The Productive Writer: an Interview with Nick Usborne

The Productive Writer: an Interview with Nick Usborne


Nick Usborne is a freelance copywriter and consultant who specializes in writing for the web. He’s worked with dozens of major companies and startups alike. Through his newsletters, books and programs, he helps other writers develop their skills and freelance careers. Usborne often splits his days between multiple writing projects and shared his tips for habits that can help the busy writer.

What’s your own daily routine like? What habits do you cultivate and what benefits do you find in them?

My routine varies, between totally unstructured and obsessively structured.

If I’m not very busy I tend to meander around all day, starting at no particular time and finishing early. Very sloppy, horribly unproductive and altogether a bad approach to getting quality work done.

At the other end of the spectrum, when I’m very busy, which is the majority of the time, I organize my time in a way that is extremely structured.

Let’s say I have three projects on the go…a big one, medium-sized one and a small one.

I look at the delivery dates and work my way back according to how long each will take.

Then I segment each day according to how much time I need to allocate to each of the three jobs.

For example, I might allocate three hours each morning to the big project, an hour and a half each afternoon to the medium–sized project and an hour at the end of the day for the small project.

And now for the secret to my productivity. Once I have segmented my day, I now have a start and finish time for each of the three jobs. And I treat each block of time as if I were sitting an exam.

Let me repeat that…I treat each block of time as if I were sitting an exam.

If my morning block of time starts at 8:30 and ends at 11:30, I start work precisely at 8:30 and finish exactly at 11:30. To the minute.

Also, as would be the case if sitting an exam, I do nothing else during that time period. No email. No social media. No walks in the garden. (But maybe a quick run to the coffee machine, which is about 15 feet away from my desk.)

I do the same for any other blocks I have allocated for other projects during the day. Before and after each block, I allow myself time for tackling email, phone calls, social media and so on.

This may sound a little obsessive, but it’s a killer way to become extremely productive.

The most common advice we hear about writing habits is simply to write every day. But what’s your best advice for overcoming procrastination and getting quality work out of your time spent writing?

I love this question. Personally I don’t “do” procrastination. I don’t even know what writer’s block feels like. I absolutely do not wait for the “muse” to visit me before I begin writing.

I view my work as a writer and copywriter as being a craft, or trade. It’s what I do for a living.

A roofer doesn’t sit on a roof with his chin in his hands, waiting for inspiration to strike before nailing down those shingles. A plumber doesn’t go through a deep breathing exercise before soldering a pipe.

I’m a craftsman. I just sit down and do my job. I write. It’s what I do for a living.

Are there any habits you’re trying to develop now? What motivated you to work on them?

My outer game is pretty well set and established, as I have described. If I have work to do it’s on my inner game.

That is to say, I need to work on the psychological issues that limit how far I can go, and how much I can earn.

Most of us have a sense of what we “deserve to earn”. And that self-imposed limit is usually a product of our childhood experiences at home and at school.

Some people, like Donald Trump and Richard Branson, believe they deserve to earn billions. Most of us believe we deserve to earn a lot less than we could.

This is a hurdle, a blockage. And it holds us back. I make a pretty good living, but know I could make more.

That’s what I’m working on right now.

Who or what inspires you? Whose habits would you like to know more about and why?

I’m inspired by craftsmen. Joiners, stone carvers, bespoke shoe makers. I have huge admiration for people who create a beautiful things with their hands.

As for the habits I would like to learn more about, I wouldn’t mind taking Donald Trump and Richard Branson out to lunch and picking their brains.

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