Have you ever taken a knife skills course?
Generally, you only need 3 or 4 knives in your kitchen; a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife will do most everything. The key to successful knife skills is knowing how to use each knife to do multiple jobs. With a chef’s knife, for instance, you can cut almost every ingredient in your kitchen. You can slice, dice, julienne, chiffonade, butcher a chicken – the list goes on.
This is why it pays to invest in a really good chef’s knife. It does the job, and does it well. That is, as long as you know how to use it. Yet, everyone is enamored with gadgets. Walk into a fancy kitchen store like Williams-Sonoma or even your local Target, and you’ll see hundreds of devices you can use to slice avocados, turn zucchini into ribbons, zip corn off its cob, and perfectly divide your hard-boiled egg into eight sections. All these tools do the same job you can do with a single knife — if you know how to use it.
In my work, clients often ask me about productivity methods, especially for managing long term projects like books. They’re always surprised by my answers.
Which apps should I use to time my work sessions?
Use your phone, or the clock on your microwave. Or get analogue and try an egg timer.
Does Scrivener work well for early drafts?
It depends. How much of your writing time are you willing to invest in learning the software?
Should I use an app to track my writing time?
You probably already have Excel or Google sheets – try that!
When writers aren’t thinking about apps, they’re asking about advanced productivity techniques. These are skills that go beyond habit formation and effectively managing a calendar. What I hear less frequently than these questions is a good justification for asking them.
Seeking more and more productivity advice can be its own form of procrastination. This “research” might seem justified, but really, it’s a way to avoid your more important work.
After all, it’s easier to read Write No Matter What than it is to write your chapter introduction or outline your book proposal.
As professional learners, it’s natural that you’d want to geek out on productivity. Even so, it’s not necessary. All you need is mastery of a few skills. This has always been the way I coach. The goal is not for you to become a productivity expert. The goal is for you to master productivity to the extent you need to finish your writing projects. Your productivity habits should always be in service of your writing.
In my work as a coach, my #1 goal is to never waste your time. I design everything I sell, every newsletter and blog post I write, by first asking the question “what do academic writers need to achieve the goal?” For a program like Productivity Pipeline, I think of the time it takes to: identify a habit you’ll use, make the habit stick, and course correct when you stray from the habit. For a course like Jumpstart, I think about how you can most quickly develop a project management system for writing your book. I might decide to write a detailed “how-to” blog post or a short Twitter thread.
As you seek out tips and tricks for being more productive, I encourage you to ask yourself, “why is what I’m currently doing not good enough?” You might just need to double down on what you’re already doing. Repetition, not overloading yourself with information, is the real key to mastery.