How science can increase your writing productivity

In a previous article (here) I talked about the importance of measuring your productivity. Regular measurement of any issue can help you keep that issue front and center in your daily thought-space, which in turn makes it easier for you to remember to make decisions in support of the attribute being measured. But even when those measurements are being made automatically, after a while, you forget that it’s happening and as the memory fades, your productivity benefits begin to dwindle with it.

What you need is a way to rub your nose in those numbers. That’s where my production-charts script enters the picture. This script is a companion to the previously mentioned production-monitor. The chart tools looks at the writing logs produced by the monitor and sends you some really humiliating graphs. Direct to your inbox. Every single day. Want to see what they look like?

Here’s mine from today, covering my last month of activity. At the top, it gives me some statistical highlights: how many days this month I actually did any writing, how productive my best day was, how many words I’m getting down per day, etc. See the bit that says I only wrote on 25% of the available days? Or that other line about how I’m averaging 208 words per day? Color me pathetic.

Below that, it shows a quick chart of my productivity over the life of the project. Did you notice all those empty days? That’s bad, too.

Lately, I’ve been dreading these little offerings waiting in my inbox every morning. The observant among you might note that the graph shows nothing in the last week, prior to today. Sure, I’ve been busy with the million other tasks a writer has to manage: promotional campaigns, class-room visits, etc., but this morning I just couldn’t bear to open my email and see yet another empty day – so I set a few things aside and spent the morning writing. See that tall, defiant bar standing all by itself on the right side of the chart? That’s me. Today. I did that.

And that’s how this tool works. It’s like a nagging wife, except that there’s nobody for you to yell at but yourself.
Now, I should point out that production-charts doesn’t have to send you its information by email – that’s just one way I like to use it. There’s a second little chart it can produce that I find helpful: the time of day chart. This one shows me all of my writing time from my log file, broken down by how many words I’ve written during which hours of the day. It’s a quick little indicator that shows me what time of day I’m getting most of my writing done, and to be honest, I’m a little surprised by it. I think of myself as an early-morning writer, but clearly, according to the chart, I’m getting the bulk of my writing done between 10 am and 3 pm. Hardly morning at all. But this graph isn’t useful on a daily basis, so I only call it one up about once a month – just to see how I’m doing.

For those of you who might be interested in using production-monitor and production-charts, go ahead and download ’em. They’re both written in Python, so they’re pretty easy to modify if you have any coding skills at all. Currently, they have to be run from the command line, and everything they can do is controlled with command line arguments. For example, if I’ve had a particularly productive week and think it’s time to send a copy of my productivity report to my publisher, I could do that by entering: production-monitor -Rad in a command window. The -R bit tells the tool which graphs to produce, and the -E part tells it where to send the report. If I entered it this way: production-monitor -Rad -S, that wouldn’t send any email at all. Instead it will just show me the results on screen. But don’t worry. If you want to know all the options, just run production-monitor -h and it will introduce itself to you.

Programs written this way, taking all their direction from command line arguments, are really quite versatile. A couple of weeks ago, I told my Linux cron tool to run these command lines every day, and so every morning, I get a fresh report without having to do anything. Scheduling tools like cron exist for Windows and Mac users, too, but you’ll have to dig into them for yourself, or perhaps somebody will post a comment with the information you need to get them set up. Eventually, somebody might even add the scheduling features to the production scripts themselves, rather than relying on external apps, and yet another person might add a little widgets and buttons front end to the thing, for those of you intimidated by command line tools. My job in all of this is to come up with the basic tools, sketch them out, and give ’em a whirl. If they seem useful, I’ll post the code. I’m hoping somebody else will come along and handle the prettifying part.

Can’t wait to start playing? Get your copy here: Download

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About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.