Want to know something crazy? Who am I kidding. Of course you do. I write tens of thousands of words every single week. Sometimes more than 20,000 words, and sometimes closer to 10,000 words… But either way, that number is no joke. And in a recent SumoMe Pro workshop, I got an interesting question about whether I had any tips for becoming super productive when creating content. And of course I do. Even though over the past few months there has been a lot going on in my personal life, I still manage to pump out some pretty awesome content (if I do say so myself) on a regular basis, and do so without sacrificing the other shit I have to get done. Before we jump into my process, we have to address something…
The Time Commitment for Awesome Content
I want to start this guide with a caveat. I know it's going to make most of your eyes glaze over, and some of you are going to leave this article (probably with a sarcastic laugh). But I respect you and your time, so this caveat will save you at least the amount of time you could be spending reading it: This guide will help you skyrocket your productivity when you're creating content, yes. But it won't make the content creation process easier, or more efficient. Most of us look for silver bullets, but that's not the purpose of this guide. Because frankly, good content takes time. This guide will make you more effective. Effectiveness and efficiency are not one and the same. This guide won't change the fact that a high quality piece of content will (and should) take you hours to create.
- My Bulletproof Guide to Launching a Successful Freelance Writing Career took me over 12 hours to create, not to mention actually testing the methods
- This monster guide on how to build social proof on SumoMe took me over 45 hours to create
- And this bad boy about republishing on SumoMe took me over 24 hours to write.
Yes, one piece of truly great content will take hours to create. But each of those guides – even the ones I wrote almost a year ago – drive clients, email subscribers, traffic, and a ton of consulting, coaching and freelancing requests. I even get job offers regularly from those pieces of content. And that's not mentioning what they do for the host websites. If the time commitment scares you off, there are two things at play:
- You don't understand the full potential of content marketing
- You do understand it, but you're not willing to put in the work.
If the former, hopefully what I said earlier helped a bit. But if you fit into the latter category, Unsettle's probably not for you anyway. So, onward:
How to Become a Content Creation Productivity Machine
I know the feeling… When you have something creative to do, and instead of actually sitting down and doing it you procrastinate like it's your job. Everything and anything becomes more interesting than what you really should be doing. Cleaning the house, answering email, Netflix, playing with the cat. So how can you break that cycle and start creating content? Here's what I do:
Cut It All Out
Want to know a secret?
As I write this, I'm in Paris. La Ville Lumière, a city that I've
incessantly nagged my parents dreamed about visiting since I could remember.
And instead of wandering the beautiful Parisian streets eating macarons and soaking it in, guess where I am?
I'm holed up in a tiny hotel room with the blinds closed. Paris is amazing. Paris is everything. But Paris is distracting.
If you want to crank out awesome content, you need to get in the zone. That means no Facebook, no Twitter, no internet in general. That means not sitting next to a window (look! Squirrel!), not listening to music you aren't intimately familiar with. That means no phone within grabbing distance, no wifi, and definitely no snacks.
I know. I run a tight ship.
Have you ever tracked your time? If you've having a hard time creating content, I would highly recommend you do some time tracking. This means writing down absolutely everything you do for at least a few hours – or, at the very least, the period of time when you're trying to create content.
When I did this, my time looked a bit like this:
- 6:00 – 6:06 Write
- 6:06 – 6:08 Check Twitter
- 6:08 – 6:09 Check Facebook
- 6:09 – 6:17 Write
- 6:17 – 6:19 Send a text
- 6:19 – 6:31 Write
- 6:31 – 6:35 Google “bergamot”. Read Wikipedia page.
Yeah, I'm ridiculous. The hours slipped by like this, and I only got a fraction of my writing potential in. After I'd totalled up all of my distracted time, I posted it to the Being Boss Facebook group, where a fellow Boss pointed out that it wasn't just the ~45 minutes of time I wasted checking Twitter uselessly yet again – it was also the cost of task switching. When you task switch, you lose about 20 minutes of productive time, because you have to get back into the task you were trying to focus on. Yup – that means that even that 30 second Facebook break cost you 20 extra minutes. If that makes you want to dry heave you're certainly not alone. So if you have to strap yourself down to your chair, or tell your family to pretend you don't exist for a couple of hours, do it. This is also why creating content first thing in the morning is so effective – nobody is awake or online. The distractions are few and far between. Short term pain for long term gain, friend!
Outline, Outline, Outline
When I have an idea for content – whether I'm trying to generate the idea or it just pops into my head – the first thing I do is outline. This means that I brain dump absolutely everything I can think of on the topic into a Google Doc. Do not self edit in this stage. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Just include every single detail that comes to mind. Here's an example of how I have done this with a recent guide for SumoMe:
I didn't edit. I didn't care about spelling. I didn't organize my thoughts. I just wrote whatever came to my head. This serves three purposes:
- It creates a loose outline of your content: As you brain dump, you'll start to see more structure come into play in your content.
