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5 Time Zones of Productive Writers

Acknowledge and use them to your advantage

The “Flow” Zone

Ever sit down to work and lose track of time? It happened to me yesterday. My morning routine started at 8.30 a.m., as usual. I had specific tasks that I needed to accomplish, and I sat down at my computer, focused and determined.

At 2.30 p.m., my stomach growled, a ravenous wolf howling for food. My shoulders were knotted and my knees were stiff.

Six hours had passed without notice, flying past me while my mind was lost in another dimension. It wasn’t the Twilight Zone. It was the “Flow” Zone, and being in it had enabled me to complete my project.

Get into the “Flow” Zone by using 5 time-honored techniques

  • Eliminate distractions. Shut off notifications on your phone and computer. Close the door. Make a list. Then commit to concentrated attention on your project for an hour. Usually, you’ll get going and without even knowing it, that hour will stretch into several.

  • Stay hydrated. Take a thermos or insulated glass to your office. Fill it with water in whatever form you prefer: flavored, bubbly, icy, or plain.

  • Avoid too much caffeine. Limit your intake to a cup or two in the morning, but too much makes you jittery, and if you’re worried or anxious about an assignment, too much caffeine can increase your anxiety.

  • Follow a ritual. For me, this means closing the door, lighting a candle, straightening my desk, looking at my “to-do” list, and turning on my music. Routine creates a habit, and a daily writing habit is what writers need.

  • Mellow out with music. Ignore social media, text messages, and phone calls and zone in on the music. Studies show that instrumental music (without lyrics) is a benefit and can even produce “eureka” moments. Try classical, nature sounds, movie scores, or even music composed for video games. Choose something you like around 50–80 beats per minute for maximum focus.

The “Feed and Fuel” Zone

To write well, you have to be an idea machine, constantly feeding and fueling your brain with fresh perspectives, new thoughts, and quality writing.

Every writer needs to visit the “Feed and Fuel” Zone daily. Allot time to ingest a variety of sources. Read fiction and non-fiction. Consume books, magazines, and newspapers. Subscribe to blogs and podcasts. Investigate areas outside of your industry.

Writers need time to read. Reading pours ideas into our psyches. It illustrates style, increases vocabulary, and teaches grammar by osmosis. Discovering information should be part of every workday. In the words of the prolific Stephen King:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

The “Decreasing” Zone

Writers have to adjust to the decreasing amount of time that readers spend consuming our words. That means comprehending the “decreasing” time zone and how it relates to our work.

  • 8 out of 10 people will read the headline only.

  • 20% of people might read the entire article.

  • People scan for keywords and subheadings instead of reading full sentences.

  • We now read from spot to spot on the page instead of reading line by line, a habit that is changing how we absorb information. Claire Handscombe, a graduate student in creative writing, talked about the difficulty of shifting between her digital scanning with speed and her focused, line-by-line reading for deeper comprehension. Scientists are noticing the same problem:

“To cognitive neuroscientists, Handscombe’s experience is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.”

In today’s digital age, readers don’t read. They skim.

They don’t spend time with one piece. They flit through dozens.

They don’t look for deep meaning. They look for quick hits.

Write for readers in the “Decreasing” Zone with these recognized tactics

  • Craft an attention-grabbing headline.

  • Divide the text into sections of no more than 300 words each.

  • Use subheadings to outline the material for the reader.

  • Allow plenty of white space.

  • Keep sentences short and easy-to-understand.

The “It Takes Time” Zone

Don’t believe people who tell you they became an overnight success. It just doesn’t happen.

Successful writers have spent months, maybe years, in the “It Takes Time” Zone, the time required to build a business, create samples, acquire clients, develop a brand.

It may be possible for a random writer to make thousands and thousands of dollars on their first blog post, but I’ve never known anything like that to happen to anyone I know. When I first started full-time writing, I read all the stories about how people get to six-figure salaries. No one talked about how much time it took to get to that level of pay. I guarantee it didn’t happen on their first job, their first month of working, the first year, or maybe even the first decade.

So I’m touting the joy of traveling in the “It Takes Time” Zone. Successful writers — on Medium or anywhere else — have spent countless hours honing their craft, studying their industry, and effectively marketing their services.

The “Disappearing” Zone

Maybe its because I’m an older writer, but every day I feel like my time is running out. I don’t have enough years left to write everything I want to write. Too many books are on my list to be read. Even if I live to 260, I wouldn’t be done with my projects.

Despite my good health and joyous optimism, the older I get, the less time I have.

The shortage of time is a great motivator. The clock is pushing me to be productive while I can.

I can’t waste time.

No matter your age, neither can you.

Use the writer’s time zones to your advantage, and make the most out of every moment.


If you feel the crunch of time on your life, read this: 5 Ways to Make Every Minute Count

Do Creative People Live Longer? Read one of my favorite reflections on time.

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