How can you overcome your obstacles to productivity?

 am writing around obstacles


Welcome to Day 2 of our group therapy #AmWritingAroundObstacles series.

Today we’ll look at our obstacles in more detail. Drill down into those suckers.

I’m going to measure and grade mine according to severity of effect, and start thinking about how I can get around them, or over them, or under them.

I invite you to do the same, so each of us can start working towards a plan of action that we can draft in tomorrow’s post.

Here we go, then.


Did you hear me sigh just then? I get so fed up talking about my health condition and would rather not even think about it in relation to my writing if I can get by without doing so. It’s boring.

My MountainBut it’s here and it’s big. It never goes away, and out of all my obstacles it has the most significant effect on my productivity, so I need to deal with it.

I nearly said deal with it and move on quickly to the stuff I can do something about, there. Which is pretty much my standard operating procedure. But this exercise is all about examining our obstacles with a view to overcoming them, so I’ll suck that sigh back in and look my physical condition squarely in the eyes.

I just sighed again and almost deleted everything I’ve written so far below the health subtitle.

Stop, Bridger! It isn’t waffle. It’s examining a frame of mind in order to deal with it, and maybe even change it.

I always claim to have the management of my illness cracked. But the truth is, while I’m good at managing the fallout from my physical and mental activity, I’ve never quite cracked the prevention’s better than cure aspect of it.

Problem is, there are strong pulls from opposite directions. The only way I could achieve reasonably reliable energy and freedom from exhausting pain would be to do nothing except rest. Whatever I do, there’s always a health payback. Even from mental activity.

Writing hurts me. A 90k-word novel takes me between 6 and 12 months to write when I’m in my version of the best of health, and the payback from that superhuman effort will last for months afterwards.

Chances are the edits will arrive during that payback period, and edits have their own intense effect which increases the already exhausting pain. And by that time, I’ll also be working on my next novel.

I’m not giving up writing. Uh uh. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. Seriously, the only thing I’d give up writing for is my family, and they won’t ask me to do that so it’s not gonna happen.

However, just because the extreme answer to my two-way-pull isn’t viable, in this or any other universe, that doesn’t mean I can’t (stand by for a “You’ve Got Mail” moment)… tweak things.


Measuring productivity
I used a spreadsheet to record different elements of my lifestyle and measure how they effect my productivity.

I split my working day into 4 sessions:

  • early morning when I start writing, until midday
  • the afternoon, when I usually siesta
  • 4pm to 8pm
  • 8pm until midnight-ish when I crawl back to bed

I did it this way because different daily events channel me into writing at different times of the day.

Those events appear on the spreadsheet as: spoons; visitors; non-routine events; WIP; outlined; deadlined; and blog.

Outlined is there because I work more efficiently when I’ve planned a story thoroughly, and the deadlined column helps me maintain a good focus on the big picture.

FamilyAfter only a few weeks the spreadsheet showed clearly what I already knew, that the biggest productivity-sucking gravity in my writing world comes from spoons and visitors.

And for visitors, read: our daughters and their babies. All of them are here today and this blog post has taken me twice as long to write as yesterday’s did when they weren’t here.

2015 Update

We have four grandchildren now, two 3-year-old boys and two 1-year-old girls. All gorgeous! And as I mentioned yesterday, two of them and their mum live with us now. So my writing takes place in the late evenings, after everyone else goes to bed. 9pm to midnight or 1am is my time.

What I failed to put on the spreadsheet is social media, which I realised during our conversation in the comments section yesterday has a bigger effect in my daily life than I’d thought.

Actually my Twitter-life would be very difficult to measure, because I have it open all day and dip back in when my mind drifts away from my WIP. I’ll deal with that. My plan of action will include something like, SM in clearly-defined short bursts.

2015 Update

As I’ve mentioned, with my greater attention to quality blogging and my weekly newsletter for readers, my routine workload is bigger now than it was in 2012. Not to mention my list of novels in various stages of progress, and despite the scary health stuff I experienced over last winter.

