Summertime and the living’s easy.
…well, maybe not if you’re a writer.
Summertime is loaded with distractions—the weather’s great, the pool or beach is calling, there’s something going on every night, and all your friends are on vacation and want to hang out. Maybe the kids are out of school. Maybe you’re struggling to keep on top of things at the office when everyone else is out, and your writing is slipping to the wayside.
No matter what your situation, stuff stacks up in summer. Hunching over a keyboard while everyone else is out enjoying lemonade by the pool doesn’t exactly seem like a good use of your time, no matter how much you want to get this book done.
But with good time management, a little willpower, and a few clever tricks up your sleeve, you can stay productive and still enjoy your summer—and maybe take a vacation while you’re at it!
1. Be Realistic
Be realistic about what you can expect to accomplish during any given day or week. This is important any time of year, but especially around holidays or during vacations.
It might be tempting to think that because you’re not on call at work or have a few days off, you’ll be able to get seven chapters written, two new books outlined, some marketing done, and oh yeah, format that ebook!
In reality, though, that’s a recipe for disaster. Not only will you not get everything on a huge list done, you’ll end up feeling awful because of it. That feeling of disappointment will reduce your motivation and energy to keep going, making it even more likely that you’ll fall behind instead of surging ahead.
Understand that during the summer holidays (or the winter holidays, or any time the folks around you are going on vacation), you’re going to have a lot of different obligations and a lot of different pressures on your time.
Taking a few days off work might seem like the perfect time to focus on your writing, but there will always be other obligations—family, home, chores, etc.
Set yourself up for success by paring down your overly optimistic to-do list and give yourself no more than three main tasks to get done in a day—and make sure that all of them are reasonable.
For instance, you might want to write a guest blog post, outline your next chapter, and send an email newsletter update. Or you might aim for 2,500 words on your manuscript, three submissions, and reviewing auditions for your audiobook project.
Just keep it reasonable and don’t go over three main tasks. That’ll give you plenty of room to roll with the punches when the weather turns out perfect and you can’t stand the idea of not taking a walk, or when you get a last-minute invitation to go to the lake.
2. Stay Cool
It’s really hard to be productive when you think you’re melting…or when you’re freezing to death in an overly air-conditioned space!
Use fans, sweaters, and even the air conditioner to create an optimal working environment that’s not too hot and not too cold.
According to a Cornell productivity survey and research by Grasshopper, the optimal temperature for productivity is between 70-72 F. Go ahead and adjust the temperature until you’ve found that perfect Goldilocks sweet spot: not too hot, not too cold.
Can’t control the thermostat yourself? Layer on sweaters or find a portable USB desk fan to help.
3. Set Up Early Wins
Even if you’re sleeping in on summer vacation or have to get the kids off to camp in the morning, you should take advantage of the first few hours of your day to set yourself up for success.
Priming the pump with small victories helps motivate you to keep going during the day.
Plan your day so that you start with a win: make your first task something relatively easy to accomplish but that will give you a sense of productivity and pride.
Maybe that means writing a blog post that you’re excited about, or sending out a short story submission. Maybe it means outlining a chapter. Whatever it is, make your very first task for the day straightforward, fun, and meaningful.
This will give you a sense of accomplishment that will carry you through the rest of the day, no matter what comes.
4. Change Your Location
Variety is the spice of life, but we often confine ourselves to a familiar environment to get work done, whether that’s a writing nook or a cubicle.
But staying in one place, especially when everyone else in the world seems to be out and about, can stifle your creativity and cause your mind to wander.
Instead of trying to stay indoors and “focused” all summer long, switch things up!
As writers, we have an amazing amount of freedom to control where, when, and how we work. Take advantage of that!
Grab your laptop and some shades and go work by the pool for an afternoon. Find a shady spot in the park to write longhand. Sit at an outdoor café to take notes on passersby as character studies, or just to bang out today’s word count. Get a word-processing app for your phone and dash off some flash fiction wherever you go.
Heck, bring your laptop on vacation with you and start writing some short stories about the places you’ve gone and the people you’ve met!
You’ll enjoy what you’re doing more when you give yourself some variety, and you’ll be able to keep up with your writing better by taking it with you.
5. Sneak In Bursts
Have you heard of Tabata exercise?
