Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Writer’s Wednesday by Kate Hardy: Productivity

I suppose I’d better come clean and admit that Kate Walker dubbed me ‘Scary Kate’, some years back - because I write very quickly and produce, um, a lot of books per year. Part of this is because I write for two Harlequin series (and my ed tells me that readers want three books a year in each), and part of this is because... well, I’ve always fitted in a lot to my life. (And I’m not really scary. I’m short, I’m round, and I make wonderful cookies. I’ll admit to being a bad influence, especially where puddings and music are concerned, but I’m not scary.)

So why am I having a problem with my productivity? (I know I’m not alone, here, because several of my author friends have said something similar.)

Over the last year or so I’ve noticed that my productivity has dropped. I seem to spend longer and longer sitting at my desk to produce each book – and I really want to work smarter, not harder. When my children were still at nursery, and I had less time to write, I still produced the same amount as I do now. Surely, now that I have more time, I should be able to write more?

Er, no. In my ratrace days, one of the most inspirational managers I ever met said that work expands to fill the time available. And I think he’s right. Instead of being focused because I know I only have a morning to write a certain amount of words before picking up my littlest from nursery, I’m over-relaxed because I know I have until 2:50pm before doing the school run. I’m not working efficiently or effectively.

I also let myself get distracted by a particularly large time-suck. Something that’s absolutely wonderful – but something that’s also not controlled. (And I bet I’m not the only one who suffers from this one!)

The internet.

Five years ago, I didn’t have broadband and my connection was quite slow, so I only checked my emails twice a day, and I couldn’t get YouTube.

(Ha. Since I mentioned it – and I need a pic to break up the text, a tad – this is my current fave video on YouTube. It’s the ‘black moment’ song for the book I’m writing now, and Joe Elliott is just… sigh.)

Now, my computer ‘pings’ every time an email comes in (tempting me to break off to read it) and then I might look up something on the internet and get distracted on a research trail (and sigh over Joe in the video above. Yeah). It’s taken a while for the penny to drop, but I realise now that unrestricted access to the net means that I’m working to even less of a schedule… and it’s affected my productivity really badly.

Some people hate schedules – they find them restrictive and it reduces their productivity. But I’m a planner, and I know that when I’m working to a schedule I’m much happier than when I’m muddling through. So, last month, when the children went back to school, I set about organising my time properly, using a business diary and scheduling in work slots during the school day. I really love Lotus Organizer because it lets me schedule things as and when I want it, and each day’s section will include items from my year planner (aka deadline dates, conference dates) and my to-do list (admin tasks such as registering books with PLR/ALCS; slots for guest and group blogs; and things such as the post office run so I make sure I send birthday cards and presents in plenty of time).

This also means that I can break my work down into times that suit me best. I’m a morning person, so my main time for writing fiction is the morning. I can also schedule in time for * breaks from the screen (important to avoid eyestrain and the spectre of RSI) * exercise (to help keep me fit and healthy – and I’ve put on enough weight over the last year to know that sitting at my desk all day isn’t good for me) * dealing with admin (the theory being that I won’t end up either with that shoe-box of receipts that takes hours to sort out for my tax return, or the pile of filing that becomes a hideous chore).

I know that the internet is my biggest weakness, so I’m batching emails and research, rather than breaking off in the middle of work to check something or answer an email (and then letting myself get distracted). I don’t feel that I’m disconnected from everyone because I’ve scheduled in email checks during my ‘working day’: first thing when I get back from the school run, at lunchtime, and just before I do the school run in the afternoon. It’s flexible because I can check more frequently if I know I’m expecting something important, but it also stops me frittering time.

Result? Well, over the last month, I can say that I’m much less stressed and I’m definitely more productive. I don’t have to work most evenings to catch up: double benefit there, as it means I get more quality time with my family and I’m not tired in the morning from working late. And if a family crisis hits, there’s room in my schedule to deal with it.

So my question to you is: what single change has helped you be more productive?

In the UK, you might still be able to find a copy of Kate’s new book on the shelves (or, if not, it’ll be on the Mills & Boon website). Temporary Boss, Permanent Mistress is set under the Northern Lights. Playboy Boss, Pregnancy of Passion is still available in the US from the Harlequin website, and next up in Australia is Kate's contribution to the Penhally series, Falling for the Playboy Millionaire. You can find out more about these books, and Kate, on her website ( and her blog (


  1. Great post as always and very apt.
    By a strange case of serendipity my Broadband service was down all day yesterday = and guess what happened to my productivity? Yup.
    Definitely a learning point- you are quite right. LOL

  2. I agree, the internet does eat up an amazin amount of I will immediately get off it and pick up my biro...;)

  3. Hi Kate. Great blog as always! I have to admit that the internet has been my downfall recently. Since I got broadband at home (June ish) I've become a bit of an addict. I've had to severely limit the number of blog sites that I visit. So now I only keep 10(ish) on my side bar! The other thing I've started to do is a story board. It sits on my desk and "shouts" at me to get on with the "mip" (mess in progress - I've pinched this term from Michelle Styles - as it is so apt!) Take care. Caroline

  4. Nina - mmm, it took that to make me see it, too :o) Sometimes ISPs can be unintentionally helpful...

  5. Carol - that, or use the kitchen timer when you're doing research (just in case your research strangely takes you to online puzzles, as mine seems to...) ;o)

  6. Caroline - great idea about a story board. (And I love Michelle's term. Mine's a bit like that, too!)

  7. I work on a laptop which isn't connected to the internet for precisely that reason, Kate. It's an effort to go and switch on my computer and check emails so, like you, I just do it a few times a day. Not that there aren't plenty of other distractions to stop me working.......

  8. Great post, Kate. I am so undisciplined when it comes to the internet it's untrue. Like Sarah, I now have to work on a laptop that isn't connected. It has no games on it either. Addicted to Solitaire? Moi? ;o)

  9. Boy, I've had the same problem all year. I used to write so much faster, and now I'm struggling to fit it all in. It's reassuring to know I'm not the only one.

    I'm definitely checking out Lotus Organizer. It sounds perfect!
    Congrats on your latest release!

  10. Sarah - that's a great idea. My laptop is also not connected to the net. Maybe it's time to curl up in the conservatory... oh, wait. I start watching the birds. Hmm. Conservatory with blinds drawn, then ;o)

  11. Shirley - there are worse things online than solitaire, believe me. And because they're word games, I can con myself that it's limbering up... except I spend all morning limbering up and then don't have time for the actual writing!

  12. Jill - thanks, and hugs. It's a matter of finding what works for you - I'm a planner and it's fine for me, but my schedule would feel like a straight-jacket for other authors I know well.

    (But Organizer is brilliant, it really is.)

    PS love the sunflowers in your pic - very appropriate for me right now as my current WIP is in France.

  13. Love Def Leppard, learned to drive a car to their Hysteria album (which says a lot about my driving).

  14. Natalie - that's such a GREAT album to drive to! (So you drive too fast, do ya? *g* I have to keep an eye on my speed with that one...)