The Secret to Speed Writing?

When I made the leap to full-time freelance copywriter a few weeks back, I knew I was in for a challenge.

I’m a productivity roller coaster. Sometimes, I can’t be stopped. I plow right through whatever I’m doing, and 3 hours later I look back and realize I just exploded pages and pages of copy. (Earlier this year I wrote a 14-page sales letter from scratch in 4 1/2 hours.) But other times I struggle to get out a page, a paragraph, or even a sentence.

One reason is I have ADHD. Which is a blessing and a curse.

What most people don’t know about ADHD is it is marked by periods of hyper-focus – meaning someone with ADHD can lock into a task and the world will disappear for hours while they work. And what most people do know is someone with ADHD will also have trouble getting focused – and sometimes waste away an entire day bouncing from distraction to distraction to distraction.

Another reason is that productivity is a constant struggle when you’re your own boss … which I now am. When you’re the only person you’re accountable too, sometimes you find boss and employee are slacking off together.

So, over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to figure out the difference between super-productive days, and non-starters.

I’ve been trying to answer the question, “How can I trigger my brain to focus and be hyper-productive? How can I tap into my natural ability to speed-write as often as possible?”

The Financial Reason to be Productive

There’s an important reason to know what makes you productive. I charge by the project, as most copywriters do. That means I get paid the same whether I write something in two hours or in ten.

So the faster I work, the higher my hourly rate is. Plus, working faster means I can move on to other projects sooner, which increases my overall income.

Bottom line: Nowadays, I’m only paid when I’m productive.

After a few weeks “on the job” as a freelance writer, I’ve recognized what works for me to be a hyper-productive, speed writer, and what’s going on those days I’m not.

The Secret to Speed Writing, Revealed

What I’ve found is the single-most effective predictor of a productive day – and a way I can “hack” my brain to turn on super-productivity – is a simple daily to-do list.

I can hear the sighs. “Tell us something we don’t already know.” “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before.”

Well if you’ve heard it all before why are you reading an article on speed writing?

Shouldn’t you have it down?

I can make a reasonable guess that even if you’ve heard it a million times you’re reading this article because you haven’t yet mastered the art of productivity – and maximizing the power of your daily to-do list can be a big boost to you.

So let’s look at how to create an effective daily to-do list, increase your productivity, and give you “speed writing” super power.

The first rule for an effective to-do list is to have one.

Sounds so simple it’s stupid. But there are days where I don’t make a to-do list. And there are days when I do. When I do (no matter how bad or imprecise it is) it increases my productivity. When I don’t, my productivity stinks.

The second rule for an effective to-do list is to make it manageable.

Here’s a big trap with to-do lists. You think of everything you need to do. And you put it on your list. But “everything you need to do” is much more than you can accomplish in a day. (For many it’s more than you can accomplish in a year!) So if you want a to-do list that will actually make you productive and contribute to your success, make it a realistic list of things you want to do in the day, and that you can do in the day.

The third rule for an effective to-do list is to make it specific.

I catch myself doing this a lot. I have a project I’m working on – such as the promo for AWAI’s upcoming Professional Internet Researcher program – and so on my to-do list I just write “Researcher Promo.” Well that’s no good unless I’m going to write the entire promo in a day. So I need to look specifically at what part of the promo I’m going to write today, or how much. So instead I write, “Researcher Promo – Headline & Lead” because that’s the part of the promo I plan to finish today.

The fourth rule of an effective to-do list is to DO IT!

If you’re not going to follow your to-do list, why do you waste time making it in the first place? C’mon! You have to follow it to make it worth your while.

Here’s How This Supercharges Your Productivity

When you have a to-do list it tells your subconscious those are the things you want to accomplish in the day. And when you get in the habit of making and following and completing your to-do lists, it tells your subconscious you’re serious about it. So even when you’re tempted to stray, your subconscious pings your conscious mind and says, “Hey! Don’t you have things you’re supposed to be working on?”

This increases your writing speed for two reasons:

  1. You stay focused. When I’m writing slow, one of the biggest reasons is I’m not actually writing – I’m doing other things. I’ll spend 10 minutes writing something, then another 15 dilly-dallying. Well that means in those 25 minutes I only got 10 minutes worth of writing done. Yet by staying focused and writing for 25 minutes, I accomplish far more in the same amount of time.
  2. Your momentum increases. When I know I have to accomplish a lot of writing in a day, I speed up on each item because I know how much I have to get through. Yet when I’m only focused on the one piece of writing in front of me and I allow myself to forget everything else in the hopper, I take my merry time and don’t manage to get much done.

Start Applying This Today

If you don’t already have your daily to-do list sitting on your desk RIGHT NOW with all the things you’re going to accomplish today … STOP … Make one … Then go to work checking things off the list.

It will make you more productive – and may just turn you into a speed writer!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: March 16, 2010

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