Wednesday, January 7, 2015

10 Ways to Get Something Done When You’re Feeling Unproductive

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I had a rough time working over the holidays. Because, let's face it, who wants to work over the holidays? No one. Not me, anyway.

But my book (King's Folly) is due February 1. And it's not done. So I had to find ways to work while everyone else was playing. Here are some things I did and a few extras to inspire you when you have to work and are feeling unproductive.

1. Rewrite Your To-Do List
I love my To-Do list, but I totally ignore it. If I'm in a funk, it can be fun to pull it out and see what's on there. Nine times out of ten, I've done half the things on the list and can cross them out or make a new list. It makes me feel good to see that I have actually accomplished some things. And by the time I make a new list, I'm usually excited to tackle some of those items.

2. Bribe Yourself with Incentives
When I'm struggling to get working, I will sometimes bribe myself. One piece of candy when I finished writing a chapter. Or I get to read one chapter of the novel I'm reading (just for fun) whenever I finish editing a chapter. The reward is whatever keeps you going.

3. Get Away
Walking away from the computer is often the best thing to get my brain churning. I can do some chores, take a walk, take a drive, or even take a shower. The point is, get away from the computer and let your brain work. You know what will happen? Your brain will work anyway! And it will often brainstorm you right out of a problem area.

Another thing you can do if you really need some space from your story is to do some of those important chores that never get done, like backing up your computer or flash drives, updating your website, organize your desk, or filing! These chores need to be done eventually, so you might as well do one every now and then when you really need a break.

4. Set Time Limits
Working too hard when you don't want to can be discouraging. And you often will do nothing but stare at the computer. Try challenging yourself to a race. Word wars are great, but if you can't find anyone to war with, go it alone. Set a goal, pick a time limit, and race to get it done. You can't go this pace forever, so it's wise to take big breaks after a well-done work race.

5. Change Your Scenery
Sometimes it helps to get away. If you have a laptop, go somewhere different to write. Out in your back yard, to a coffee shop, to a friend's house. Somewhere different. And if you don't have a laptop, try taking your flash drive to a local library and putting in some time there. Tie this in with Tips 2 and 4---you can't leave until you reach your goal!



6. Go Offline
Turn off the Internet! Get off Facebook. Disconnect if you have to. Need I say more?

7. Make a Productivity Sandwich
Write down two tasks you need to do that are easy. Start your day by doing one of them. Then go about your regular work. When you're ready to be done working for the day, do your second task. You will feel much more productive if you do this.

8. Say “No”
Many of us have a hard time saying "No." I certainly do. I tried it last year and failed. So I'm going to try it again this year. I'm not going to attend every writers conference out there. And I'll say no to judging every contest I'm asked to judge. I'm going to focus on my job of writing and being a part of my family. I also have an Ax Committee with some of my writing friends. If I'm really tempted to say "Yes" I bring it to them. They will help me weigh whether it's a worthy cause or just my Guilt Complex starting to crumble. If you have trouble getting things done because you've over-committed, you might have to start saying "No" too.

9. Consider the Big Picture
Whatever it is that you're working on, take a step back and consider it's value. How much does it really matter? It could be that you're giving too much time and effort to something that's ultimately unimportant, like how much time you might spend Googling pictures of characters or doing Myers-Briggs profiles on every minor character in your book. If that's the case, do your best and only what's necessary, then be done and move on. Or it could be that you're rushing something tedious that's a necessary step toward your dream, like writing a query letter to an agent. That's something you're going to want to put in extra effort on. Try to weigh your tasks for importance and how they add to your end goals, then devoting the right amount of time to each.

10. Say Something Nice
No one is as hard on you as you. And we writers can be terribly hard on ourselves. If you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts or insulting your writing to other people, stop! Speak positive words to yourself. Believe the best for yourself. Encourage yourself. Telling yourself you're terrible and you'll never succeed at anything is not going to get you closer to your goals. If you can't say anything nice about yourself . . . shh!

How about you? Do you relate to any of these? How do you get things done when you're feeling unproductive? Share in the comments. Then get back to work!

