What is productivity for authors and creatives?
by Jennie Jerome
Our world today is driven by the now. Our cars are self starting, our coffee is to go, our introductions are 30 seconds, and our attention spans are nil. We are told to “live in the moment” and “embrace the now.”
Pick up almost any self improvement or efficiency expert’s book, and you will learn how to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, have a four-hour work week, and maximize you productivity in 10 minutes a day. Never mind that it took you 10 years and two babies to pack on those 30 pounds, you work 60+ hours a week at the moment, and your definition of maximum 10-minute daily productivity is walking to and from the break room for your fourth cup of coffee.
Time is a scarce commodity in our world, and everyone is trying to sell you a way to get more of it so you can “feel more productive.” What does it mean to be productive, though? Does it mean to get a lot of little things done; to cross a million little things off your list?
The answer, it would seem from the examples above, is yes: productivity means completing as many tasks as possible in as little time as possible. The problem, however, is that this answer fails to determine the long-term value getting those little things done actually has on our quality of life or the value we add to the world.
This is precisely the type of question the book Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei, attempts to address.
In the section “Understanding Our Compulsions,” bestselling author and behavioral economist Dan Ariely explores the concept of email; specifically, why we feel so compelled to check our inbox frequently and the myth of “inbox zero.” He begins by explaining that the majority of people are most creative and productive first thing in the morning, but that they waste this “creative productivity juice” (my term) by prioritizing email. Checking our email is tempting, he goes on to say, because we like to feel like we have achieved something right off the bat, and erasing 10 emails from our inbox feels like progress.
However, the crux of the matter is this: it is not clear what, if any, value you are getting in return for your time. I mean, having a clear inbox/neat desk/clutter-free home is great; but isn’t it better in the long run to have written, edited, and published a bestselling novel? Or at least one that gets your message out to the world and, possibly, brings some money in?
What, then, should we focus on to help us manage our time well and still satisfy our short-term need to feel “productive?” Ariely’s answer: progression markers. My answer: ditto. Production markers are essentially anything that shows production over time. For writers, it could mean setting aside an hour three days a week to write and physically checking off, coloring in, or otherwise marking how often you completed the task. This is more beneficial than simply deleting a task once it is complete.
Similarly, saving drafts at the end of the week and starting a new document can really show how much change and improvement your writing has undergone. This is lost if you simply update a single draft and consistently edit the same document.
Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, it reminds us writers of the importance of process. Ariely states, “When you answer a thousand emails, you see every email you answer. When you are thinking about a difficult problem, it feels like maybe there were 30 wasted hours and then finally you had a half-hour at the end that was useful because the idea kind of came to you.” This can be an especially dangerous trap for writers who set performance goals such as, “I will write 500 words a day for a month,” because it discredits the days when you spend hours pouring over character development or niggling a plot twist.
So the final thought I will leave you with is this: The next time you sit down to write and your email beckons with its seductive chirp, or you feel frustrated because you “just didn’t get enough done on you book,” ask yourself this: Is you reader going to care if you have a clean inbox or if it took you a year rather than six months to write your book, or are they going to care that the characters are rich and full, the story is fast-paced, and the plot twist was out of this world?
Jennie Jerome is a marketing consultant and business coach specializing in strategy and negotiations. Her business is focused around determining where you are, where you want to be, and how you are going to get there. She is in the process of launching a new and expanded website, but you can connect with her here, or meet her in person at the Publishing and Book Promotion Meetup, organized by Laura Orsini. Jennie is a reoccurring guest blogger and posts here the 5th of every month. Please feel free to submit questions or blog ideas in the comments sections of her posts. Happy writing!