Drafting a plan of action to overcome your obstacles to productivity

 am writing around obstacles


It’s the final day of our group therapy #AmWritingAroundObstacles series.

So far, it’s helped me recognise various obstacles to my productivity and grade them in order of severity and fixability.

You’ve helped enormously. Thank you for discussing your situations so openly. You’ve added breadth and depth to the conversation and I hope this has been as helpful for you (and for future readers) as it has been for me.

Today, I'm going to draft my plan of action. Click To Tweet

Here I go…

Choosing my projects
This is fundamental to the shiny new follow the joy in writing attitude I adopted at the beginning of this year.

Like many writers, I have a big file of story ideas. Some are just titles with single-sentence descriptions, while others are sketched out ideas. A few are outlined more fully, and some are researched in detail so that they’re ready to go when I decide to write them.

Also, like many of you, I experience plotbunny attacks regularly. But there simply isn’t enough time to write every story idea that occurs to us, is there?

Over the Christmas holiday last winter I took the not enough time thought to its extreme. I wasn’t being morbid, or anxious, but I faced the fact that I won’t be around forever and asked myself which of my as-yet-unwritten projects I’d like to be remembered for.

The answer was easy. Right then, it was my outlined space opera (that became Damage Control) and the three Big Idea novels that were sitting there fully researched and ready to rock.

Choosing just oneI dug deeper. If I only had time to finish one of those projects, which would it be?

That was more difficult to answer, because I wanted to be remembered for all four and hoped to finish them all before my time is up.

If you only had time to finish one project, what would it be? Click To Tweet

(I hope to finish many more than that, but you get what I was doing, yes?)

So I introduced another element. Having decided that now is the right time in my career to sign with an agent, I looked at my projects from the point of view of attracting an agent from my shortlist of ideal people.

The answer was obvious. As soon as I’d completed and sent in Golden Triangle, I started work on my futuristic steampunk adventure, A Flight of Thieves.

But the fundamental question was, and remains: which book would I like to be remembered for?

That question will guide my choice of projects from now on. And my answer to it has gone hand-in-hand with my rediscovery of the exhilarating joy of writing.

Furthermore, when I remind myself of it, I find all the external pressures of this business evaporate along with the internal ones. It’s a win-win-win situation. 🙂

2015 Update

I’m still thinking this way. I find it a powerful mental tool.

If in 2012 you’d described to me the winter of horrible health I was going to have in 2014/5, and then told me that in spring 2015 I would finish writing, editing, polishing, and submitting the big novel (The Honesty of Tigers) that might just be my masterpiece, I wouldn’t have believed I could achieve it.

But achieve it I did, with help from some wonderful friends and the working system I devised in my 2012 plan of action.

Work patterns
I’ll continue to record and measure obstacles against productivity, and to tweak stuff accordingly.

Some external events and situations can’t be changed. I’ll identify them and work around them.

Internal obstacles are easy to recognise now that I know to look for them.

The one I expect to have the most immediate effect is social media.

My plan of action is to catch up with social media first thing every morning, and again over my quick lunch, then I’ll leave it alone until I relax in the evening.

That will cut out several hours of “Twitter sitting open in a tab” per day, but I don’t expect my active participation will be any less than it is now. It’ll be a change in pattern, is all.

2015 Update

The biggest efficiency change in my work pattern has happened quite recently, and mostly because of Darren Rowse’s superb daily podcast course 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, which I enjoyed on his ProBlogger site during July this year.

I’d heard of Darren before, as I’m sure many of you have too. But I’m embarrassed to say that in the past I assumed his blog was all about monetisation. Which I don’t require and have never been interested in.

Well, I was wrong. It isn’t. There’s a world of learning available over there at ProBlogger, of which only part is about how to monetise a blog. It’s a university of blogging.

I learned so much on his podcast course! But as well as all the technical stuff I picked up, probably my biggest takeaway was designing a method and a practice for my regular tasks.

This doesn’t affect my novels, but my routine in that area is fine so it didn’t need to change things there. What my new efficiency does is allow me to produce blog posts and newsletters regularly, without denting my creative writing work.

It’s a new freedom. And of course it’s all linked, all part of the same thing. I write novels, and I blog for readers and writers, and I produce a behind-the-scenes newsletter, and they’re all parts of the whole.

I can’t overstate how grateful I am to Darren for giving me the tools to build this new efficiency and freedom in my working patterns.

Thank you, Darren!


Ideally, bringing these new patterns online will balance everything better for me. I hope that will include helping me manage my health condition on a daily basis, by planning activities and their expected fallout in advance, and in the light of measured results from previous projects.

2015 Update

It worked, and still is working. I still tweak my plan of action regularly. I’m very glad I worked my way through this process.


Over to you
Plan of ActionAre you ready to draft a plan of action to overcome your obstacles to productivity?

Show us yours in the comments below and let’s all celebrate our planning and navigation skills! 🙂


Are you ready to overcome your obstacles to productivity? Click To Tweet


Further reading

Introduction post is here.

Day 1 is here.

Day 2 is here.

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.

