had more time to write they’d have more success. The full-time writer is where it’s at. But what about Parkinson’s Law?

If you had eight hours to write would you spend that time wisely? Not likely according to Parkinson’s Law. You’d mess around on social and playing games instead of doing the work. If you only have two hours to write you can use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage.

Tim Ferris in his book The 4-Hour Work Week asks some hard questions about our productivity. Actually you only have to ask two:

1. Am I being productive or just being active?

2. Am I inventing things to avoid the important? (page 79)

Am I being productive or just being active?

Busyness for the sake of busyness is laziness. Endless outlines, research, and tweaking your website and social media profile is not productivity. These aren’t bad things and might be necessary sometimes.

But are we just doing things to do things? Living by the adage: look busy in case the boss is watching.

Activity doesn’t always equal productivity.

Here’s a question: did your activity lead to more words on the page? Are you moving your writing project forward or not?

If no, you’re active and not productive.

Am I inventing things to avoid the important?

Wow, a hard one. How often do I mess around doing mindless things instead of engaging the hard thing? If I had a dollar for every time, I said: one more episode on Netflix before I work on my book.

The invention of tasks to avoid the most important projects is the sly tactic of the Resistance-Demon. That still small voice that says: yeah, create a new website, instead of work on your book. You should watch another Ted Talk instead of meditate or call a friend.

Parkinson’s Law is alive and well. I’m going to invent all kinds of tasks to avoid doing the most important tasks. The important work.

But here’s the deal and don’t lose heart. When we invent stuff to keep us busy and avoid the hard thing. Listen to your life.

The hard thing that we’re avoiding is what we have to work on. It’s the most important thing.

Whatever is scary or hard is most likely what needs our undivided attention. If our writing project is easy and breezy, it’s probably not pushing us enough.

If we have an idea that keeps us up at night and scares us to death… we know what we have to do next.

So, ask some hard questions and take inventory. What am I doing that’s just busy work? Stuff that gets more words on the page? Does it move the project forward?

What am I inventing that’s a replacement for doing the hard thing? Whatever you’re avoiding is exactly the thing you need to work on next.

Hope this helps.


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Ryan J. Pelton is a teacher and genre-nomad author with over seventeen fiction and nonfiction titles to date. He also hosts a popular writing and publishing podcast, The Prolific Writer. Ryan reads, writes, naps, and nurses a Diet Coke addiction, with his wife and four children in Kansas City, Missouri. Buy a book and send his kid’s to college.