Do you want to know what the most challenging part of my job is?
It’s not coming up with ideas. Or setting deadlines. Or working 10 to 12-hour days during the week.
It’s staying focused.
I get up. I’m tired. I write a lot. Coffee. I write some more. Food. More writing. More coffee.
I write over 5,000 words a day across my many responsibilities as a person creating stuff on the internet. That’s not a complaint — to be completely honest, it’s an accomplishment that took years of hard work and training to achieve. I know writing seems like an easy job to many people, but it’s not. Writers don’t make a lot of money. We have to overcompensate to afford the necessities. You know, like books.
Want to know the best part of my job? I never have to leave my room.
How do I do this? How do I consistently write for my employer, write for my clients, post on this blog, Do All The Things when I’m basically working unsupervised at a tiny desk two feet from my bed?
Great question! I’m glad you asked.
I make daily to-do lists.
Before I go to sleep, I write down in my planner everything I need to get done tomorrow. Sometimes, if I need an extra layer of “do this or else,” I’ll create a virtual list of tasks in Asana (it’s an app built for teams, but I am my own team, so THERE). I do this nightly because I prefer to wake up and start getting stuff done right away. That’s right — sometimes productivity happens even before the coffee’s done. Unless it’s a Friday, of course. Sometimes I let myself sleep in a little later on Fridays. (!)
Some people hate making lists; for some, it just doesn’t work. If a planner doesn’t work and a task manager like Asana doesn’t keep you on track, then making lists just isn’t part of your workflow process. That’s fine. It’s what works for me — it took some trial and error to figure that out — and so that’s what I do. Crossing things off makes me feel good. It will never stop bringing me joy.
I use Cold Turkey.
It’s a desktop app. The free version lets you “block” a selected list of websites for a certain amount of time (during my work day, eight hours). While I’m at work, I can’t check Facebook, get lost in a BuzzFeed vortex, or reply to tweets. It turns out I’m not as addicted to any of these things as I thought: if I really wanted them that badly, I’d just turn the app off.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to avoid distractions when they’re not available. What I love most about this app is that it doesn’t block everything. You can still Google search, you can still check email — it doesn’t block you completely from the internet as a whole unless you tell it to.
My phone doesn’t have very many apps.
I’ve even recently removed email from my phone. I used to be one of those people who was “proud” to say she checked her email every hour, all day long. I can’t, and don’t want to, do that to myself anymore. First of all, email is a grossly ineffective form of communication since most people don’t know how to use it productively. Also, I’m not cool enough to get a lot of emails. 80 percent of the emails I get are from lists, Barnes & Noble, or spam.
I don’t have Facebook, YouTube, or gaming apps on my iPhone at all. I haven’t gotten rid of my WordPress or Twitter apps simply because, to be honest, I need those occasional bursts of satisfaction every time one of you likes a post (my Millennialism is showing … ). But even those things distract me way more often than they should. I love notifications, but I try to minimize them as much as possible.
I don’t like being late.
I get anxious when a deadline approaches. I try to get things done early when I can — bust mostly, I just try to stay on track from day to day. I do not sleep well when there is something that needs to be done that I haven’t gotten around to yet. Yes, I have been late before — I’m not perfect. But it is not an experience that I enjoy, nor have I ever had a reasonable excuse for it.
Above all, I treat my work as if I am a paid professional — because, I guess, I technically am. People are depending on me to get things done. Often times, someone is waiting on me to finish something so they can send it off to someone else. Being late, in my opinion, is unacceptable, and I have a very hard time understanding why there are people who don’t seem to agree. A deadline is a deadline for a reason. It’s disrespectful not to keep a promise.
I love what I do.
I don’t know exactly how I got to this point, but I happen to do a job that I look forward to arriving at and don’t look forward to leaving. It happened unexpectedly and it was the best miracle I could have asked for at 24. Yes, sometimes I get distracted. Sometimes I have a rough day. It happens to all of us. But I genuinely love my job. I WANT to work. I WANT to be productive. I WANT to feel fulfilled.
I know that kind of thing does not come very easily to very many people, so “find a job you love” would not be the best advice to give here. Instead, I’ll tell you this: do what you like. It might be part of your job, it might just be a hobby. Regardless, there has to be a part of your life you love more than you’ve ever loved anything in this world. That is what is going to keep you going, especially when nothing else will.
If you are “blocked,” it is almost always because you’re letting distractions interrupt you. Or you’ve been focusing too long and you need a break. TAKE BREAKS. Switch between tasks every once in awhile, but don’t stop working until you’re done. If that’s too hard, you’re either trying to do too much or you’re not doing the right kind of work for you. Writing is hard. If you’re up for the challenge, make it happen.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.