(Or, more likely, because of that stuff, as I described in this recent post.)

Despite everything, I’m managing everything far more efficiently now than I was three years ago. The plan of action I devised them has definitely helped me in this. No doubt about it.

I’ve also been helped by new technology that didn’t exist back then. Hooray for apps and gadgets and all sorts of clever things! 🙂

So my blogging is… not automated exactly, but assisted in many small ways by plugins and apps and 3rd party sites that offer various services. I’ve spent quality time testing these things and learning how to use them, so that my blogging and newsletter work is now a pleasant and enjoyable weekly routine.

There are many more gadgets available now than I could ever use in my work, but I like to keep my eyes open for news and reviews in that area.

This is the sort of thing I mean:

Here’s an excellent round up of time-and-effort-saving tips for author blogs from social media strategist Frances Caballo.

And this brilliantly concise article by author assistant Kate Tilton suggests ways we can connect with readers via Instagram.


Over to you
What do you think? Which of the obstacles you talked about yesterday have the biggest effect on your productivity?

Which of them could you tweak, maybe? How would you do that?

How about measuring them against your results? Would that work for you?

How can you overcome your obstacles to productivity? Click To Tweet

Yesterday was brilliant and you’re all wonderful. Let’s get our group therapy gig going again in the comments today. 🙂



Further reading

Introduction post is here.

Day 1 is here.

Day 3 is here.

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21 Responses to How can you overcome your obstacles to productivity?

  1. Naomi Clark says:

    only way I could achieve reasonably reliable energy and freedom from exhausting pain would be to do nothing except rest.

    Ditto. Unfortunately, my day job doesn't give me that option. I go through periods where my arm is fine, and then I will happily write before work, on my lunch break, and for an hour or so every evening for weeks on end. Times like now, when the arm is giving me problems, I have to accept that, since I can't quit my day job, the writing has to take a backseat. And I do benefit from limiting my computer time to the bare essentials.

    I'm currently exploring alternatives to pain killers and anti-inflammatories, as I'm really reluctant to keep taking medication without an end in sight. I've tried Dragon, but I don't get on with it.

    • I couldn't get on with Dragon. I persevered for a year and would have had to stick it out longer if my arms and hands hadn't started working again, but although I found it okay for non-creative writing it made an impossible amount of extra work for me when I drafted a novel with it. And I couldn't edit with it, either, so the incredible mess I was left with sat there unattended until my limbs came back online.

  2. Suelder says:

    My biggest obstacle is time. At the end of a stressful day, I have no energy. So, I've started waking up earlier, partly to write, partly to exercise.

    Also, when I'm too tired to write, I analyze and research. On the weekends, I'll pick a project for the week – this week it's plotting – and search out blog posts, articles, books. This is one blog post I found this morning:
    Gotta run!
    Have a great day.

  3. I honestly think self-doubt is the biggest factor when I go through a long unproductive streak, with family & financial stress being number two and often aggravating number one. I think the key for me might be to remember that I wrote back before I sold anything to anyone and did so because it was fun to let my creative side loose. Perhaps I need to find the fun again, and quit riding myself to be more “successful.”

    • I did this in a very determined manner at the beginning of this year, Cindy. The remembering and the finding fun again. It coincided with a stretch of okay health and injected new excitement into the space opera I wrote. I've kept hold of it for my steampunk WIP and can say with any doubt that this story delights me like no other has ever done. I heartily recommend doing exactly what you're considering doing. 🙂

  4. Zette says:

    My world is run by the never-ending-list-from-hell. Forward Motion, Vision, ACOA, DAZ, marketing, home stuff — it all has to get done.

    Writing is not only what I want to do, it is also my profession, despite all the other things that step into the way. I know I must write, and this is what I really want to do, so I make the time.

    I think sometimes people don't write because of their attitude. They start thinking of writing as just one more job they must get done. I don't let that happen. In fact, writing is the one thing that is never on my list, and yet it always gets done.

