11 Ways to Be a More Productive Writer (Who Makes Real $$)

I once did a presentation at the travel bloggers convention TBEX with a range of slides on succeeding as a productive travel writer in the digital age. Some of them got a chuckle, some got frowns, but one of them with just plain text on it got a collective gasp. A rather loud one. I knew it must have gotten some attention when people pulled out their cell phones and started taking pictures to post on social media.

productive travel writer

That slide showed what I accomplish in a typical month as a professional digital publisher and content creator. It had line items like how many blog posts I was writing each month, how many articles I was editing for sites I own, how many direct ad/sponsorship deals I was working on, and how many freelancers and assistants I was managing.

On the same slide though, I interspersed things like travel, sleep, reading books, and having fun. I'm not a workaholic. I'm just a productive professional running a real business.

I've never been a hobbyist just taking press trips for fun. This is my job. It's a career, a business I own and run. If you want to earn real money in this hyper-competitive field called travel writing, you have to be serious about your productivity as a writer. Sure, it's a fun gig, but that doesn't mean you can be a slacker.

I've heard the excuses, I've watched the growing frustrations, I've seen the roadkill along the travel writing and blogging journey.

I frequently stumble upon abandoned travel blogs started by people who gave up eventually. The patterns are usually clear before that inevitable failure. I probably know what you're doing wrong before I even meet you. I can look at your weekly schedule and tell if you're going to make it or not.

If you really want to succeed (and don't want to just revel in the whining about your lack of revenue), start with these 11 steps on the path to getting more quality work done that will fatten your bank account.

11) Turn off the TV

The average American who does watch TV reportedly spends a mind-boggling 136 hours a month in front of it. Even if you're enlightened enough to spend half that much it's 68 hours a month. Cut that in half again and you've just found 34 extra hours you can use to write something great that requires real research or insight, something that will last.

Sure, it probably didn't matter much during the pandemic when we weren't going anywhere or doing anything. We all had a lot of extra time on our hands. As we return to something closer to normal again though, give the Netflix queue a rest.

10) Have a Social Media Plan and Time Budget

What are you trying to accomplish when you log into your social media accounts. Have you even thought about it?

If you're spending more than an hour a day farting around on Facebook, probably not. Take a good hard look at your stats if you're a blogger or your bank account if you're a freelancer and see what you're actually getting out of those hours and hours you're "networking."

Yes it's fun to socialize, especially if you're in a home office and are craving some human interaction. But if that's the reason, go meet some friends for coffee or happy hour instead. (Now that we can do that again.) Set an amount of time per day you'll be on social media and stick to it. For me it's generally around two or three hours a week during the money hours at this point, if I'm on for five it's because I'm getting paid for the output as part of a campaign. And I have four Twitter accounts, five Facebook accounts, three IG accounts, Pinterest boards...

Yes, I do automate a lot and yes, I do have some help for the business obligations side of social media--keep reading to #1.

9) Batch Your E-mail

Do you keep your e-mail open all day and react like a puppy every time you hear it ding? This is a sure way to work reactively instead of proactively. You're basically saying to yourself, "Whatever anyone else out there wants from me is more important than what I want to accomplish in the next hour."

Do you read your e-mail first thing in the morning and let other people set your agenda? Or do you wait until you finished something important on your list before you got to the demands on your attention from others?

I'm not saying don't check your e-mail regularly, but do it in intervals (every two or three hours for instance) and block out time to do all your replies in one shot for a while. There are occasionally fires to put out and answers to give so you can get your paycheck or book your plane ticket someone else is paying for, but most things can wait hours, if not days. A few years ago I went off the grid for a week and I missed exactly one opportunity that couldn't wait: a chance to get quoted in a media article. The world did not fall apart around me.

8) Have a Blogging Schedule/Pitching Schedule

If you're a serious blogger, one who is not doing this as a hobby, you should at least have a rough schedule of what's going to get done when, and in what quantity. Some bloggers are so disciplined they always have a new post go live at 9:00 am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Others post whenever the mood strikes them. I'm suggesting something in the middle, where you at least say, "I'm going to post twice a week, usually on Tuesday and Friday," or "I will post at least once per week on a weekday. If you're not disciplined, you won't plan ahead, you won't pre-post ideas to flesh out later, you won't treat your blog like a business.

If you're mostly a freelancer, don't just query an editor when you're in a productive mood. Send out x queries a week or one a day or whatever is going to get you to your goal. Make them targeted and good, of course, but having a schedule forces you to constantly look for and come up with new article ideas and keeps you in front of editors you have worked with before.

travel writer Leffel

7) Turn Off the Wi-Fi Sometimes

This is related to the social media and e-mail temptations above, but it also speaks to something more fundamental: the need to concentrate. There are several good books out there full of documented cases that multitasking makes you stupid and the people who think they're good at it are generally the most scatterbrained of them all. If you're going to be a writer, you need to write--in a concentrated way and with no distractions. Not snappy social media quips, but real writing measured in thousands of words that flow well and engage the reader.

