3 Strategies to Help Creatives and Writers Be More Productive

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I read an interesting essay this weekend about how the world is split into Makers and Managers, and why these two types of people work completely differently. The idea is that there are those of us whose job it is to make something—programmers, writers, creatives, artists, chefs, designers—and those of us whose job it is to keep the whole shebang running smoothly. (Here’s the whole essay; it’s written by Paul Graham, co-founder of the seed capital firm Y Combinator, found via The Nester.)

But I actually think more jobs fall right in between Maker and Manager these days. The job of an agent definitely requires a bit of Maker and Manager. We’re managing our author’s careers; we’re meeting with editors; we’re coordinating and mediating and generally making sure projects run smoothly. But we’re also creatives, particularly in the initial stages of a project, when ideas are still being molded and the proposal or manuscript is being revised and often rewritten.

I also thinks that most authors are all also part Makers and part Managers. Yes, a big part of their work—the writing—falls strictly in the realm of creative work. But the other stuff that’s just as important—the platform and brand building—requires managing designers and often employees, meeting with potential partners, crafting business plans, marketing, networking, etc. After all, an author who is building a platform is essentially a small business owner, and therefore wears many, many hats. And what does that lead to?

Hat hair. Oh, and burnout.

Graham’s article really got me thinking about how Makers can mold their schedules to avoid the burnout that comes from living in a Manager’s world. It also got me thinking of how I’ve changed my own way of working in the past year. I didn’t quite realize why my new system was jiving better for me, but now I can see that I’ve naturally fallen into a Maker schedule in the morning and a Manager schedule in the afternoon. And it’s led to great, great stuff–I feel more productive, more energized, and more motivated throughout the day.

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This guy’s got the idea. Source

Obviously some days are better than others—some days a task can end up being much more complicated than expected, or an urgent situation derails your groove, or the coffee just isn’t kicking in and you’re nearly snoozing on the keyboard (hellooo, Monday!). But these are the strategies that have helped me avoid afternoon energy slumps, build productivity momentum, cut out distractions, and make sure I’m getting my hardest and most important work done. Everyone works differently and has different demands on their time, so work schedules can never be one-size-fits-all. But these strategies have helped me get more done, so maybe they’ll work for you!

3 Strategies to Help Creatives and Writers Increase Productivity

Get Creative Work Done First Thing in the Morning:

This is when our minds are still fresh to create new story ideas, to pick up existing ideas, and to flow right into the storytelling of a manuscript, blog post, artwork, recipe, or business plan. In the morning, we have all cylinders firing, we’re caffeinated up, and ready to pump out our most meaningful work. This is where the big ideas happen, and when big leaps are made in the forward progress of our most important projects.

Much of the creating that Makers do is done solo, so ideally this should be your time to be shut away from the rest of your team, company, family, and anyone or anything else that’s likely to interrupt your flow. I also find it’s helpful to close my browser, put my phone face down or across the room, and making sure I’m fully immersed in my work. One little text or peek at Twitter may not seem like a big deal, but any seasoned writer will tell you that a creative flow is a fragile, elusive thing, and it must be fiercely protected. Plus, be honest with yourself: do you really need to check Facebook ten times a day? Getting things done > useless listicles, every time.

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Fresh coffee, fresh eyes, fresh ideas in the morning. Source

I personally like to jump into my hardest projects completely fresh in the morning—as in, other than a quick look at my email to make sure there is nothing urgent, I won’t read emails, check social media, read news articles, or do anything that might clutter my mind until I’ve sat down and done my #1 most important thing for the day. Once that big looming task is done, I almost feel like I’m rewarding myself by doing easier work like responding to emails or brainstorming a book title.

As Paul Graham recommends, you’ll probably need to block off an entire morning to get deep into a project, and many mornings for the biggest projects (like writing a book).

Try Microscheduling for the Afternoon:

For a writer, creative, or blogger who is balancing content creation with platform building and business growth, try to split your day between the two. The morning can be blocked off for writing, recipe development, photography, strategy planning, and excessive coffee consumption, while the afternoon can be about platform and brand building.

But “platform and brand building” is pretty vague, and if you’re a little Type A like me, the thought of unstructured time might fill you with dread. (I’ll admit it: I’m addicted to planning.)

When I was an editor at a publishing house in New York, I would often have 10-15 meetings a week, and I had lots of recurring tasks (things that had to get done each week or month) that would take up a big portion of the day. Then I moved to a publisher in Boston, where we had about 2-3 meetings a week, no recurring tasks, and I was given complete independence to use each day to work on my books as necessary.

Sounds great, but it was actually kind of terrifying. I’d come into the office and look at my open calendar with dread, not quite sure what to tackle and in what order. I quickly learned the beauty of microscheduling and started to chunk my entire day into 1 or 2 hour increments for specific tasks. I’d set aside, say 1.5 hours in my calendar for researching new book ideas, or 2 hours for reviewing galleys, or .5 hours for cover feedback. Then I’d get a little pop up notification reminding me to switch to the next task, so that something like idea research wouldn’t quickly devolve into a wormhole of internet browsing. (Because who doesn’t get sucked into all the pretty blogs and Pinterest-y thin producitivity gs out there?) When it became part of my job to research blogs and websites, I had to quickly learn to rein it in, analyze blogs clinically and quickly, and try never, ever to get sucked into the black hole of time that is Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed is where productivity goes to die and reincarnate as 31 photos of cats sneezing.

For creatives and writers, an afternoon could be chunked into half-hour or one-hour increments for both platform maintenance tasks and new growth tasks, like:

  • responding to website or social media comments
  • tweaking a website error
  • planning an editorial schedule
  • adding a new element to a site
  • spending face-to-face time with customers
  • dealing with an employee issue
  • reaching out to potential partners
  • invoicing or other accounting work
  • managing inventory and orders

The best part of microscheduling is that, at the end of day, you’ll have a very clear picture of exactly how you spent your time. No more hazily looking back on the day and wondering where the time went and what you did with it. And over the long run, you’ll have a bigger picture of each little step you took to get from Point A on your platform building to Point B.

Plus, it just feels great to look back at the end of the day and see all the things you got done—go, you!

Batch Process When Possible:

Try to batch all tasks that are similar (like responding to email, or editing photos, or making phone calls) into one block of time, rather than doing them one-by-one, throughout the day.

This will save you time, because as Paul Graham points out, distractions and breaks in the day can be big productivity killers. I know I used to be guilty of reading every email as soon as it came in, escaping to check social media whenever I hit a tough sentence while editing, opening my browser to look up any tiny thing, and generally allowing myself to be distracted from my hardest and most important work.

Now, I try to schedule in time to respond to all of my emails at once, to check and to be active on social media only for limited time increments, and to schedule all my meetings and phone calls back-to-back, near the end of the day.

Obviously, this is just impossible sometimes—we have to work with other people’s schedules for meetings and phone calls, and sometimes emails are urgent and need action right away. But the idea is to have a plan in place for those days when we can control our schedule, so that we’re working smart and getting it done.


Those are a few of the strategies that have helped me kick my butt into gear over the past year. Everyone is different, but whether you’re a Maker or a Manager (or both) it’s worth shuffling around your schedule and seeing what works for you. And if you have any great get-it-done tips of your own, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Bonus tip: make your own iced coffee at home to supercharge through the morning! It’s life changing. Here’s a great recipe.

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2 thoughts on “3 Strategies to Help Creatives and Writers Be More Productive

  1. This is very helpful advice and the general concept of this method can be applied to almost all aspects of life. Very good!

    1. I’m glad it was helpful to you! And you’re right–it can definitely apply to other professions and situations!

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