Here’s How to Make 2018 Your Most Productive Year Yet

Often, copywriters feel bogged down by procrastination, disorganization, or general overwhelm. Rarely do we feel like we’ve accomplished as much as we wish we had in a given day.

This is your year to change that.

Use these three tips, and watch your productivity soar.

One: Chunk and Checklist

Sometimes, the thing that holds us back from accomplishing a task is a sense of overwhelm. The bigger and harder the task, the more likely we are to put off starting it.

Conquer your procrastination demons with a technique I call “chunking and checklisting.” Here’s how it works.

Chunk The Work. On a piece of paper (or a blank document), take a few minutes and think through the steps involved in completing the project. Do this even if you think you “know” all the steps. Break it down into its simplest, most basic elements. For instance, writing a blog entry could be broken down like this:

  • Choose a topic.
  • Create a document.
  • Read the requirements.
  • Research the topic.
  • Write a headline.
  • Write an outline.
  • Write the first 300 words.
  • And so on…

The more individual elements of the process you can list, the better. These are your chunks. If any of the chunks are still large (for instance, writing a long draft), break it down even further, as in, “write the first 300 words,” “write the second 300 words,” etc.

Checklist the Work. Next, take your chunks and turn them into a checklist. You can do this in a Word document, a pdf, OneNote, or, my favorite tool, Trello. If the task is something you do often (such as writing blog entries for clients), make sure you put it in a format that you can use over and over again. No need to reinvent the wheel each time!

Here’s my standard blog production checklist.

Chunking and checklisting works because it eliminates overwhelm, and replaces it with a sense of accomplishment each time you check something off the list. You can use it for literally any task. I even chunk and checklist my morning routine! Try it, and you’ll never look back.

Two: Calendar Block

A common challenge for freelancers is a certain lack of accountability for our time. Often, we set to work in the morning with the best of intentions, but find ourselves at the end with very little to show.

Morning: Contemplating a long list of to-dos and eight hours to fill.

Evening: Contemplating the same long list of to-dos and a feeling of despair.

Conquer the what-did-I-do blues with calendar blocking. When you do it right, calendar blocking has the added benefit of putting everything you need to do your work at your fingertips the moment you need it. Instead of rummaging around looking for the right files and emails and information, you can set right to work and knock it out. Here’s how.

Set Up An Online Calendar. I use Google Calendars. I like its functionality, and I like free. You may prefer something else.

Choose a Simple Color Scheme. I use pale green or blue for events that involve other people, yellow for tasks, and purple for personal time (like lunch or retreating to the mountains). With this color scheme, I can see at a glance what items can be moved around if necessary, and what items require me to be on time and/or to have pants on.

Block Your Time a Week at a Time. I do this on Fridays (I literally block the time to block my time) the week before, but you can do it on Monday morning if you prefer, or whichever day marks the beginning of your work week. Review what you have agreed to deliver for each of your clients, as well as your commitments to yourself (prospecting, blogging, writing, connecting, taking a hot bath, begging your SO for a massage…), and block appropriate bits of time for each. You may estimate badly at first, but don’t stress. You’ll learn over time how much time each item needs, and in the meantime you can shove stuff around as necessary to make it fit.

Set Recurring Items to Recur. If there are certain tasks you do at the same time each week, set them to recur so that you don’t have to block them anew each week.

Leave a Little Bit of Wiggle Room. Leave some room for impromptu meetings, important calls, and other things that crop up during the week. If you don’t leave wiggle room, you’ll be tempted to sacrifice your commitments to yourself to make room for other things. Don’t sacrifice your commitments to yourself.

Link the Resources You’ll Need Inside Each Calendar Event. For each of your blocked items, consider what information you will need handy in order to complete the task. If it’s a meeting, is there a Zoom invitation you can paste into the event? For tasks, is there a checklist or Trello card or Google doc you can link? If it’s a one-off type item, can you paste a “to do” list inside to remind yourself what is involved? Is there a relevant email conversation you’ll want access to? Anything you can do to reduce the time you spend searching for info will make you more likely to do the work, and faster at completing it.

Three: Identify and Clear Obstacles

Any time we find ourselves stuck or frustrated or feeling unproductive, there is usually a reason for it, and it’s rarely that we’re just bad people*. When this happens, instead of spinning your wheels trying to “power through” whatever it is, take a moment to step back and figure it out. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” “What is stopping me from continuing?”

Sometimes the answer will become obvious. It may be that you don’t feel good about the work because it doesn’t align with your sense of right. It may be that you’re overwhelmed and you forgot to chunk and checklist. It could be that you’re going through something personal that makes it hard to focus. Maybe you don’t have everything you need to get started.

Whatever the reason, once you know, you can take measures. Maybe you need a break so you can recover from whatever you’re going through. Clients will usually understand if you let them know you will be a little late due to personal matters. Give yourself that time. Maybe it’s time to let something go altogether because it doesn’t serve your soul.

Or maybe you can use one of your productivity tools to get you back on track. Whatever it is, you’ll have a much easier time facing it if you know what “it” is.

BONUS: Be Kind to Yourself

Often, we become freelancers because we’re driven people. We like to get things done, and no matter how much we’ve already done, we can always see how much more there is to do. Also? We’re hard on ourselves.

While being driven is great in some ways, being unkind to ourselves is counterproductive. Give yourself the gift of acknowledging all that you have already accomplished, and the courage it takes to attempt the things you have not yet accomplished.

I like to mark calendar items dark green as I complete them, so I can look back at my day and then my week and see just how much I actually got done. It feels good.

You may want to add little rewards into your day, especially for tasks that are particularly challenging. Treat yourself to a cup of good quality coffee or a new scented candle. Light incense or take a walk or snuggle with your sweetie or whatever makes you feel good (and is healthy for you). Do it often. Make it a habit to reward yourself regularly.

And remember to build rest time into your day. Don’t do like I sometimes do and trim your lunch down to 15 minutes. TAKE your lunch. Go for a walk. Talk to your SO. Sit under a tree. Take a bath. You will be more productive for it.

And if you want more help celebrating your successes and clearing blocks, consider joining Creativity Jam! on Thursday nights. It’s free for the first month and only a $10/month after that. Open to all creatives, we meet online to provide support, advice, and to help each other be our best creative selves. We’d love to see you there.

* If you’re kicking kittens to make them cry or taking cookies from refugee children, you might actually just be bad people. You might want to check, just to be sure.

Fen Druadìn Head
Fen Druadìn Head is an award-winning freelance writer and coach. Her work can be found all over the internet in publications as diverse as Redshift Magazine and Grit. Fen's fiction is represented by Ethan Ellenberg.