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3 Little White Productivity Lies

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Every day for a year, I rode a shuttle bus from my office to the nearest subway station. In the 30 minute ride, I got to know one coworker well. We got to chatting about direct publishing and he told me about his book idea – a sweeping crime epic that spanned two continents and three decades. It was an ambitious work and he’d been plugging away at it for years. He was eager to learn how Crystal had published.

“So what point are you at now?” I asked, curious. (In real life, I ask grammatically incorrect questions that I will transcribe to you faithfully.)

He scratched his beard. “Still about half-way through my first draft. It’s a big story and I’m getting lost in connecting the mystery across the years.”

“How much time do you figure you put in per week?” I inquired.

“About 10 hours on average.”

“That’s great!” I told him. “Can you tell me more about your main character?”

“Uh…I’m still working on him…or her…but you know, it’s been a busy quarter.”

Right about there is where I lost him. The more questions I asked, the clearer it became that he wasn’t actually putting pen to paper.

It got me thinking.

Whether it takes you a year or ten, if you aren’t making good use of the time you spend writing, you will never reach the finish line. It really isn’t anyone’s fault: we all can get caught up in these little white productivity lies.

“The sooner I start, the sooner I finish.”

It’s true that the earlier you start in the day, the more you get done. In the context of this post, I’m referring to planning.

If I asked you, “what would you rather do: spend two months outlining your next book, or two months being followed by a vuvuzela marching band?” you would probably have more questions about how many people were in the band, their lung capacity, and whether or not they’ll play as you try to sleep. No one likes planning; the satisfaction comes from doing. Unfortunately, an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of re-writes.

“The more hours I put in, the more I’ll get done.”

I’m going to turn this over to Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, as he describes the difference between working with interruption and working without interruption (3:01):

Being at my desk with my email open, my phone beside me, or YouTube in general invites distraction. If I’m serious about working, I’m removing distractions.

“I’m working, so I’m getting things done.”

I’ll confess this one is tougher to gauge. Simply, if you’re writing to your plan without distractions, you’re achieving something. If you’re working without a plan and checking your phone every 5 minutes, you’re engaged in an activity.

John Wooden, coach of the UCLA Bruin’s men’s basketball team that won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, said, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” He authored 9 books, most after the age of 90, and lived his life by his Seven Point Creed.

What little white lies do you tell yourself about your productivity?

Join us in two weeks when we look what makes an email get a response.

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Andrew Gaudet

Asker of Questions
Andrew has worked in sales and management for more than a decade. His favorite books include Star Wars "Hier to the Empire" trilogy by Timothy Zahn, "Raw Shark Texts" by Stephen Hall, "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey, and "Paris 1919" by Margaret Macmillan. "No plan survives first contact" - paraphrased from Helmuth von Moltke.


6 Responses to “3 Little White Productivity Lies”

  1. Elle says:

    Great post. It is important to be honest with yourself as to whether you are working or whether you are actually accomplishing anything, and often the truth is painful. And now I have to look up John Wooden because he sounds like a motivating guy.

    • Crystal says:

      Thanks Elle, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! There are tons of videos of John on youtube. I highly recommend giving him a listen.

    • Elle, thank you. I feel like deep down, everyone knows if they’re accomplishing something. The challenge is that it often requires looking backwards as saying, “Well, that wasn’t productive. Maybe I should do differently,” instead of doubling down on what isn’t working. The sunk cost fallacy is fascinating to me because, as a society, we value highly dogged determination.
      You’ll like Wooden because he believed deeply in reading (long before he became a prolific writer).

  2. Holli says:

    The biggest lie I tell myself? That spending time on social media is helping my career. Nothing will help it more than writing a great book, and then another great book, and so on….

    I agree with Elle–great post, Crystal!

    • Crystal says:

      Oh boy, I’m right there with you on that one. I spend WAY too much time on social media as well, worried about what I’m posting, who I’m posting to…it’s a HUGE time suck. Glad you enjoyed the post, I know I’m going to try working harder on that next great book! :)

    • Holli, you bring up and interesting point about social media that I admit I’m conflicted on. Word of mouth sales has always been the best way to sell your product. “Hey, did you read this book? I loved it!” is the best way to convince me to buy a book. But to your point: the book has to be good. So how do you balance your time between social media and writing?

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