That’s where you inject bursts of super-high-intensity effort into your regular workout. Basically, you sprint as hard as you possibly can for a few seconds, go back to a more regular pace for a bit, and then sprint again, repeating to get the most impact.
The idea is that four minutes of super-focused exercise can give you amazing results.
To be more productive this summer—or any time!—you can do something similar.
When you’re being pulled in different directions by folks who are on vacation or just want to hang out, it can seem impossible to find focused time to work. But that’s because you’re thinking in big batches—a couple of hours at a time.
Instead, think small; think in bursts.
So you’ve got two appointments this afternoon, you have to do laundry, and you need to pack for the weekend. Okay…there’s your time to write!
While the laundry’s going, grab your computer and do a word sprint. Set a timer and see how many words you can crank out while the dryer’s running. Having a quick, set end time can push you to write more than you thought possible, just to meet the challenge.
Doing bursts and sprints can also help you develop your writing skills in other ways—by agonizing less over the exact right word choice, because you don’t have time to mull over every synonym, you can free up your creativity and take your writing in new directions.
You may also find that sprints help you make more—and more interesting—connections between ideas, because your brain is still churning away on your topic even when you’re not actually writing. Your subconscious will spit out the answers to your plot problems in time for your next sprint, when you can focus and get everything down on paper.
6. Work at Weird Times
When you’re fitting in your bursts, look for weird times when no one is likely to interrupt you or ask you to do something.
Early in the morning and late at night are often great times for writers to find time for their craft—other people are less likely to be up, about, and seeking your input on something.
However, in the summer, that can be a problem, too—with longer daylight hours, people get up earlier and stay up later, edging into what used to be your private writing time.
Keep a log of when you seem to be interrupted most and least during your day, then work out how you can use the “low interruptions” times to write.
Maybe there’s a gap when the kids are at soccer practice. Maybe everyone in your office is leaving for Summer Fridays at noon and you can hang out in the office for an extra hour or two to write instead of going with them or heading home. Maybe everyone is tired from a day at the beach at 7pm and falls into bed, leaving you with a few precious hours to work on your book.
Wherever that time is, be ready to use it!
7. Let Yourself Enjoy Life
The fastest way to get distracted is to force yourself to focus.
If you’re constantly grumbling at yourself to get back to work, but can’t stop staring longingly out the window at the great weather or thinking about how much you’d rather be at the pool, stop torturing yourself!
Save your draft, close the computer, and go take a break.
I promise, your manuscript will still be there when you get back.
Forcing yourself to work through a time when everyone else is having fun will make you resentful and keep you from doing your best work. To get the most out of your time, you have to know when it’s most beneficial to not be productive and to instead recharge your batteries.
If the kids are out splashing in the sprinkler or you’ve just been invited to a barbeque and you really want to join in, don’t claim you have to work and refuse to emerge from your writing cave. You’ll end up producing lackluster work—or worse, nothing at all.
Unless you’re really on a strict deadline, give yourself permission to enjoy the events and everyday joys going on around you. You can set a specific time limit, like an hour for playing Frisbee or three hours for a cookout, and then come back refreshed and ready to go.
8. Defend Your Time—But Give Back, Too
When everyone is pulling at you to go do something—your friend wants to grab a drink, the kids want to go to the pool, the dog demands a walk right now—it can seem selfish and mean to insist that your writing time belongs to you.
But writing is your job. If you wouldn’t allow someone to make you feel guilty for spending a few hours on a spreadsheet at the office during a 9-5 grind, you shouldn’t allow them to guilt-trip you for defending your block of writing time…whether it’s summer or not.
Just because everyone else is on vacation doesn’t mean you don’t still have to meet your word count or get that article done.
Explain gently but firmly that you’re working right now, then offer a time that you can go have fun together. Make concrete plans and put them down on your calendar.
By doing this, you’re asserting the value of your time and the importance of your writing as an actual job—but you’re also making sure that you make the person who wants to spend time with you feel valued and important, too. That takes the sting out of telling them you can’t go hang out right this instant.
When you make a commitment to go have fun, follow through on it. You might not have met your word count yet, but you need to keep those promises to help maintain your relationships and your personal balance.
Use smart strategies to get more writing done this summer—and still enjoy yourself!
Read on for more productivity tips:
- Planning for Productivity: Accelerate Your Success by Planning Right
- How to Get More Done in Less Time: Create Systems That Work for You
- How to Write a Book in 60 Days