Be A More Productive Writer by Deciding What NOT to Do

by John Soares on June 2, 2014

To be a productive writer you must be clear on what to do and why, and how to do whatever you do as efficiently as possible.

Freelance writers usually have better things to do than watch television.

What else could you be doing besides watching the tube? (Courtesy ssoosay)

But another key component of being productive is deciding what NOT to do.

What do I mean? High productivity requires that you get your highest priority tasks done quickly and well. A key component here is time. If you free up more time, you’ll produce more, be it in writing or in other areas of your life.

3 Major Time Wasters

Television

Too many people waste their evenings and weekends watching vapid shows on television. The average American adult watches about 5 hours of TV per day. Granted, there are some very entertaining and educational programs on television, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch any. But be conscious of what you are watching and why, and be sure it gives you a positive benefit. Such benefits could include learning about something that interests you, laughing, or just letting your mind take a rest from the mental activities of your day.

Consider limiting your TV time to a set amount. Personally, I have access to only the basic network television channels. I do have a subscription to Netflix and I spend 3 to 4 hours per week watching carefully selected movies, documentaries, and comedy shows.

Internet

Here are the 4 main ways you can waste time on the Internet:

1. Random surfing. Whenever you are on the Internet, be clear exactly what you are doing and how it will benefit you. Extraneous stuff just sucks your life away.

2. Social networking. These sites help you connect with friends and family, and perhaps they can help your career. Budget your time carefully, though. Set specific time periods for dealing with it.

3. Constantly checking e-mail. Only check e-mail 2 or 3 times a day, when it is best for you. Turn off all e-mail notification options so that you don’t get distracted.

4. Computer games. Whether you play directly on your hard drive or whether you play online, you can kill many, many hours gaming, and drain your energy in the process.

Gossip

Avoid the useless lip flapping about what others are doing in their lives, whether it’s celebrities, family members, or the neighbors.

Your Take

1. What are the top 2 things you can either eliminate or do less of, and be better for it?

2. Look at all the various activities you do. If you had to live your life over again, which of these activities would you not do? What changes will you make regarding these activities?

Share your answers in the comments!

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cathy Miller June 2, 2014 at 6:54 AM

I am not a huge TV fan. I like sports and shows featuring creativity like some of the Food Network shows and Project Runway. Most of the time, I would rather read.

I don’t think I’m too bad on the internet and I hate computer games.

I would say where I can do better is email. If I don’t shut it off, I find I’m checking it more than I would like. I also try to keep my smartphone away from me when I am done working as the little red blinking light signaling a new email is often hard to resist. ;-)
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2 John Soares June 2, 2014 at 7:11 AM

I think I do very well with TV, and like I said, I don’t have a smartphone. I do check email more often than I should, though.

I used to play the occasional game of Spider Solitaire, but it’s not on my new Samsung ultrabook with Windows 8.1, so that distraction is gone.
John Soares recently posted…Four Reasons Why Freelance Writers Should Specialize

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3 Marcie June 2, 2014 at 8:05 AM

John, believe it or not, books are my biggest distractions. To avoid picking up one of books when I should be writing, I put them all on the floor where I can’t see them.

My two other favorite distractions were Words With Friends and Ruzzle. My phone was stolen last month and although I’m disappointed it’s gone, it has been good for productivity.
Marcie recently posted…How Do You Know When the First Draft of Your Book is Done?

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4 John Soares June 2, 2014 at 8:19 AM

Marcie, I used to be distracted by books way back before the Internet, but I mostly have that under control now. I do keep books I need for a writing project out of site of my work desk unless I’m actually working on that project. Otherwise they distract me.

And sorry about your phone (I think). I actually use a Tracfone that is great for phone calls, voice mails, and texts, and I only spend maybe ten bucks a month for it.
John Soares recently posted…Why Freelance Writers Often Miss Deadlines

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5 Anne Wayman June 2, 2014 at 8:36 AM

John, I’ve been without a tv for years and years… raised my kids without one… sorry to say the two that have kids haven’t followed my lead.

Will probably discontinue Netflix soon because I use it so seldom.

I do my political reading in the evening. And a couple of computer games… blu block and solitaire which seem to satisfy me for mind numbing.

I think I’ll leave well enough alone.
Anne Wayman recently posted…5 Ways to Get Your Freelance Writing Project Unstuck

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6 John Soares June 2, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Anne, I try to minimize the political/current events reading I do during the day. Not only does it take time, but it can take my focus away from work as I think about what I’ve read.
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7 Robert Rogers June 2, 2014 at 1:07 PM

It always amazes me when I observe very successful people. One universal trait always seems to be their ability to cut out the distractions and never remain idle. They are directly focused on the goal/purpose at hand and they rarely allow themselves to get distracted.

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8 John Soares June 2, 2014 at 2:03 PM

Robert, a very important trait for success is the ability to focus on the most important task and to get it done.

Regarding distractions, I’m good at ignoring some and not so good at ignoring others. For example, right now I’m in a public library. A man has fallen asleep in a chair and is snoring very, very loudly. It’s a bit distracting!
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9 Lynn Silva June 2, 2014 at 6:32 PM

Hi John,

I hate TV, but with my kids just getting out of school for the summer, I’m having a hard time restricting their TV time. It’s easier for me to allow them more TV time now so that I can work in peace. I worry every single day that they’re being ‘poisoned’ by it. Do you, by any chance, have any suggestions for productive things for an 8 and 12 year old to do? The 8 year old color codes my google and my purse calendar. The 12 year old is starting to do some social media marketing for me, but I have to supervise her right now. That leaves many hours in the day for them. I realize your article was productivity for writers, so it may not be relevant, but I just wondered if you might have some ideas on productivity for them, which in turn, would make me more productive???

