Productivity spreadsheet

Sometimes we feel as if a whole year has gone by and we have nothing to show for it, in terms of our writing. But this is not necessarily true. A little can add up to a lot!

If you have been writing for very long, you know that it can be very easy to feel unproductive over the long term. Unless you have a book published, you can come to the end of a year and wonder what all that butt-in-chair time has added up to, because it often feels like nothing. But if you are diligently working at your craft, be it fiction or non-fiction, blogging, article writing, etc., I would guess that you have accomplished more than you think you have over the course of a year. One way to see how all those writing minutes, word counts, and page revisions add up is to keep track of them. For me, the easiest way to do that has been a productivity spreadsheet.

It’s easy to set one up in Excel or Numbers. Just label the rows with each day of the year, leaving a blank row at the end of each month for your monthly totals. Then label the column headings with the writing activity that you desire to track. When I began this system in 2005, I tracked only new words written. Since then, I have added things like Pages Revised (of my own work), Pages Edited (for other people, like my critique group), Books Read, Writing Meetings Attended, Research Time, Pre-Writing Time, etc. The possibilities are endless. At the end of each column that contains a numeric value, add a function in the blank row that will calculate the total for that month. At the end of each month, you will see how much have have accomplished. This can serve to encourage you that you are doing more than you realize or it can serve as a kick in the pants to get to work! Either way, it helps break down your writing into quantifiable goals.

After the December monthly totals, add a row that will calculate your yearly totals for numeric columns. This can be huge in realizing that small amounts of work add up to so much over the course of twelve months. If you want, set up another sheet that charts the totals for each year, you can chart your progress over a span of year. For instance, this year (2011) I logged over 168,000 new words. Compare that to the first year I kept a spreadsheet (2005). That year I logged just under 60,000 words. This showed me that I have not only grown in my craft, but also time spent writing and in my output during that time.

The best way to use the spreadsheet (i.e. not forget to log in your activity), is to keep it in an easy to access place on your computer, such as your desktop. Get into the habit of logging what you’ve done immediately after you finish, not at the end of the day. And by adding the sum functions into your spreadsheet, you don’t have to remember to “total up” at the end of each month. Those totals just appear!

Writing can be a solitary task with little to “see” at the end, so keeping track of your progress daily can help keep you motivated for long term goals. Using a spreadsheet is one easy way to make that happen. Since as a writer, you are self-employed, think of your spreadsheet as your career performance review each year. I think you’ll come away amazed at all your have accomplished, no matter what type of writing you do.