I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you probably became a writer because you like to write. But if you’ve been writing for any time at all, you may have realized that writing isn’t the whole job. There are lots of other things you have to do that you maybe aren’t good at, don’t like, or even dread doing. We’re often the most inefficient when it comes to those responsibilities because we avoid them or rush through them to get them over with. And this impedes our progress and our ability to do our best work.
Personally, I find the screaming goat super helpful for stress relief during frustrating or boring tasks.
But, alas, not everyone has one. So I’d like to share some strategies you can implement to ensure even the irritating parts of the job get done efficiently. Because we’re all wired differently, some of these ideas may be harder for certain kinds of people, so let’s look at how to make them work for everyone.
Strategy #1: Outsource the Tough or Tedious Jobs
This one is easy: pay someone to do the dirty work so you can focus on the things you like to do. Hate balancing the checkbook? Hire a bookkeeper. Do you suck at book formatting? There are freelancers who will do this for a fee. So if you have the funds, this may be the easiest way to claw back your own time and use it on the things you do best. (If you’re looking for a freelancer, we’ve got a list of recommendations here.)
Personality Blockers: Control Freaks, Perfectionists, and Penny Pinchers
When it comes to outsourcing, the biggest obstacle is simply not having the cash. That’s a legitimate blocker for everyone, regardless of personality. However, there are writers who can afford the expense, but they still resist sharing the load. Some are maybe a bit too thrifty; they’ve got the money, but they’re worried about spending it. Others are afraid to give up control of any part of their project—often because they want it done just so and they can’t trust others with their baby. If any of these personality traits apply to you, outsourcing could be difficult to embrace.
The solution here is to recognize that offloading those tasks can increase your efficiency, resulting in more time and, ideally, more money. Angela and I, because we’re problem children, had to learn this the hard way. For years, we wanted to hire someone to take over the administration of our blog—not because we didn’t enjoy fielding guest post requests, talking to potential contributors, and scheduling posts; we just didn’t have enough time to do everything that needed doing. And because we were so swamped, we didn’t want to spend our precious time on hiring someone. Finally, we just bit the bullet and brought on our blog wizard, Mindy, and suddenly we had a surplus of time to devote to other projects—things that, really, only Angela and I could do.
If you’re able to outsource but are holding back, consider how much more productive you could be if someone else were doing the things you were least proficient at. Just opening up to the possibility can help you loosen the reins or the purse strings enough to pass off some of those duties, saving you buckets of time that can be spent on the stuff you’re really good at.
Strategy #2: Identify the Hard Stuff
Ok, so this seems pretty obvious, but we’re all really good at focusing on what we like and ignoring what we don’t. This results in the boring jobs either getting pushed to the last minute (and not being done well) or not getting done at all. Making note of the things you don’t enjoy doing—the things that maybe you’re doing halfway because you dislike them so much—is the first step in prioritizing them properly so they don’t get left behind.
Personality Blocker: Avoiders
This is a tough one for avoiders who tend to ignore the unpleasant, uncomfortable, or awkward. If avoidance is an issue, hit this head-on and set aside a quick 15 minutes to make a list of the parts of your job you tend to put off or ignore. It might be easier to keep an ongoing list and add to it over time as things occur to you. These difficult duties will differ from person to person, so identify what they are for you and make yourself aware of them.
Strategy #3: Schedule the Hard Stuff
Once you’ve identified the problem areas, set a deadline for when each one needs to be completed. Then add them to your weekly or monthly schedule so they don’t get forgotten.
Personality Blocker: Procrastinators
Procrastinators commonly put off unwanted responsibilities until the very last minute (or indefinitely). If this is you, it’s important to get those duties on the schedule. But you may not be as efficient if they’re scheduled up front, ahead of the jobs that are a bit more rewarding. If this is you, it’s ok to compromise. Schedule the dreaded tasks somewhere in the middle, after you’ve finished some of the fun stuff (but not jammed up against your deadline).
For more information on my favorite tool for planning and scheduling tasks, see this post on Trello.
Strategy #4: Break It Up
Some jobs are unpleasant because of the sheer amount of time they take. One way to make a task like that more palatable is to break it into smaller chunks and complete it over a series of work sessions.
Personality Blocker: All-At-Once’ers
This strategy used to be hard for me because I’m motivated by finishing things; I need a sense of completion, and this drives me to compartmentalize my workday and just hammer away at one project at a time until it’s done.
One of my regular responsibilities is to take the thesaurus posts we’ve published at Writers Helping Writers and move them over to our One Stop for Writers site. This involves a lot of cutting and pasting, HTML stripping, and adding additional content. It’s not the most stimulating work, and when you’re looking at 50 or so entries, it seems to take forever. So instead of trying to do it all at once—say, taking a week and focusing just on that job—I do one or two entries a day. Then I can spend the rest of my time doing other things that are more rewarding. This requires some careful scheduling to make sure I start the job early enough to hit my deadline, but it makes it more doable. It’s a great strategy to employ with long projects, such as editing a novel.
Strategy #5: Make It Fun
Full disclosure: there’s only so much you can do to make analyzing sales data or writing a summary for your story fun. But you can make most jobs more enjoyable. Here are some ideas that work for me:
- Break out the “happy” supplies, like a favorite pen, notebook, or planner
- Light a specific scented candle that’s only used when you really need a kick in the pants
- Work in a new spot, such as a coffee shop, the park, or the library, until the job is done
- Outfit your own workspace with things that makes you smile: inspirational notes, pictures of loved ones, knickknacks that hold special meaning, etc.
- Put on fun or motivational music
- Eat or drink something yummy
Personality Blocker: Being Easily Distracted
One potential issue with this strategy is if you end up wasting precious work time mooning over knickknacks or looking for your special highlighter when you should be working. If you struggle with this, put a limit on how many feel-good items are allowed in your workspace. And if you find yourself using this prep time as an excuse to procrastinate, set a time limit for how long you’ll allow yourself to get prepared before getting to work.
Strategy #6: Reward Yourself
And now for the good stuff! The best way to motivate yourself to do a hard job is with a reward. Once the dirty work is done, get your favorite Starbucks drink, head to the beach at sunset, buy those shoes you’ve been eyeing, or knock off a half-hour early for some pleasure reading. The dangling carrot works well for pretty much everyone; you’ll just need to establish the reward for each project ahead of time so you know what you’re working toward.
Personality Blocker: Over-Indulgers
If each chapter you draft results in a day off, you’re not going to get much done. Remember that efficiency and productivity are the goals, so make sure the reward matches the job.
Strategy: Shift Your Mindset
This is maybe the simplest strategy to make the hard jobs easier, and it has no personality blockers because it can work for literally everyone. Viewing certain jobs as hard, boring, tedious, or a waste of time will ensure that you put them off, rush through them, or don’t give them your best effort. Instead, shift to a productive inner voice by looking at those duties through a positive lens:
- This is important work.
- I can do this.
- I’m better at this than I used to be.
- Once I’ve mastered this, I’ll have something new to add to my skillset.
- I’m saving money by doing this myself.
- This job isn’t going to take as much time as I thought.
- The time (or money) I’m spending on this task is an investment into my business.
Every difficult or undesirable job has its silver lining. Looking at the bright side can change your attitude so you give it your full attention and effort, resulting in a job well done.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.