Thanks for ALL of your articles. I always look forward to them.
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10 John Soares June 3, 2014 at 6:46 AM

Lynn, I’ve seen discussions about how to keep the kids busy over in the Freelance Writers Den. But I’m not a parent, so I can’t offer personal suggestions.

Try Googling it. I’m sure many work-at-home folks have shared their tips in blog posts.
John Soares recently posted…Successful Freelance Writers Do These Small Things Early

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11 Anne Wayman June 3, 2014 at 7:23 AM

Lynn, when my kids were 6 and 8ish the TV broke and I didn’t think I had enough money to fix it. We all went through hell for about 2 weeks and then I walked in the house and knew something was better… the kids had started to amuse themselves, starting with a whole carnival they set up on the patio… I was amazed… but it took that withdrawal period.
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12 Kaloyan Banev June 3, 2014 at 2:17 AM

Yeah, these are big “time wasters” and I am one of the people that waste too much time and change priorities often when an email arive.
Kaloyan Banev recently posted…How to Measure ROI of Video?

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13 John Soares June 3, 2014 at 6:47 AM

Kaloyan, I turn email notifications off, and I try to check it just 3-4 times a day.
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14 J. Rose Allister June 3, 2014 at 11:40 AM

Nice list and valid points. My TV viewing has admittedly gone way up in the past year or so, although my reading has seen a similar decrease. I like the inspiration both provide for fiction writing, so if I’m not doing one, it better be the other.

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15 John Soares June 7, 2014 at 8:02 AM

I try to limit my TV to what I really, really like. With the long days of summer, I often go a week or more without watching because I’m spending my evenings outside.
John Soares recently posted…Why Freelance Writers Often Miss Deadlines

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16 Singh June 4, 2014 at 2:38 PM

Thanks John for sharing your valuable views.yeah majority of the time we waste on surfing and playing games and yeah i watch TV for many hours so i have to change my habbit and to work hard towards my aims and career.thanks for sharing your views.

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17 Vishal sharma June 6, 2014 at 12:01 AM

Nice information ! This post really covers the topic and I learned many new things about productive writing here. It’s mainly seen that we waste are lots of time just surfing and playing games, yeah we must hard work for better results
Keep good work going

Vishal

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18 Jennifer Thornberry June 6, 2014 at 2:53 PM

My husband and I cut off the cable back in 2008. Best thing we ever did, both for productivity and for not numbing our minds with reality TV. We now buy seasons of shows we like on DVD and rent movies on weekends. During the week, the TV is off.

However, I am guilty of wasting more time than I’d like browsing the Internet, and I’m still trying to get my social media time under control.

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19 John Soares June 7, 2014 at 8:03 AM

Jennifer, sounds like you and the hubby have a great plan for dealing with TV. We did the same thing until we moved to Ashland. Now we get basic TV channels for free as part of our Internet package, so occasionally we watch some PBS or Modern Family.
John Soares recently posted…Four Reasons Why Freelance Writers Should Specialize

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20 Khalid June 7, 2014 at 2:38 AM

I generally don’t spend my time watching TV or gossips but I really spend time on the Internet. Internet is the largest black hole I have found on the earth.
Apart from social networking sites, gaming also causes a lot of time waste. But it’s normal if you pay for 1 hour as its a great stress buster. I mainly play multilayer games like battlefield and others.
Iam also a blogger and find it a good stress buster, if maintained in a certain level.

Thank you for the wonderful post.
Regards

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21 John Soares June 7, 2014 at 8:05 AM

Khalid, I also allow myself a bit of time on the Internet as a reward, or in a bit of free time. But you are right: it can really be a black hole that sucks up all our time.
John Soares recently posted…The 17 Best Ways to Boost Your LinkedIn Profile

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22 Transcend June 12, 2014 at 8:21 AM

I agree. Internet and TV are a bit pointless really, unless you’re using the internet to work of course. :)

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23 Cinda June 12, 2014 at 8:35 PM

Thank you – I so needed reminding!
For me social net working is my time sink, followed by email and the internet where “one thing leads to another.” Otherwise my TV is minimal compared to my reading ( which usually gets a good approval rating but 2 or more hours a day? And I would love to spend twice that much!) LAstly is writing research – but even here I need to tell myself planning is not as productive as doing! (This is to be a blog topic in the next week or so!)
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24 Tommy Landry August 12, 2014 at 7:00 PM

I’m not much of a fan of television myself, but the time wasters come from all angles. Social networking is the biggest challenge for me during the day, as a “5 minute glance” at Facebook can turn into an hour or more.

The best way I’ve found to make it work, is just to turn off everything including email and focus during writing time. It helps to block it off on the calendar and simply ignore all interruptions, including “urgent” phone calls, unexpected visitors to my office, etc.

Thanks for the thoughtful post. Productivity doesn’t manage itself, does it?
Tommy Landry recently posted…5 Signals You Need To Back Off Social Media

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25 John Soares August 13, 2014 at 9:27 AM

Great techniques Tommy. I frequently just turn off the Internet so I can concentrate fully on my work, and I also turn off the ringers on the phones.
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