What are your obstacles to productivity?

 am writing around obstacles

Here we are at Day 1 of our 3-day #AmWritingAroundObstacles series.

Today, we’re each going to list all the obstacles that stop us being as productive as we want to be. The rocks on our roads.

On Day 2 we’ll figure out how to overcome the obstacles we’ve identified, and on Day 3 we’ll draw up our individual plans of action to stop those obstacles from damaging our productivity.

I’ll go first.

Here’s my list:

This is the biggie for me. Rather than bogging down this conversation with details of my health condition, I’ve explained all about it here.

Like many chronically ill people, I measure my strength and energy for each day in spoons.

Like many chronically ill people, I measure my strength and energy for each day in spoons. Click To Tweet

Sounds odd, I know, but it’s a simple and very useful system. Its creator explains it here.

An ME dreamSo today I have one spoon, which means that writing this post is like trying to deal with one of those syrupy can’t-run-away-from-the-monster dreams. I’ll do it, because I’ve decided this is how I will use this spoon, but writing this post is the only task I’ll manage in the entire day. Absolutely nothing else will happen, writing-related or otherwise. I’ll be in bed, either unconscious or wishing I could be.

On the standard 1 to 12 spoon scale, the best I can usually hope for is a 5. A long series of 5-spoon days is brilliant.

For example, when I enjoyed one of them all through January and February of 2012, I wrote my SF novella Damage Control, rewrote my voice recognition software-savaged UF novel Golden Triangle, and outlined my futuristic steampunk novel A Flight of Thieves.

Again, apart from my morning shower and eating regular meals, writing was the only task I managed each day in that 8-week period. But it was so good to bang out tens of thousands of good words.

2015 Update

That was a productive year! I completed Golden Triangle, A Flight of Thieves, and Damage Control, and all three were picked up by different publishers and released during 2012/3/4.

In spring 2014 I used a similar 5-spoon period to finish writing Gifted, and then another one in late summer to edit that big novel ready for its release by Hartwood Publishing.

2015 has been more complicated after my winter of horrible health and two surgeries, but when a 5-spoon period came along in the spring I grabbed it and completed my literary fiction novel The Honesty of Tigers, which is now out on submission.


I love my family. They’re loud and active and fun and wonderful. They often interfere with my plans to write, but they don’t do it deliberately or maliciously and as they’re my Number One priority in this life I seldom complain. But they do have an effect on my productivity, so I need to factor them in.

2015 Update

I’ve had to factor them in even more in this past year, since one of our daughters divorced and moved back home with her lovely children. Three generations of us live together in this house now, including two toddlers, and I work on my Mac in the corner of our open plan living room because my old study is now a bedroom.


Other people
Certain personality types send me scurrying to the back of my cave, pretty much like anyone else I suppose, but mostly I deal with people as they come.


Social media
This one’s complicated. It’s magical in many ways, but too much of a good thing… etc.

And it’s all about people, so it’s intimately bound with my “other people” category.

It’s also bound with my “health” category, because on days or weeks when I’m too sick to write I often spend hours at a time on Twitter and various forums, which then becomes a comfortable pattern that can lure me to stay rather than leave when my health picks up. I know you know what I’m talking about. 😀

Mostly, I enjoy social media and wouldn’t want to be without it, and when I enjoy it too much so that it’s a distraction that forms an obstacle, it’s my own fault. This is something I need to remain aware of, because it’s slippery.

2015 Update

And there’s a lot more slippy danger potential now, with my new social media addictions. I’m on Twitter more than ever and have added Tumblr, Instagram and Pinterest to the mix.

Happily, the plan of action I devised here in 2012 allows me to enjoy all these places without draining my energy to zero. More on that later in the series. 🙂


It piles up, doesn’t it? Mostly it’s okay and we’re in control, but occasionally it builds like a snowdrift overnight and suddenly we can’t get the damn front door open to go out and chop wood and everything gets horribly urgent with no heat or light or way out until all we want to do is crawl under a blanket and sob.

It’s internal as well as external. In fact, external pressures rarely give me a problem. I plan them, and manage them, and if someone else shows they’re determined to keep making unreasonable demands of me, I simply get alpha on their arse. That isn’t something I glory in or even look for, by the way. But if a situation requires it, I have it.

TimeNo, it’s internal pressures that can cripple my productivity. Personal deadlines and building over-optimistic lists of things I want to achieve. I’m a bugger for that sort of thing.

And I always seem to build those lists when I’m in a 5-spoon period, so although I’m experienced enough to factor in the possibility of poorer health, I always forget just how physically crushing a bad relapse can be until I’m right there inside one of them.

2015 Update

As with the social media, I’ve increased my potential pressures this year by stepping up my blogging and starting my weekly newsletter. It’s all writing, as much as my novels are, albeit with different routines and shorter deadlines.



Okay, that’s my list. Over to you. What are the rocks on your road?

What are your obstacles to productivity? Click To Tweet

We can do this like group therapy if you like. Talk to each other. Many of us will have insights that might help each other, and we can all give good hug.


Further reading

Introduction post is here.

Day 2 is here.

Day 3 is here.


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