Productivity: tips, tools and stuff that’s working for me

In my never-ending quest for productivity and work/life balance I’ve been trying to establish my writing routine, both short and long-term, and develop better habits.


I know I blog about this sort of shit a LOT, but you can never have too many productivity tips – as long as you’re not procrastinating by reading this. If you are, bookmark it for later and get your arse back in that document *stern face*.

Recommended reading for productivity

I recently read the excellent Writing Faster FTW by L.A. Witt, skim read Take off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker, and perused the impressive selection of writing planning sheets on Jami Gold’s website.

I would say I’m normally 90% a pantser, but I’ve long wished that I planned a little better. After getting some tips from these sources I think my current project is more like 80% pants/ 20% plan. I have a slightly more detailed outline than usual thanks to Jami Gold’s Romance Beat Sheet, and as a result I’m finding it easier to get stuck into writing each day. Less procrastination = more words, so I count that as win.

A ‘good’ day for me used to be 2000 words, but this week I’ve edged my daily average up to 2500. My next goal is 3000 average… it could happen!

Setting my Schedule (short term)

After seeing a post from Keira Andrews (one of my favourite authors) about productivity, where she suggested switching focus from word count goals to time goals, I did just that. Previously I’d have a daily goal (usually of 2k, sometimes less on a bad day). But between procrastination and finding other important things to do (aka procrastination by another name) and general lack of motivation, it would often take me until the evening to hit that goal.

The last couple of weeks I’ve set aside sacred writing time, and mostly stuck to it. I do three sessions every day from Monday to Friday:

9:00 – 9:45
10:00 – 10:45
11:00 – 11:45

After that, I’m free to do other stuff (admin, promo, editing, my other job, kid juggling, social media, lunch dates, exercise, more writing if I want, etc). But those three forty-five minute slots are sacred.

In that time I will almost always hit 2000 words, and on a good day, I might make closer to 3000. But whatever word count I reach doesn’t matter. I put the time in, so I can pat myself on the back and get on with the other stuff without having a word goal hanging over me like the sword of Damocles.

Setting my Schedule (long term)

At the start of this year, I booked five editing slots for 2016, and five more for 2017. My editor, Sue Adams, is an utter gem. She’s also a very busy woman who’s awesome editing skills are in demand, so I want to be sure of getting my slots with her.

Having a long term schedule is really helping me stay focused. It’s manageable, so it’s not paralysing me with fear… but it is keeping me looking one step ahead, and motivating me to fit my writing into the times that suit me best (school term times mostly, because I have two school age kids and a husband who teaches).

Apps and tools

I’m the queen of the productivity app. I know that researching them is an elaborate form of procrastination itself, but I don’t care. Because when I find one that works for me, it’s worth it 🙂

I’m happy to announce that, thanks to Avery Cockburn (another of my favourite authors), I’ve finally found the perfect productivity app for me. I work on a Mac, and the Focus app ( has been a revelation. It does exactly what I need it to do: namely blocks the sites I choose to block (on all browsers), for the chunks of time I choose. It’s not too expensive, is easy to set up, and it’s basically the best.

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 17.51.54.png

Focus also throws things like this in your face to shame you…

I have it set up to block all distracting social media during my 45 minute writing sessions. It removes all temptation and it’s actually incredibly freeing knowing that I can’t access any of those sites that normally suck so much of my time.

Over to you

What are your top tips for productivity? Whether you write in the daytime or the evening, full time or when you can fit it around another job, what works for you? And if you have more apps to share with me I’m greedy for them 😉


About Jay Northcote

Author of LGBT romance. Trans (he/him), Parent, cat herder, professional procrastinator.
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7 Responses to Productivity: tips, tools and stuff that’s working for me

  1. Great post! I’m going to check out those links, thank you. I’ve had good success with the time focus (I really need to do a follow-up post), and last month discovered a new way to remove the social media temptation. I get up in the morning and just don’t look at my phone. Instead, I turn on the computer and get straight to work in my document. I work all morning, go to the gym at lunch, and then check my phone to make sure there are no important messages. (I don’t have kids, and I realize this method of cutting off communication might not be feasible for some people.)

    For whatever reason, if I don’t look in the morning, I’m actually not tempted. If I check when I get up, I’ll wonder if people have replied further to messages, emails, FB comments, etc., etc. But when I don’t look, focusing is so much easier and I don’t feel like I’m constantly battling temptation.

    • I often check SM from my phone before I get out of bed – but I think you’re wise to steer clear till later in day. It’s so easy to get distracted. But that’s where I love Focus – because it just takes the choice away from me.

      • Do you have an Android or an iPhone? Because there’s this amazing app for Android called Morning Routine. You can set it up so that to turn off the alarm you have to scan a particular bar code of your choice. I use the hand soap dispenser in the kitchen so that I have to get out of bed. It’s been a lifesaver, because I used to lie in bed for 30-45 minutes reading email, etc. Then I’d have a stiff neck and start the day grumpy and distracted.

  2. Woo-hoo! So glad you got Focus. I sing its praises all the time, but you’re the first person I know who’s actually tried it. The beauty of it is the way it takes the DECISION to go offline out of your hands. Making decisions drains willpower in a phenomenon psychologists call “ego depletion”–which basically says that having to resist temptation actually weakens us rather than makes us stronger.

    I’m so glad others are trying different productivity goals besides word count. I’m doing a similar thing for the first time with my current WIP. I try to write at least one scene per day but also write/edit/plan for 4 hours total. Rescue Time (my other best friend app besides Focus) tracks how long I spend in each activity and pops up a congratulatory notification when I hit that 4-hour goal (I can also have a running counter in the corner of my screen).

    • oh that’s interesting, I must google that. It makes sense though. The decision making around temptation can be exhausting, so removing it is very freeing. It’s a bit like if you’re trying to cut down on alcohol and go through that whole ‘maybe I’ll just have one or two’ battle. Whereas if there’s no alcohol in the house it’s easy!

  3. L.M. Brown says:

    I find Leechblock for Firefox to block out sites is quite useful and I should probably use it more than I do.

  4. lennanadams says:

    It’s so cool that your word count increased with some of the new things you are trying. I love what Avery says about ego depletion/temptation – so true. I am not tempted by social media on my laptop for some reason but totally am on my phone, so I leave it in the other room when I am writing and normally I am too lazy to get up and go get it, haha.

    I have specific times set aside to write and I do it in 25 min blocks with 5 min. breaks (thanks to you and your Pomodoro App recommendation). The biggest benefit for me is that it helps with eye strain headaches (I spend the 5 mins doing distance vision things like looking out the window or getting up to make tea). I write M 8:30-1:30, T 8:30-3:00 (I usually take one longer break in there to eat, whatever…) and I really want to write more but my main writing issue is being a big freaking diva about needing to be alone and in perfect silence which only happens at the above mentioned times (due to job, kids, etc.) I am trying to figure out a way to get past that. I am interested to see how Camp NaNoWriMo works for me, focusing on a word count vs. time writing.

    Sort of a productivity thing – I just bought fun stickers for my bullet journal (my to-do list, basically) because another writer I follow (Alexis Hall) uses stickers to reward himself for getting all his stuff done every day and that idea really appeals to me, lol. I spend a lot of time berating myself for things so this seems like a good way to reward myself. Stickers, yay!

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