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How to Become a More Productive Writer

Productive Writing

photo credit: darkmatter via photopin cc

You might note that the title of this section doesn’t mention becoming a better writer. Here’s what I know – if you become a more productive writer, if you start to see the benefit of consistently sharing your ideas through your writing, you’ll become a better writer.

So, first let’s work on making you a more productive writer.

Become a better reader

I guess you knew this one was coming, but it’s a fact. Reading blogs, reading business books, reading magazines, reading books that are way off topic will help you find your own style and voice more than any other dynamic.

Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

Keep a swipe file

When you read, bookmark stuff that grabs your attention. It may be because a certain style, a certain lack of adverbs or a lyrical use of certain words – no matter the reason you need to start putting things away for a rainy day. Get plastic file folders or employ a tool like Evernote to clip, organize and keep examples.

Keep an idea file

Use a tool like Workflowy to store and access ideas as they come to you. Since you know you’ll need more content later this week or later this month, just keep adding ideas as you read things and have flashes of insight. One day you’ll be stumped or one day you’ll want to plan your week of blog posts and this list will be like an old friend of unstuckness.

Be opinionated

You don’t have to piss everyone off, but you don’t have to agree with everyone either. One of the ways to be more productive is to look at things with a view that’s  counter to the crowd and take a stand you can defend.

Write like you talk

I think this is just good advice no matter what. It’s easier to write in your own voice and you extend your personality to the reader more effectively by being who you are.

Stay organized

One of the most effective ways to up your writing productivity is through outlines. You were probably taught this in your grade school English class and there’s a reason – if you stay organized in your thinking, you’ll write faster and clearer. There’s nothing harder than sitting down and composing 700 words with no idea of where you’re headed. Decide your main point, create three to five subheads and 3 to five bullet point per subhead. Your specific outline may differ, but this is the most effective way to write quickly.

Let it rip

Don’t edit every ten words or so, just get it down. You can go back and fix obvious things if you change direction, but try to get the first draft done before you do too much to fix it.

Used a timed method

Set a timer on your computer for 45 minutes (I use Apimac Timer) and write with your head down until the bell goes off and then get up and go do something else for about 15 minutes. I find that this approaches makes me more motivated to write, even something very long, when I know there’s a set time for a break. It also allows me to clear my head and come back with renewed energy.

Edit sober

For this point I draw from a famous Ernest Hemingway quote – “Write drunk, edit sober.”

You don’t have to take this literally, but the idea of coming back to your writing after a cooling off period is a good one. It’s pretty tough to assess the quality of your writing, let alone omitted words, when you’re in the throes of your brilliant ideas.

Spend the most time on the title

My last piece of advice has more to do with getting more readers than productivity, but if you spend extra time on any element of your writing, spend time on the headline or title.

There’s nothing that makes your writing more productive than the impact of more readers!

How and Why I Use Workflowy to Keep Organized

I’ll admit it; I’ve looked high and low for just the right tool to keep me organized, on task and up to date on all my to-do lists and projects.

There are seemingly hundreds of tools and systems that have been created to address this obvious challenge and I’ve tried at least a dozen of them. You’ve got some great ones like GTD, Evernote and Basecamp. I’ve heard from readers about Remember the Milk, Wunderlist and Asana. And, of course, sometimes the good old analog pen and notebook does the trick.

I’ve tried any number of digital tools and found that nothing quite stuck. I would use them for a while and then return to my notebook. I never quite understood why I couldn’t get used to using systems and tools evangelized by many until I can across a tool called Workflowy.

workflowy

The stark outline interface is the beauty of Workflowy

 

I have to admit that I encountered it almost a year ago, but dismissed it because it seemed so different and too simple.

As it turns out that’s the magic of Workflowy. It’s so simple that you get to design how to use it based on how you think and work and that’s what makes it so powerful. So many other tools I had used required me to think a different way, spend time entering data or adopt new habits to get them to work.

You want a tool like to get out of the way and not turn into another thing you have to operate.

Workflowy is at its core a giant notepad with a few simple features for navigation, hierarchy, search and sharing and nothing else. In fact, the challenge some people have, including me originally, is that it doesn’t seem to do much of anything.

But, it’s the clear and uncluttered work environment that allows you to design how you organize, think and work in the way that fits your style and not the tool designer’s idea of how to work.

Why Workflowy

Workflowy allows me to keep a present picture of all of my projects and tasks and manage this picture with a couple keystrokes. Frankly, I can keep a picture of anything I want in my view – goals, centering thoughts, meeting notes – it’s just a big giant outline of my life. I’ve even added a section for personal and home-related projects.

The tool is web based, but iPhone and iPad apps allow you to sync, add and edit across devices.

In addition, you can share any element with other Workflowy uses so you can use the tool as a team or even just make one item available to client for collaboration.

How Workflowy

To me, and of course this could differ from person to person, the key is the structure of the outline. While you can change this anytime you like, getting it right was one of the keys getting more out of it.

I started globally with Work and Personal as my two primary catch all bins.

The work is then structured by the kinds of work I do. For me it’s speaking, writing and projects. Nested under these items are the notes for each speaking event, blog post ideas, outline and notes for my next book and all the various projects that need my attention such as product creation and promotion.

I don’t know about you but my work and personal lives intersect quite often and having a view of personal home projects, exercise, vision, goals and even vacation planning intertwined with my work view is a powerful thing.

As your list grows you can expand and collapse views as well as search for any word or phrase. You can also create hashtags that make list making very simple. For example, I use the tag #soon after any task I want to be on the immediate radar. That way I can click on a #soon tag and get what amounts to my daily to-do list. What I love about the outline structure is that my to-do list now is made up from and related to my ongoing worldview and not just from what’s barking loudest or on deadline.

Every staff meeting runs from Workflowy and every phone call with a client or meeting planner runs there as well. You can also create checklists and common outlines and duplicate them as needed.

It took no time at all to get Workflowy into my routine, partly because there are only about a dozens commands and functions and mostly because I could adapt it to the way I already thought about organizing my life.

I do still use Google Calendar for appointments, but Workflowy stays up and ready throughout the day and into the night as my planning, organizing and doing tool.

There is a free version of Workflowy that will work for most users. You can upgrade to pro for $49 a year if you really want to use the team and sharing functions with lots of people.

Weekend Favs October Twenty Two

My weekend blog post routine includes posting links to a handful of tools or great content I ran across during the week.

I don’t go into depth about the finds, but encourage you check them out if they sound interesting. The photo in the post is a favorite for the week from Flickr.

The Basilica at Notre Dame – Notre Dame, IN

Good stuff I found this week:
Magmito – This tools allows anyone to create a mobile application on the fly – imagine creating your own app just for an event or special promotion

PrintFriendly – Turns any web page into a PDF. Great way to save from printing pages that you want to keep. You can also put a button on your own site to make easy for people to use it.

WorkFlowy – This dead simple tool allows you to create one list to run your life – its simplicity is perhaps its greatest appeal. It’s hard to describe but may change your brain.