55 comments:

  1. That's creepy. I was just feeling unproductive coupled with writers block, which to say the least is a lethal combination. I've been stuck for many weeks now, and I realized week ago that my plot makes no sense. So to get back on speed, I'm trying to do a complete rewrite predeceased by abandoning my usual spontaneity and pantser mind and taking on a plotter's mindset. It's amazing how much ideas one can get by reminiscing movies and or books they've idea, even stuff you watch for fun. I just got a killer idea yesterday thinking of Captain America and the Tesseract. It wasn't fully original at first, but I twisted it and made it my own. And all of these ideas sound great, Mrs. Williamson! Especially getting away from my laptop and setting a time limit. Maybe after I'm done plotting.

    Speaking of which, are there any links to plotting posts/techniques? Aside from the ones in the Looking for Something Specific section. I found a few, but not that many. Can anyone help?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's a few links for you, Jonathan:

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/03/story-brainstorming-sheets-for-download.html -- This post has some super-awesome sheets that you can print and fill out. The first one is very helpful to fill out and have around while you're writing so you don't get off track.

      http://www.jillwilliamson.com/2011/03/stuck-on-brainstorming-your-plot/ -- This is a post on Jill Williamson's website. It has some suggestions about getting your plot on to paper. I'd recommend fully checking out Jill Williamson's site; she has a ton of info and helpful sheets for writers.

      Hope this is helpful for you! (BTW, your killer idea sounds really cool! Captain America is awesome :) )

      Delete
    2. Thanks a lot, Linea! This helped :D. And yeah, Captain America rocks. :). And thanks, my idea *did* come out pretty cool. I'm really excited. I'm doing Norse myths, so I figured my antagonist, the Emperor, wants to find a secret key to the heavens; a way into Asgard that was buried on earth long ago. This key would be like a bridge to the gods (think Heimdall) and in the process give the Emperor the boon of immortality. It is the reason he destroyed the Council of the Flameweavers, the powerful peacekeeping force, because he believes the secret lies in their history. But unfortunately, while killing the MC's mother, he destroyed a vital clue. So now he wants to go back in time and retrieve it...and kill the MC's parents again. The MC is a royal assassin working for the Emperor. I love twists...

      Sorry, I got kinda carried away. Thanks again :).

      Delete
    3. Thanks for posting those, Linea!

      Jonathan, I love how you found a way to inspire yourself. Good job. And it looks like it did the trick. I can see how excited you are to move forward. And your story sounds really fun, by the way. :-)

      Delete
  2. Your post was extremely helpful. It's sometimes--no, make that often--difficult to be productive with my writing. What I like to do is to take my mind off my novel for a while and look up writing prompts on the internet. I'll do a couple of those and somehow it helps me a LOT. I especially love #4. Setting time limits is a fantastic idea. And bribing yourself. Thanks for posting this! I will definitely use this as a future resource.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad it was helpful! Writing prompts is a great way to get yourself going too. Thanks for sharing that.

      Delete
  3. Definitely could use doing some of these at times. :) I have some things like write a bit, read a bit, write a bit :) house cleaning gets my thoughts going, and opens up new plots for me :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, if you have to clean, at least have a story problem to work through and help make the cleaning go faster, right? :-)

      Delete
    2. I clean for other people as a buiseness, so yeah :)

      Delete
  4. I definitely do some of these: I bribe myself, I get away, I set time limits, I turn off the internet, I say nice things to myself (haha)...

    What I also do is read a good book and find 100 ideas for my book sparkling inside my head when I'm done.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow. This was perfect timing for me--I'm in a stuck spot in my first draft, just around the corner from the finish line!! I've never been stuck at this point before, so it's been difficult to pull my feet out of the mud and keep going. Even chocolate hasn't helped (is the world coming to an end?! :P) but I'm pushing through.

    Thanks again, Mrs. Williamson. This list is great. Love your new author picture, by the way!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *Even chocolate hasn't helped* That is dire indeed, Linea. Keep at it! You can do it!

      And, thanks! I still have to troll the Internet and change them all. So I'm doing them little by little. LOL

      Delete
  6. Btw, I'm the one who wrote the comment saying that I look up writing prompts online to stay productive. I just decided not to be Anonymous anymore. :)

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that Jonathan Fay's book idea is AWESOME. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL! Well, hello, Callie! It's nice to meet you. :-)

      Delete
    2. Welcome to the blog, Callie!