    • You have a massive workload, Zette, and your achievements are consistently awesome.

      I agree. I never think of writing as just one more job. For me, it's exciting and fun and I consider myself blessed to be enjoying it.

  5. DaniMarie says:

    I really had to think about this and after some time realized that self doubt is my biggest culprit. I need to have faith in my writing. So, what I need to do to start is just stop procastinating out of fear and hit the keyboard. I did join a thread on RD that traced word count. This way I am accountable to others. Now I need to take it more seriously and quit making excuses and just do it. (ps… you are now my hero, just so you know)

  6. Lea Griffith says:

    I'm loving Sue's idea of waking up earlier. I will have to overcome the whole I'm-not-a-morning-person Syndrome. That would be a really quiet time to get some words in.

    I really like the productivity spreadsheet idea you've mentioned. Where can I get a copy of that?

    If I can get an idea of where I'm hemorrhaging time, I can cut that off, turn things around and utilize that time. I want to write, but always feel there aren't enough hours in the day to do it. Too many plot lions and not enough time/too much EDJ. I adore my family and feel an insane amount of guilt when I take time away from them to pursue my manuscripts. I'm working out of that as the girls get a little older, but I don't know that it will ever completely go away.

    • I've always been an early morning person, but these days it takes my body an hour or two to get working. If anyone's read beauty and the Bastard, the bit where Saul falls in muscle cramping agony from his overnight prison in the rock is what most mornings are like for me. So with the best will in the world I can't power myself into writing mode when I'm in that physical state regardless of what my mind wants to do.

      And that goes for all of us in our various situations. You have commitments and pulls on your time and attention, Lea. You work hard and you're a great wife and mother. Don't beat yourself up about that, my friend. It's who you are and you're good at it.

      Nevertheless, you do find time to write and the books you produce are fine, fine stories. I'll email you a copy of the spreadsheet tomorrow (you just caught me crawling off towards bed now) and I hope it'll help you figure out how to tweak your time. 🙂

  7. I just wanted to thank you for doing this, David. Right now, I don't think I can finish the week, commenting here. But I do appreciate the effort you're putting in. Thanks.

  8. Alex F Fayle says:

    In my case I have overcome the space obstacle by finding places outside the house where I am comfortable writing. In terms of the husband issue, I work hard at a balance but admit to choosing husband over writing id there is a potential conflict brewing.

    And as for me getting in my own way, that's a constant struggle but I think I have found a solution for it which is to live wholly in today and not worry about the future. So far it seems to be working.

    • I would love to write outside! Of course, living deep within the luscious greenery of rainy Devon it's never gonna happen, but a man can dream. 🙂

      Living wholly in today is an enviable state, which I've come closer to without conscious effort since our baby grandsons arrived.

    • Alex F Fayle says:

      It rains far too much here – although I do write on city benches sometimes, I usually go to a cafe without a lot of people.

  9. Kate Tilton says:

    Instagram is a great tool to connect with authors & readers. For me (as an assistant vs. a writer) I’m always looking for ways I can improve my productivity. I have found the best thing for me was setting boundaries. Taking the weekends off and limiting the hours I work each day makes each minute key to getting stuff done. It’s pretty amazing what limits can do!

  10. Thanks for including me in this post. I appreciate that! I’ve stopped working on weekends and I have an automatic message on my email that indicates I’m out cycling and hiking and having fun so that clients won’t wonder why I’m not responding right away. Plus, I now relegate big projects to my morning hours. I’ve been reading Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy and it’s a great book. BTW: You’ve got a great blog here.

    • David Bridger says:

      Thank you, Frances. It’s kind of you to say so.

      Weekends tend to the quietest days in our house nowadays, so I focus my creative writing then. Newsletters and blog posts in the late weekday evenings. Have to go with the flow. 🙂

      I’m looking at Eat That Frog! Thanks for the recommendation.

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