- It gives your brain creative space to generate more ideas without the pressure of having to action them all at once: Creativity has performance anxiety when there's too much pressure placed on it. When you're expected to sit down and actually create the content, your brain may withhold ideas from you.
- It helps you figure out whether the content is worthy of creation in the first place: Sometimes I get really jazzed about a piece of content, sit down to create it and realize that there's not much to say about it. Outlining helps me realize I should just stick to a Tweet (or a series of them!).
All of my best content started as an outline – including podcast episodes, articles, and even email courses.
Piece it Out
When I'm writing, I'm easily anxious. I tend to look at the article as a whole, and there's nothing more daunting to a creative than a blinking cursor, waiting for word number one of a 5,000 word guide. The only thing I've found effective to beat this anxiety and actually get words on the page is piecing it out. What do I mean? Well, when you look at something as a whole, it seems huge. Like scaling a mountain. But when you break it down into steps or chunks, it seems a lot more manageable. So I piece it out:
- Start by writing the conclusion. If your only task is to write the conclusion, this takes the pressure off. Plus, writing the conclusion first will set a guideline of exactly what you want your reader to get out of your article.
- Write the most exciting point. After you write your conclusion, piece out the points. What is your most exciting point? That should be easy to write, so write that first. Outlining was the point I was the most excited about in this article, so I wrote it first.
- Write one example, one bullet, one study. Instead of psyching myself out with writing an entire, meaty point that is daunting me, I stick to writing about one relevant study, example, or bullet point. The rest of the point usually flows from there, but if not, let it lie until it comes more naturally.
As you piece things out, you'll notice your psychology shifting. You begin to see those words on the page, which gives you momentum. Small wins (completing a section) makes it easier to finish the next. Just don't give yourself too much time to finish the sections…
Know Your Creative Sweet Spot
We all have a specific time of day we're most creative. My creative sweet spot is different from yours, and yours is probably not when you want it to be. I mean, you probably want it to be after you've had a few cups of coffee and you're feeling energetic. Unfortunately, studies have shown we're far more creative when we're tired – so that's before we have had our morning coffee. Bummer, right? That means that when you're the most energetic and productive probably doesn't align with when you're the most creative. The bad news is that with content creation – even if you're not creating content that is inherently creative in nature – requires constant creativity. When I have a lot of content to create – or when I'm feeling a bit creatively stuck on a guide – I block out the first hour or two of my day to focus just on that. That means from the moment I wake up (which used to be 5:45 AM, but frankly that shit got too cray for me) until I have to get on with my day. The only way to discover when your creative sweet spot is is to test out different times of day to figure out when things flow for you.
Set an Unreasonable Deadline
There's this law called “Parkinson's Law” which states that tasks expand to the amount of time you've allotted to them. Or, as Parkinson put it:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
That's why I encourage everyone to set a launch date. If you don't set a launch date for your thing, you'll always be “working on it” and never actually doing it. But how does this apply to becoming a content generation machine? Well, if you give yourself a week to write a guide, you'll take a week to write it. Except you'll probably wait until day 5 to actually start on it. That's why you should set yourself an unreasonable deadline. Or, at least a deadline that your procrastinating self would have found unreasonable before you knew about Parkinson's Law.
- Plan on getting that opt-in offer done next week? Bump your deadline up to tomorrow.
- Publish one article a month on your blog? Commit to publishing weekly (without sacrificing quality).
- Scheduled 40 hours to create your course? Cut it down to 30.
And if you have a hard time sticking to these deadlines you're setting for yourself? Find an accountability partner (maybe in the Unsettle Facebook group) to keep you on track.
Stop Making Excuses (And Start Making Content)
The funny thing is, the people who so badly want to quit their soul sucking jobs to venture out on their own… The people who can't quite seem to figure out how to land clients or get more traffic to their websites? Those are the people who tend to avoid creating content. Yet they're the ones who need to create content the most. A few badass pieces of content can take you from obscurity to dripping with clients, sales, and email subscribers. So stop making excuses. And start creating content. And let me know what has worked best for you!
36 thoughts on “The 5 Simple Strategies to Boost Your Writing Productivity”
Wow! Just Wow! You’re rocking these days Sarah!
I have definitely lot of take away from this post.
I loved the piecing it out part. I can see that it will help me a lot overcome writer’s block.
Thanks for inspiring post, Sarah!
Yeah I guess it does help overcome writer’s block, too. Never thought of that. Thanks Bharat!
This is something unique and i think this post of yours is a great help.
thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for this article (and also for the work you have done). You will find that I’ve fallen into that trap where I have had numerous opportunities to write as I am at the end of the financial yeat at work but instead of using it productively I have just procrastinated just like a normal job. I have to say it’s been a nightmare trying to find that sweet spot where I can get in the zone and for someone who is trying to start a blog, it’s become demotivating!
Will definitely try out your tips though.
We all procrastinate, Helen – you’re not alone. That’s why this article resonated with so many people!
Great read. It totally makes sense!
I definitely needed this article this morning! I was bummed at my lack of progress yesterday, but as always, it was obviously my own fault. Thanks for the reminder that we don’t always have to write in order…I think that will be very useful for me in the coming weeks.