      Delete
    3. Aw, thanks, Callie! You just made my day :). Welcome to the blog!

      Delete
  7. Thank you so much for this post. I'm going to need to try some of these. I've been feeling so unproductive. I've had writer's block for nearly a month and it's driving me INSANE! I've kept up on writing the story, but everything I write is pointless and boring. I'm definitely going to have to try this. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've had writer's block for a long while too, Hannah. Keep at it! I'm still in the beginning of my book, so I'm using plotting techniques to get back on the track. Three act structure, Snowflake method...Plotting is more fun than I thought! I'm usually a pantser, LOL. Have you tried plotting too? It can really put one back on track. Also, brainstorming sessions. They really help. :)

      Delete
    2. I'm sorry, Hannah. Sounds like you might need to examine some of your scenes and twist things so that you are excited about them.

      Delete
  8. This is great! I feel unproductive ALL THE TIME unless I have a really good idea. Often my line of thoughts will wander while I'm away from my computer, and the idea just pops into my head. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes I know exactly what happens next, but I don't know how to put it into words.

      Delete
    2. Yeeaah...I can relate to that.

      Delete
    3. Putting things into words gets easier the more you write. For now, just write it down, even if it's awful. You can always go back and rewrite it later.

      Delete
  9. I love this post! I do quite a few of these - I need to get productive with time. I reward myself at the end of each week for reaching my weekly word count goal. I change scenery when I can but a lot of times I can work through problems while cleaning or cooking. I love the sandwich idea! I ignore to-do lists but that sounds great.
    My personal favourite is putting my dog on my lap. He's not particularly small as a Lab, but he falls straight asleep. I can balance him while I type but I know that if I do something other than typing and get up he'll wake and tear through the house! If I want my quiet time I need to plug away at the story and voila! Perfect incentive to get myself working. Works every time. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL! I love that, Kelsey. Must keep the quiet in the house!

      Delete
    2. That's hilarious, Kelsey. I love it. Hmm...maybe I should try that with my baby brother... ;)

      Delete
  10. Ms. Williamson and Linea Marshall, thank you for welcoming me here! :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. These are wonderful tips for getting productive, Jill! I especially like bribing myself with incentives such as being able to comment on other blogs or reply to comments on my blog for a certain amount of time after I've worked on my WIP for a certain amount of time (or my homework!). Setting time limits and going offline also really help. The only problem with going offline is that a lot of my homework and writing must be done online, so that doesn't always work. Another thing that I like to do is restructure my to-do list. Sometimes I've found that I've scheduled too much for the day and I have to pare my to-do list down. Oftentimes, putting too much on my to-do list just makes me more unproductive because I'm too busy getting overwhelmed at how long it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good point. Some people have the tendency to think they're superheroes with the amount of things they put on their To Do lists each day. And I am one of them! I love the idea of taking a realistic look at that list and shifting things around.

      Delete
  12. I've been pretty unproductive since it's the holidays here, so I really need this! Useful tips :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah... But it was nice to relax and celebrate for a while. Now we've got to get back at it!

      Delete
  13. The unproductive feeling strikes often lately.... although I did have writing work to do over the holidays. Yesterday I tried #1, those old (very old) to-do lists were a little depressing - things I hadn't gotten done. But more recent to-do lists sometimes have things I did get done and can cross off, and sometimes things that are now irrelevant (and no longer need to be done). :-) As to #2, okay, I'll save that last piece of chocolate in the box until I finish going through the next chapter! #3 - yes, getting away is great. Every day my laptop gets an extended break when I turn it off for lunch and a walk. Sometimes I get unstuck, sometimes not. #4 was sort of how I got through proofreading edits the first day of vacation at my parents' house. I worked for an hour or so, got up and did something else, then worked again. The project took the same 4 hours work time it always does, 6 hours on the clock because of the breaks, but I didn't feel I was working the whole day and I was able to enjoy the family time too. As to #6, I wish. Often refer to Internet for research.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, the Internet is trouble for me too because I leave windows open that have research and I want to refer to. But them I'm temped to click on FB or email. And if there is something new and interesting... I'm lost!

