50 productive things writers can do in five minutes

harshestofcriticsramonaDo you ever daydream about all the productive things you’re going to achieve once you get some free time? That short story you’re definitely going to write? Those query letters you’re going to send off? That pile of books you’re going to blast through? You’re finally sorting your life out, and it’s going to be GLORIOUS.

Saturday morning rolls around, and you’re either still snoring your head off or skulking around the house like a pyjama-clad zombie. The rest of the weekend’s filled with ‘must-do’s’ that get in the way of what you really want to do. We find ourselves feeling like crap, again, because we felt like we’ve made zero progress towards our writing dreams. AGAIN.

First, stop beating yourself up. Life demands a lot from us, even in our spare time. We’re busier than we’ve ever been, and there’s more noise in our ears and eyes and heads than there’s ever been. Every minute is overloaded. How can that not get exhausting?

This world keeps us busy, there’s no doubt about that. However, there’s a big difference between being busy and being productive. The good news is, you could have only five minutes to spare, and you can still get something done that’s worth your time. Here are fifty ideas to get you started…

  • Do five minutes’ worth of sprint writing – just set the timer and keep writing until the alarm rings. Write or Die by Dr Wicked can help you focus – it’s a free-to-use webapp that turns the screen red and makes a load of noise if your hands drift from the keyboard.
  • Pick a writing prompt at random and get to work! Think Written has a list of 365 writing prompts – one for each day of the year.
  • Online writer events are a boss way to meet other writers, mentors and potential critique partners. They’re also super fun! Take five minutes to peruse upcoming writing events and add them to your calendar. The lovely Mica Scotti Kole has a website dedicated to keeping you updated on all the latest goings on (Mica works really hard to help out other writers, so please send her some love on Twitter. Make sure you follow the Free Writing Events Twitter account for regular updates too!)man_writing_note
  • Check your To-Do list for the week and strike off anything you’ve done. The simple act of clearing off any tasks you achieved this week can give you a bit of a lift!
  • If you’ve been off in your own writing world lately, you may have fallen out of touch with at least one of your friends or family members. Why not fire them a quick email or text to let them know you’re still breathing? Even if it’s a note to tell them you’ll catch up with them soon, it’s still something!
  • Head a little foggy? You may be dehydrated. According to Authority Nutrition, even losing as little as 2% of your body’s water content can impair your brain function. Spend five minutes relaxing and sipping a tall glass of water. Don’t like water on its own? Add a splash of fruit juice or cucumber slices!
  • Sick of useless marketing emails clogging up your inbox? You can unsubscribe from a bunch of them all at once by using Unroll me.
  • Want to help spread the word for a good cause? Thunderclap is the world’s first crowdspeaking platform where you can add your social media reach to good causes that matter to you. It only takes a couple of minutes to help promote something you care about!
  • Do you have a notebook addiction? Go through your old notebooks and see if you’ve jotted down anything interesting. You might find something that jumpstarts an idea for your next story or article.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts? Getting some mindfulness meditation in each day may help. The great thing about mindfulness is that it can be done pretty much anywhere, during any task for as long or as short a time as suits you. Focus on your breathing, and just notice the thoughts, sensations and things happening around you without judgment. This is the basis of mindfulness – finding stillness in the present moment. There are several free mindfulness apps on the Android and Apple stores (my favourite is Bhuddify). Give one a try next time you’re feeling frazzled!
  • If you’ve been hunched over your keyboard all week, you could probably do with a good stretch. Check out this video on Fitness Blender of stretches you can do in five minutes.girl_at_laptop
  • Read an awesome book recently? Help the author out by writing a glowing review. Not only do positive, detailed reviews help boost book sales, but who knows? Your nice review might just pick a flagging author up and keep them plugging away at their next book.
  • If you don’t feel confident enough to write a review, you can still tweet the author with a bit of praise 🙂
