1. Organize thyself. I like to spend a half hour in the morning to reflect on my pending assignments and determine how I'll work writing into my day (I train business executives in communication skills in the mornings from 9 am to Noon, so usually write in the afternoons). During this morning quiet time, sometimes spent sitting on a park bench near the Charles River, I decide my writing priorities for the day (and maybe the week) by looking at all my open assignments, their due dates, their complexity, and (yes) their pay rates. If I'm really slammed with writing work, I might ask the editor or client to push back a deadline or two.
2. Use organizational tools. You might use a notebook and pen to do your organizing/planning, but I like to use smartphone apps like Evernote. I've found Evernote to be an easy-to-use and convenient tool to make notes to myself, write to-do lists, and even develop ideas. For example, I keep an Evernote notebook filled with ideas for this blog. When you want to further develop an idea, you can just edit in Evernote to add more content. In fact, that's how I organized this blog post -- by making notes in Evernote. Find the organizing tools that work best for you, whether traditional or digital, and use them.
3. Related to tips #1 and #2 above, know thyself and when you feel most productive and have sufficient time to write. Some people like to write in the evenings, especially if they work a 9-to-5 job, while others prefer to write in the mornings. Since I work another job in the mornings, I write in the afternoon. When my training job is done, I change hats and kick into writer mode. Everyone has a life with other priorities they need to work around, whether it's family, a full-time non-writing job, or something else. You don't want to endanger these important parts of your life because of your writing, so be as flexible as you can in carving out time to write.
4. Develop routines to support your writing, but break them when they turn into ruts. For example, I used to write exclusively in a home-office, but eventually became bored and isolated. So I left my house, laptop in tow, and started writing at the Boston Public Library (now my favorite place to write), various cafes around town, and even in my classroom after I've taught my final class of the day. Mixing up your locations can enhance creativity.
5. Take occasional breaks from writing to keep yourself fresh. By this I mean get up and stretch from time to time, or eat an apple between your first and second drafts, maybe grab a cup of coffee between finishing the research for an article and beginning to write it. I also mean taking a day off if you've worked hard and are feeling the mental strain that writing can bring. The English essayist/novelist George Orwell compared writing to suffering through a long bout with a serious illness. While I wouldn't quite go that far, I do get mentally drained after writing, say, five hours per day for a full week. Sometimes I'll take the weekend off, or take a Friday if I'm not feeling creative and I have the scheduling flexibility. Tired writers and their writing can get stale, so be sure to take breaks.
6. Exercise and follow good nutritional practices to maintain your energy and reduce stress. Writing might not be physical labor, but it is hard work. If you're having health problems, or suffering from low energy, you won't write well for very long. Exercise can also be a great way to stimulate creative thinking and catalyze problem-solving.
What helps you work more productively? I'd be curious to hear what works for you, and so invite you to post your tips in the comments box below.