Fuel-Efficient Productivity for Writers

IU notebook for author planning

There are tons of productivity systems to help us keep track of ourselves. Analog systems such as the store-bought day planners like Filofax, Franklin, and DayTimer are old favorites. Other analog options are the inexpensive build-your-own systems like Getting Things Done (GTD,) and the newer system called Bullet Journaling (popular, but it’s much too elaborate for me). Digital products are also available. Two of the more highly rated ones are Planner Plus and the Anytime Organizer. We can even find (or improvise) hybrid systems combining a little of both.

I confess that most of these are just not fuel-efficient for me because I’m not willing to expend the time and energy to set them up and keep them running. It requires a 24/7/365 effort to make them work. I could be in the minority here because day planners, and now organization apps, are top sellers. I suspect that plenty of people try some of these, maybe actually use them for a year or two, but then decide to drop them because they just don’t feel like going to all that effort to maintain them. Others may find them extremely helpful and wouldn’t dream of using anything else. Maybe the digital apps will work for those who prefer to rely on tech. Apps wouldn’t work for me because I fear power outages, software glitches, hackers, and my inability to type fast enough on itty-bitty keyboards.

GTD worked a while for me when it came out back in 2001 (it has a 2015 update.) Two things have stayed with me:

First thing – Break projects down into steps. Example:

Project: Write March Newsletter

  1. Make new folder labeled Mar ’16 Newsltr
  2. Determine subjects to include
  3. Find, click & drag info and articles on the subjects to folder
  4. Do same for pix to accompany subjects
  5. Write draft
  6. Revise and polish
  7. Publish via mass emailing service

Of course, now that I’m doing a monthly newsletter, I don’t actually need to write all this down. It’s in my head. See? Fuel-efficient.

Second thing – Make a (physical) file folder for all the papers you choose to keep, even if the paper is just one sheet. This was hard because my brain was screaming, “You can’t waste a whole folder on a single piece of paper!” Well yes, yes you can, according to GTD. This way, you avoid having a Miscellaneous folder, which is the same thing as a black hole because you’ll never find that piece of paper again if it doesn’t have its own, unique folder, such as “Roswell, NM, UFO Museum Flyer.”

GTD says you need a “Capture Device” (usually a notebook) in which to jot down your random flashes of genius, things that need to be done, project ideas, goals, a recipe from a magazine in the doctor’s office waiting room, and so on. I did that for a while, but I found myself having to spend a lot of time thumbing back through pages and transferring entries to files, calendars, recipe cards, to-do lists, etc. Not fuel-efficient enough.

Because I write, I tried to maintain a combination Capture Device/writer’s notebook. That was disappointing because there again, I had to search through and transfer parts of to-do lists, reminders, and recipes, plus bits of dialog, plot ideas, character names, etc. to file folders, Word documents, index cards, etc. Otherwise, I’d never find them again without wasting a lot of time and effort. Definitely not fuel-efficient.

I do like the idea of having a Capture Device. I love the idea of using a writer’s notebook. However, I don’t want to carry two notebooks around with me. But without a workable system, I’m likely to forget something important. My current so-called productivity system is almost hopeless. It’s a collection of Post-Its, notes on the backs of receipts and envelopes, paper napkins, pages torn from a small spiral notebook (ragged edges and all,) and middle-of-the-night iPhone emails to myself. (The phone charges on my nightstand. Emailing is better than using a notepad because I don’t have to turn on a light and disturb the hubs.)

I’ve read about a method for a writer’s notebook that’s more organized. It requires you to set up tabs for different sections, such as Plot Ideas, Character Sketches, Blogpost Ideas, etc. (Of course you’d need to abbreviate each of those to try to fit them on a tiny tab.) Some people recommend yet another method, one that requires you to number the front and back of each page, so that you can then construct a Table of Contents. Um, no. Not fuel-efficient.

Besides, I wanted to find a no-fuss, fuel-efficient combination Capture Device/writer’s notebook, but I just hadn’t found a system that would work for me. finding the right planning tool for writersI’ve found a better way. A way so simple, so elegant, so fuel-efficient that I can envision myself using it for years to come. And I’ll tell you all about it later this week.

Author: Candace Williams

Candace Williams lives with her husband and beloved rescued Iggys (Italian Greyhounds) in Texas. Her first novel, THE EARTHQUAKE DOLL, was inspired by her early experiences in post-war Japan while her father was serving in the Korean Conflict. Learn more about Candace on her website and her Author Central page.

9 thoughts on “Fuel-Efficient Productivity for Writers”

  1. Way to tease us, Candace! I’m very curious what your system is now.

    I tend to use the good old fashioned To Do list on a piece of paper. I do them daily, rather than a running tally (though I really should keep one of those, too, because long-term things can get lost). But, I do like have 4 or 5 things down that I expect to get done that day. I tend to write on my computer, so I don’t generally journal story ideas. I’m more likely to shoot myself an email on my phone, if a flash of inspiration comes.

    However, very curious as to your method. Waiting, impatiently, now. 🙁

    1. I like to-do lists. But then, as you say, how to handle those future things? And what about the times you don’t have the computer with you? Use the phone? Sure, if you have *those* kinds of skills on the itty-bitty keyboards … 😉 I just don’t, which is y my txt r dif 2 rd, yk? I presh8 ur pyshinz.

  2. I’m looking forward to your solution! I have 40 years of notebooks, written from back to front and front to back and I have folders filled with scraps of papers, post-its, paper bags, grocery receipts, and whatever else I could write on. I know the opening scene to one of my books is in there SOMEWHERE. What a nightmare. I did the Franklin course when I was Director of Operations for an Internet company back in Boston and it never worked for me. Can’t wait to see what you came up with!

    1. To organize all that, and to find that opening scene, I recommend GTD (Getting Things Done.) You know, in your “spare time.” LOL

      For going forward, try the method in Part 2.

      It’s not really “my” method. It’s an adaptation of a couple of things.

  3. I have a Word document labeled ‘Story Ideas,’ which – as the name implies – is a repository for whatever thought pops into my head. I compose a brief synopsis and give it a title. I’ve organized them alphabetically according to the latter. Whether it’s a short story or a full-length novel isn’t too important at the embryonic stage. I just want to get the concept down as soon as possible. Most of these ideas are born at night, so I keep a notebook on one of my nightstands where I can jot it down without having to turn on the computer. With each new addition to the list, I back it up onto a thumb drive. I have another Word document labeled ‘Writing – General,’ which is a hodgepodge list of anything and everything I feel is pertinent to professional writing. This is composed primarily of web links to articles, editorials, etc. regarding publication or tips for creating better stories. Many of the posts on IU are on this document. I back that up as well to the thumb drive. But I also back up all the data on my computer to a portable drive every week or two.

    1. Backing up = Good Thing!

      I don’t like to turn the light on at night to write a note because it would disturb my husband’s sleep. So I text myself on the phone. LOL

      GTD (Getting Things Done) advocates not have a “miscellaneous” or “hodgepodge” category because that’s how you can lose so much time trying to find something. Now, if the title of the IU articles contain a keyword or two (ahem, I believe you’ll notice a pattern,) that will make searching so much easier in Word. 🙂

  4. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen all those reviews from readers who hate cliffhangers–you should strike while the iron’s hot and you have my attention…might not be there next week, who knows? Your title promises and you don’t deliver.

  5. LOL! It’s all part of my evil plan, Michele 😉

    Or, we could blame the Powers That Be who set the word-count limits. I wouldn’t want to do that, though, because then my gruel would be severely rationed!

    Psst: Stay tuned tomorrow. (Don’t tell anyone.)

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