      Delete
  14. Great advice, Jill! I started my year with a TO DO list as well. It's so encouraging when I get to scratch off an item.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thank you so much for this post, I started editing, but 30 pages into my novel, uh. I was a little bored so I'm giving myself another week of space. And during that time I've finished two quilts. o.o So I'm going to give it another go this weekend, and I will definitely be sticking to this! :)
    Thanks Jill! :D

    TW Wright
    ravensandwriting.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I love quilting! I bet you get a lot of thinking done then too.

      Delete
  16. These are great tips! Something I do when I'm not in the mood for working is completing I like on principle before I force myself to tackle a task that I wouldn't do by choice, so that the first thing feels like kinda like a privilege. Of course, then the less pleasant task feels less pleasant than ever, but after it I use #2 and give myself rewards like reading blog posts.

    Or I try to read something similar to what I'm working on. Right now I'm trying to work out the magic system in my first novel -unshelved! *squeals* - so I read "By Darkness Hid" because what my MC can do is similar to what I thought bloodvoicing was from reading the blurb. (Except it travels by wind, and while only people who can do it can hear it, it's not actually telepathic, and...okay, so I guessed wrong, and it's only vaguely similar to bloodvoicing.) Can't say that actually got me to work more since I holed myself away and just kept reading it, but in theory, lol...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nice, Miri!

      Oh, that's funny. I've done that too. I love reading other books. Haven't been able to read much lately with that deadline looming... :-/

      Delete
  17. I have felt so unproductive lately! With the new year I hoped to be editing one of my novels. I have barely gotten the time to begin reading over it. School, my job, and just life, seems to have stolen every spare moment. When I do have time, I get uninspired and want to just go write rather then edit.... Any tips on how to get myself as motivated about the editing process as I was about writing the rough draft?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally understand that kind of schedule, Melody. It's hard to carve out time to write and be motivated when you get that time. Hmm... It might help to be thinking about what you'll work on. If you know you have one hour to work later on that day, be thinking about how you will spend that time so that when you get there, you know exactly what you'll be doing. And you could make goals. Edit one chapter a week or something. Once that's done, you can write on a new project. If you make yourself do the editing first, knowing the writing is coming, that might help motivate you.

      Delete
  18. Jill, these are great. I did number 5 today; I was trying to brainstorm a story idea, but I wasn't getting anywhere. I took a notebook and left my office, and that really helped me break through the block I'd hit.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Saying "No" is such a problem for lots of people. Very often we're unable to refuse and in this way we are losing our precious time(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I understand, Kathy. It's VERY hard for me. Like impossible. And I have had to learn to do it. One thing that helped me is to know there are certain things I will always say no to. And on those things, I created a template email that says no. I go in and tweak it for the facts each time, but having it makes things easier because I don't have to bleed each time I have to say no. Because my love language is Acts of Service. I want to help people. I love helping people. But I am only one human being. And if I helped everyone, even when each thing only took a few minutes, I would have no time to write or eat or sleep... So if you're like me, take some time to brainstorm tricks to help you.

      It's extra hard to say no to someone's face. So I've trained myself NEVER to say yes on the spot. That way I can go home and think it over without the pressure of that person standing in front of me.

      Delete
  20. The productivity sandwich is really good advice. And I will do that, just as soon as I make myself a real sandwich :) My stomach growled at that line!

    ReplyDelete
  21. My New Year goals are to be more positive, and not procrastinate. Hopefully those will help!

    These are great ideas, Jill! :)

    I'm afraid I might have to start saying No too... but it's hard. :-/ I just get overcommitted too often, and that brings a lot of guilt because I don't do well under pressure and feel like I can't do the important things I need to do, or have me-time without feeling guilty, because I promised I'd help such-and-such a friend with their book, or whatever it was. *sigh*

    ReplyDelete
  22. Sometimes when I can't think of any ideas I go on the internet to web sites like these and I look around to try and find some ideas to use in my stories.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I've done the rewarding yourself thing before. One year for now, I allowed myself a piece of my favorite candy only every 3,000 words.


    Alexa S. Winters
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  24. This is good stuff. thanks for the tips!!

    ReplyDelete

Home