Don’t be bummed about something that happened yesterday, be committed to doing better today 🙂
Thanks for the great article Sarah. I can totally relate to ALL of the procrastination and creativity “suckers” you were referring to.
I love to write, but when I’m forced to, it seems like a chore right now.
I will definitely take away a few great pointers from this. Specifically, I love the idea of writing the conclusion FIRST, and the piecing it together.
These are great ideas. Thanks!
I found writing the conclusion first super helpful, too – plus the headline because both help me structure the rest of the piece. Let me know how you find it.
“Creating content requires constant creativity”. That one sentence just grabbed me. I paint as well as write about gardening, and if I leave painting for a few weeks, I’ve lost the touch! Same for my posts.
This is a great article – thanks.
Yeah, it’s definitely true. No matter what type of content you’re creating 🙂
This was a very helpful, practical, and honest piece. Thank you for your words.
Thank YOU for your words, Kimberly 🙂
Thanks Sarah. I am totally in that category of people that just need to be making content. I have been in a haze and I really need to just buckle down and get it done. Thanks for the help and inspiration to do the hard thing.
So what are you going to do about it, Joe? 😉 Hope “content” creation is in your schedule for this week!
Appreciate writing how long it took you to write some posts. One thing I’ve realized is quality over quantity. I would like to post more than once a week, but don’t have the time right now.
When I write it’s like study hall in school again. No distractions, no music, no chit chat with fellow classmates. Only having the nose in the book & getting work done so I didn’t have to do it at home.
It definitely takes me a decent amount of time but you’re right to recognize that you should be focusing on creating the best quality stuff you can in the limited amount of time you have.
Great article. I love how it all flows together. What you’re describing is what Cal Newport describes as “deep work”, a pretty intuitive concept – but pretty hard to implement. Cal Newport wrote a book on “deep work”. I’d recommend you check it out. Definitely changed my view on how I approach my tasks.
One thing I also do is plan. For each minute of planning, you save around 10 minutes in execution. For 10 minutes of planning, you save 100 freaking minutes. That’s a little over an hour a half. Massive.
Again, awesome article Sarah. I love the stuff you’re putting out there for SumoMe as well.
Ah yes, I’ve heard about that book a lot. Planning only works if you actually execute though – and I think a lot of people get caught in that awesome feeling you get when you have set up a great plan, and then mistake the endorphins they feel for actually getting it done.
Great article Sarah! Keeping us on track as always.
I do what I can 😉
Your article is just what I needed. I am coming off of two months of what for me is intense writing. I write agricultural articles for newspapers. I can see from your article that I fell into the trap of letting the work fill the time available instead of setting challenging deadlines. Several of your other suggestions are going to make the future better for me. Now I need to market to find additional editors out there to work with in the future.
YES. Never let the work run the show – you’re the boss, you set the deadlines!
This. is. awesome! Just what I needed to ready since I’m getting back into the swing of creating content for my blog.
Yay! Make it a habit, Lisa.
This is SO what I needed to read right now. Especially the part about just closing those curtains in Paris and cracking on with it. As a travel writer my biggest struggle is actually writing the stories when I’m on the road. I write loads of notes and take lots of photos and do social media (which all takes hours in itself), but when it comes to spending a few more hours writing the full story? I’m so often thinking ‘but when will I be in Cappadocia again? I’m off to explore!’
I’ve saved this post and screenshotted pages as well to remind me to keep on track. Thanks for sharing!
Awesome that it came at the right time for you Amanda. Closing the curtains has been even more difficult as I’m now in Santorini, but I’ve been more productive than I’ve ever been because I just want to go and explore – and I know that once I’m finished writing, I can do just that.
Ha. That’s right on time. Sometimes we’re all busy, so one strategy being employed is to hang on doing nothing, until the guilt is strong enough to spark any action. 😉 Writing here is no easy task, as these are technical modules and as such require 2X more time in proofreading the coding. But still, excuses are excuses of course! 🙂
Haha – you nailed it with your last comment, Tom 🙂 If it’s gotta get done, it’s gotta get done, no matter how difficult.
Wow. This post is amazing. I think it might be my favorite post on Unsettle. Every point hit me home. These are the exact things I’m working on right now. I can’t believe how much you write each week! That’s crazy. Thanks so much for all these powerful tips. I’m definitely tweeting this.
That’s awesome, Eli – I’m glad it resonated 🙂 I do write a LOT but everything I am now came from writing, so I prioritize it.
Now I know why my posts just seem to flow if I write them at 2 am & dead tired. Thanks for sharing all these tips! Will apply a few of them when I write tomorrow.
Let me know how it goes Daisy – that used to confuse me too, but it makes a lot of sense now.
this is just wanted I needed at this point in time #lawofattraction
Thank you! (and also, you are a superhuman)
This is an awesome article. I’m just starting to write content and these are definitely tips I am going to use. This has given me the push I needed just now to get to work! Thanks!!
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