  • Have you got a new book coming out soon? You could give it a real promotion boost by giving away some free copies on Rafflecopter! Read this blogpost on The Verb for the details.
  • Is your handbag a bottomless pit where shopping receipts basically go to die? Why not make some money off them instead? Receipt Hog is an app that scans your receipts and gives you ‘piggy coins’. These coins can be saved up and traded in for PayPal credit or Amazon vouchers. Perfect for grabbing some e-book bargains on Amazon!
  • Have you got a stack of business cards from writer events and conventions to go through? UUUUUGH. Instead, you can upload them digitally using an app called CardMunch. This article on The Muse can show you how.
  • When was the last time you sorted through your old paperwork? Spend five minutes filing what you need and shredding what you don’t.
  • Is your desk littered with pens? A bunch of them are probably tapped out of ink. Try them all, and bin the duds.
  • Are you constantly losing track of important tasks, projects and goals? A bullet journal might actually change your life. I started one six months ago and I haven’t looked back. Watch this quick video to find out how to start your own bullet journal.
  • Does your desktop look like a jigsaw puzzle threw up on itself? Tidy it up by deleting the crap you no longer need. Mac users might see a bit of a speed boost by doing this!
  • Like listening to audiobooks? You can probably clear at least one chapter by listening to it at a slightly quicker speed. I recommend Smart Audiobook Player. It has a wide range of different narrator speeds and a feature that lets you take notes of important characters.sparkler
  • Images and photos can make superb writing prompts. All you need to do is write what you see. The Archillect Twitter account is one of my fave places for finding images for writing prompts.
  • If you’re querying, it’s really important that you do some research on the agents you’re approaching. Their agency bios only tell you so much – the real juicy details can often be found in interviews. Literary Rambles has a vast archive of agent interviews you can peruse. Why not use your five minutes to get to know your dream agent better?
  • Ever heard the saying ‘eat the frog first’? Well, that’s basically a clever way of saying you should do the worst thing on your to-do list first. Once it’s out of the way, it’ll no longer be looming over you like a spectre from the shadow realms. Granted, this might take longer than five minutes, so perhaps you could spend that five minutes on the ‘lead up’ to your frog task. Here’s an example: you promised you’d go for a run every morning. Spend five minutes filling up a water bottle, putting your running shoes on and getting a good podcast lined up for your run (I highly recommend Writing Excuses for Writing tips from badass authors, or No Such Thing As A Fish if you’re a nerd like me and love random facts delivered by a gang of wry comedians).
  • Want to add more books to your ever-growing TBR list? Spend five minutes entering some book giveaways on Goodreads. It’s free to enter and you could end up nabbing some fantastic titles you might never have come across before.
  • Write a list of all the things, people and experiences you’re grateful for. Stick it in a place you’re likely to see it every day, and look at it whenever you feel down. Want to know how fortunate you are? The Global Rich List gave me some much needed perspective.
  • Writers feel shitty pretty much all the time. One great way to NOT feel shitty is to remember all the kind, supportive things people have said about us and our work in the past. Here’s a tip from a fab YA author called Jenna Moreci (go check out her writer tip videos on YouTube) – Go through your emails and social media accounts and find those lovely snippets of praise you’ve received over the years. Next, go to your desktop and start a folder called ‘Nice Things People Have Said About Me’. Save those kind words as screengrabs in your folder. Now, whenever that sneaky self-doubt starts to creep in, whenever some asshole says something condescending about your work or you get yet ANOTHER form rejection off an agent, you have a treasure trove of support and love that’s ALL YOURS, baby. Enjoy it.
  • Have you gone through a bout of non-stop rejection lately? Perhaps a bunch of form rejection letters from agents came in all at once? Maybe some asshat said something snide about a book you’ve written or you’re just having a bit of a ‘I’m the worst writer to ever live everrrrr’ phase (we all do). Chuck Wendig is a hugely successful hybrid author and lovely person who’s all too familiar with the rejection blues. Spending five minutes reading Chuck’s no-nonsense guide to dealing with rejection might be the best thing you do all weekend.