The best way to write well, to do deep work, is to do it without something else tugging at your attention. If you need to, get out of your regular workspace and go to a park, a cabin, or an old-school business that doesn't have Wi-Fi. Or do some real writing on that next long plane/bus/train trip.

Despite all the content I'm cranking out, often including an entire book, every year I win a slew of "best travel writing" awards for my longer narratives. That's only possible because I know how and when to shut everything off and concentrate. One. Task. Only.

6) Accomplish Two or Three Important Things Each Day

There are a hundred ways to compile and organize a to-do list and I'm not going to tell you which one works for you. But know that nearly all successful people keep one of some kind of list and they refer to it regularly. What the really successful people do though is prioritize. They separate the project-oriented, big accomplishment tasks from the million little "nice to get done today" things that may be easier, but less important.

If you accomplish two or three big things today---a good blog post, a finished article, a contract signed and sent, an ad deal closed, a pitch accepted---forget the rest of the list if you're out of time. The other stuff can wait. Those of us who are entrepreneurs could work 24 hours a day if we had no family, no friends, and didn't need sleep. There's always something that can fill up the time. The key is knowing what will move you forward and what is just a task that needs to be dealt with someday, eventually.

You're your own boss, so take advantage of it. To be a productive writer, do things that matter instead of things on someone else's priority list.

5) Pay Attention to Your Body Clock

Are you super-productive at 10 am and nodding off at 3 pm? Recharged and full of creative juices at 9 pm? Then recognize that and don't fight it. Do your important creative work mid-morning, take a nap or go for a walk in the afternoon. Turn off the TV at 9 and go write a blog post.

If you're a night owl by nature, work at night. If you're up at 6 am to get the kids to school and are wide awake at 7:30 am, knock a 1,000-word draft out first thing. Again, if you're not in an office, forget the confines of a "normal" work day and do great things when your body and brain are ready. Do the tasks that require little to no thinking (social media, for example) when you're at a low energy point. And remember, naps are good for you.

writing schedule

Naps are good (especially in a hammock)

4) Get Plenty of Rest and Exercise

You don't need my wife the personal trainer to tell you to get a good night's sleep, exercise regularly, and eat healthy food regularly. You inherently know all these things are good for you and that you need to do them. This is just a reminder that as a creative person---a writer or blogger---you are putting yourself at a serious mental disadvantage if you're sleep-deprived, out of shape, and eating junk food all day. Besides, every good creative person and most honest business owners know you never get your best ideas while sitting in a chair. You need movement.

Your brain needs this.

3) Never Stop Learning

Great writers work at their craft for a lifetime. Few are so arrogant that they think they have nothing to learn. Most good writers read voraciously: novels, non-fiction, magazines, blogs. They also go to conferences to get advice, join mastermind groups, seek out advice from peers, subscribe to newsletters like this.

2) Pay for Things That Save You Time and Hassles

Writers who whine the most about working for crap money are, in my experience, the ones least likely to invest in themselves and their business. Not all apps, software, and services are free. A lot of useful ones require you to put down some real money. I pay monthly for several e-mail newsletter services, a keyword research tool, social media scheduling services, LeadPages for landing pages, and many more. I also spend freely on Fiverr.

farming out WordPress

You'd rather work 2 days than pay this guy $50? Really?

But they're all worth it. These services all enable me to do more in fewer hours more effectively. My best investment though...

1) Pay Others to Do Things Better/Faster/More Than You Can

Few of us are going to try to rewire our house if there's an electrical problem or give ourselves an x-ray. Yet we bloggers and website builders are constantly trying to play Superman or Wonder Woman and do anything and everything ourselves for our business. This is not only a serious time-suck, but it also results in frequent frustration. It's not the way to be a productive writer.

Go to Fiverr, Upwork, or a similar service and find someone really qualified to move your blog, redesign the template, design a logo, create a book cover, reformat your book for Kindle, and on and on. If you need someone to do something regularly, go get a virtual assistant and delegate. Open your damn wallet and pay some other freelancers so you can go beyond a one-person blog. There's only so much that even the most productive human can write by themselves.

I certainly couldn't accomplish all the things I get out the door each month without paying some capable assistants and a sales rep to run with some of the tasks I don't have time for. I couldn't have brought the sites under the Al Centro Media umbrella the success and profitability they've enjoyed without all those posts and articles someone besides me contributed. You've heard it a hundred times for a good reason: You've got to spend money to make money.

Last, I rarely go online on Saturdays unless I'm traveling alone. A digital sabbath is good for your brain. (So is a longer one, the digital sabbatical.) I almost never say no to a social invitation that sounds fun and I usually manage to get eight hours of sleep. You don't need to kill yourself to be successful. You just need to leverage your available time and resources.

If you could use more in-depth advice on being a more productive writer, from a writer and business owner who has been making a full-time living at this for a long time, check out my Productivity Power for Writers course here.


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