Sunday, September 16, 2012

The 3-Step No Mercy Method for Increasing Productivity

This week's theme is tricks for "Make It Work" time - those productivity tips for when your back is up against the wall.

So let's be clear. This isn't about the sustainable schedule, the indulging-your-art days, the finding the happy, the being kind to yourself and enjoying your life approach.

No no no.

This is after you've been kind to yourself - maybe a little TOO kind - and it's time to whip out your inner boot camp drill instructor and kick your own ass into shape.

Thus we have my NO MERCY Method for Getting Words on the Page.

1. No Distractions Allowed

See Exhibit A above. It's very cute and snuggly that the kitten likes to drape himself over my typing arm. Because it's so charming and I'm a total sucker, I let him do it. But it seriously hampers my typing speed, not to mention all the pauses while I stop to pet him, which is his overall goal anyway.

The No Mercy Method says the kitten must leave the room. This goes for children, spouses, cute little birds that sit on your shoulder and nibble your ear. Close them out and lock the door. I don't care if that means you're sitting in the linen closet. Do it.

Distractions can also be inanimate, which is part of why I keep my desk pretty clear. Move all books, puzzles and interesting toys out of arm's reach. You'll see why when you get to #3.

2. No External Entertainment

No TV playing in the background. No favorite movie in the DVD player. No access to the internet. No sitting outside and watching the birds. Nothing but you and the screen of your mind. Annie Dillard says she writes facing a blank wall, so she has nothing else to look at. I've tried this when I've been crunched and it totally worked for me.

Okay, now I just hear you all whining through the internet (remember - there is no whining in boot camp!) that music doesn't count.

I'm going hard line and saying music does so count as entertainment, especially if it has words. Anything that's coming in from outside your head is one less thing your head has to come up with on its own. No music is the aural equivalent of the blank wall. You're not sitting there to have fun - you're there to produce!

I think coffee shops and other public venues also count, but I know a lot of people don't have even linen closets to sit in and you have to do what you can.

3. Set a Time Limit

And stick to it. I set Freedom for 90 minutes, but ANY length of time will do. I swear this works. Even if it's only ten or fifteen minutes, the whole trick is to make yourself understand that you're there for the duration, writing words and there will be no getting up.

For that time, I'm not allowed to get out of my chair for any reason. Maybe if my life was in danger, but that's it. The delivery guy comes, I wave and he leaves the box on the porch. I have to pee - I hold it until my time is up. The phone rings, I'll call them back. (I usually turn off the ringer, so the sound doesn't break my concentration.) I need to look up a word, I highlight it. Cute kitty wants to come in? She can wait. You want to check that citation - oh no, you can't reach the book. Alas.

It's kind of like the avoiding lava game from when we were kids - if you lift your butt out of the chair, you'll drown in lava! No one wants that to happen to you! Once the timer goes off, the floor is solid again - hooray!

Remember the No Mercy method means ruthless adherence to the rules - for yourself AND for all those other people (and kittens) who want just a moment of your attention. So, here's my sure-fire method for if someone tries to interrupt you. You know what it is, don't you?

Scream OH MY GOD - LAVA!!!!!!

Feel free to do this until they go away.

But remember to add those extra minutes to your timer.

Good words people!


  1. So agree with all of this! And, even the music counts. I always know I'm getting a little sluff-offy when I turn on the music. Great post!!

    1. I'm the same way, CC - I can have music if I'm feeling all leisurely, but otherwise no!

  2. Excellent advice. To be honest, I've never understood how anyone can write while listening to music. I find it way too distracting.

    1. I feel so gratified that you all agree on the music thing!

  3. Terrific advice, never played the lava game as a kid, clearly I was deprived! Extra pettings to cute kitten after being ignored tho!

    1. Don't worry - that kitten gets PLENTY of petting. But how can you have never played the lava game?? How about cracks on the sidewalk?

  4. Great advice. I'm in that place right now where I need to get some major stuff hammered into shape by the end of the month. (In case y'all haven't heard, Harper Voyager is opening to unagented queries from 10/1 to 10/14 - and I'm going for it.) With me, though, I don't set a timer. I type until my hands hurt - which is usually about 90 minutes for the first push and, after a rest or Aspercreme, an hour at a time.

    As for music... If I sit here in silence, I tend to daydream. My mind wanders. Music pumping into my ears kills that for some reason. Plus, it drowns out the household sounds. My computer's in the dining room - next to my husband's and he talks while he works. Plus, he likes to have the game on in the background. I put the headphones on, crank the music and slip into my own little world. Must be working for me because I'm at 3424 for the day. =o)

    And now that the Aspercreme is kicking in, it's back to work. :whipcrack:

    1. That's great, B.E. - I'm glad you're going for that H/V opportunity! And yes, if music is part of shutting the door, well, you do what you have to!

  5. the only writing I do is reviews, but I need complete silence to do it! I wanna yell LAVA! at people

    1. Totally counts, Sharon. Use your Lave weapon in good health!

  6. I'm with you. I'm starting a rather stringent schedule starting tomorrow.