A 5-Step Writer’s Productivity Guide (that’s not JUST for writers)

Even the most diligent and dynamic writers can get stuck. Whether you write for a living or just need to craft the occasional blog or newsletter, sometimes it can be difficult to get going. At other times you can be motoring along nicely then – for some reason – screech to a halt, suddenly devoid of ideas and energy.

Whether that’s as a result of writer’s block, too many distractions, fear, exhaustion, imposter syndrome or some other cause, here are some simple productivity tools that will help you get going again. These are the tips and tricks I’ve picked up from other brilliant copywriters over the years plus a few that I’ve discovered on my own. None of them requires any specialist equipment but all of them will help to get the brain cells functioning again when you run out of steam.

There are 5 tips altogether and I’ve split the tips into two categories:

  • Help with concentration
  • Help with ideas and creativity

Category 1: Help with concentration

1. Pomodoro technique

This technique is designed to help you focus for short times bursts with breaks in between – a bit like a HIIT session for your brain. It encourages you to work within the time you have, not against it. It requires nothing more than access to a timer, such as a clock, a stopwatch or an app on your phone or computer – just something you can use to set an alarm. This is how it works: 

  • Set your timer for 25 minutes and work on your chosen task but only on that task
  • When the alarm goes off you take a 5-minute break – this can be to make a cuppa, check your emails, go to the loo, etc, but you must step away from your work
  • When the 5 minutes is up you work for another 25 minutes, then take another 5-minute break
  • Do this twice more, then after the fourth 25-minute working session you take a 20-minute break
  • Rinse and repeat for however long it takes to complete your task

It’s simple but amazingly effective. But why is it called the “Pomodoro Technique”? It was developed by an Italian student called Francesco Cirillo. He used a kitchen timer shaped like a tomato to time his sessions and pomodoro is Italian for tomato! (though the photo may have given that away!)

2. Use pen (or pencil) and paper

It may be old school but I still believe in good old pen and paper. In these days when even the simplest of everyday tasks is usually linked to a screen and keyboard, the physical act of using a pen and paper can be quite liberating. And it has been proven that writing down notes long-hand on paper is better for processing information. A 2016 study showed that writing by hand forces you to be more selective, which adds a layer of processing, which aids concentration and retention.

So try putting down the keyboard for a while and use pen and paper to scribble some notes, draw a mind map, or even just doodle. Writing down your to-do lists, ideas, goals and even your dreams creates a different experience than typing work emails and text messages. Afterwards, you will return to your screen refreshed and with improved focus.

3. Change your environment

Sitting in the same room at the same desk hour after hour, day after day can leave you feeling stale and stuck in a rut. Being in a rut puts your motivation, creativity and drive at risk. A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that a change in your working environment can help to improve memory retention and cognition.

So try changing your surroundings, taking your work with you or doing something completely different for a while. My favourite activity when I have a big writing project to complete is to take my laptop and head out to a coffee shop (when we’re allowed to!). Having someone serve me tea and a slice of cake does amazing things for my creativity!

Failing that I will head to a different room in the house or sit out in the garden when the weather is good. When I used to work in a large office I would sometimes take myself off to an empty meeting room, or find a corner of a break-out area, plug in some noise-cancelling headphones and tap away contentedly. It’s amazing what a change of scenery and a new set of sounds and even smells can make, and I get a gratifying amount of work done as a result. You too will find that your mind will clear and your motivation will increase.

Category 2: Help with ideas and creativity

4. Don’t write at all

Give yourself a break from writing. Get up, walk away and do something physical instead. Even the best-selling author Stephen King famously takes a walk every day, come rain or shine. Moving your body and increasing your heart rate for a while can give you incredible cognitive benefits like a prolonged ability to focus. A short burst of physical activity can also increase your work speed, decrease stress, improve overall alertness, and make you feel physically better. Not to mention the smugness factor achieved in upping your step count for the day!

A spell away from the keyboard will allow your brain to percolate for a while, with the result that you will be happier, smarter, and more energetic. Ready to return to your task refreshed and invigorated.

5. Have some “playtime”

Another good trick I’ve learned for increasing my long-term productivity is to kick back and play a few games. They are usually word-games like crossword puzzles and I have an impressive collection of online brain games saved on my phone. But you can choose any game you like, from Solitaire to Candy Crush so long as it gives you an opportunity to relax as well as challenge your problem-solving skills and give you a bit of a mental workout.

Playing interactive games is a positive activity, unlike watching TV which is passive. Other benefits include improved coordination and multitasking skills as well as boosting your memory, attention span and concentration abilities. Best excuses for indulging in a little playtime ever!

Professional copywriters often get stuck on writing projects, we just don’t tell anyone! I read somewhere that the difference between good writers and bad writers is that the good ones recognise when they’re having a bad writing day. They choose to take breaks over hacking away at a piece of text only to scrap it as a poor job later on. So it’s always better to work on freeing up your mind a little, rather than pushing something along just for the sake of it. These tools will help, I promise you.

About the author: Helen Say is one half of CBL Copywriting & SEO, an independent marketing consultancy based in Hemel Hempstead, UK. She’s the “copywriting” half of the business so spends a lot of time in front of a keyboard and screen. Whether this is for writing or playing solitaire, she won’t say.