  • Listen to some happy-as-hell, motivational pop music and remind yourself how badass you are. May I recommend Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield, or It’s Amazing by Jem? Screw it, break out the Karate Kid theme!
  • Bored of using the same old words? Learn some new ones and think of ways you can use them in your writing. Word a Day is packed with gorgeous, often old-fashioned words. My fave word right now is curmudgeon!
  • Hard up for cash? Aren’t we all? During the day, I write money-saving and budgeting blogs over at MoneyAware. I’ve written a couple of blogposts on weird and wonderful ways to make money (here are parts two and three). Give them a read during your next tea or coffee break. There might be a tip or two in there to help you make some extra moolah!
  • Grammar has never been my strongsuit. It’s not the most fun aspect of writing (for me, at least!), but it’s definitely worth getting to know the basics. Grammar Girl dispenses her English language expertise in short, punchy podcasts that are often under five minutes long.
  • Fancy fitting in a bit of brain training? Brain Turk has lots of web games that can give your noodle a quick workout!
  • There are a lot of young, underprivileged creatives right now who need support to make their dreams a reality. Arts Emergency is a UK-based charity that offers mentorship and combats the often elitist barriers that prevent low income background children from forging a creative career. For the USA, there’s Girls Write Now, an NY-based mentorship service for girls from disadvantaged and POC backgrounds, and Mentoring USA who seek to give children between 7-21 positive adult role models and support in their endeavours. You can help by taking five minutes to make a donation to one of these charities, or supporting something similar in your local area. If you can’t afford a donation, spreading the word on social media can help, too!
  • Pick a person that you spend a lot of time with. Make a list of all the things you like most about that person. This is a really positive exercise, especially if you don’t always see eye to eye and need reminding of their good qualities.
  • Make a list of five things to do that make you incredibly happy. Resolve to do one of them, once a month, for the next five months. Set the date with yourself and stick to it. That way, no matter how down on yourself and your writing you may feel, you’ve still got something awesome on the horizon to look forward to!
  • While we’re on the subject of to-do lists, have a think of all those things you ‘should’ do but never get around to doing. Ask yourself what the consequences would be if you didn’t do the thing. Would the world end? Would someone die, or would they just ask some other poor chump to do it? This isn’t about being selfish. It’s about getting rid of those obligations that don’t help you, or at least reducing them so you can focus on things that really matter to you. Some would call it ‘self-care’, which many creatives would do well to employ in greater doses!handwritten_letter
  • Have you been struggling with motivation to write lately? Don’t beat yourself up. Writer’s block pays us all a visit from time to time. This video by Fast Screenplay claims it can help you blast through writer’s block in five minutes – worth a shot, right?
  • Few things can be more encouraging for a writer than to meet their author heroes in person. If you’re in the UK, why not do a quick search on the Waterstones or Blackwell websites to see if any of your fave authors are coming to town to do signings?
  • Are you a bit of a history buff? Want to write a historical novel but waiting for that spark to get the ideas flowing? Historian and Writer Michael Rank runs the History in Five Minutes podcast that’s bursting with random historical facts.
  • If you’ve been putting off housework all day, a five-minute cleaning spree can help you blitz through it. Who doesn’t love a nice clean room to write in? Set the timer and get to work!
  • Are you just about to go to bed? Spend five minutes planning out your tasks for tomorrow. It’ll help you focus and fend off those time-sucking distractions. Art of Productivity has a great guide for mapping out everything you plan on doing tomorrow.
  • Do nothing. Daydream. Let your mind take a luxurious wander for five minutes. This is when the magic happens, and the creative juices start to flow. If a nagging thought comes in, don’t fight it. Just let it slide away without judgment. It’s just a thought. As insubstantial as the wind. But your imagination? Your dreams? Those, my love, are something else entirely. Enjoy them. Frolick in them. This is your alchemy from which you’ll glean your gold.

So there you have it! Give just a few of these quick tasks a try each day. The thing about success is that it never happens overnight. It’s all about small steps down a long path, but take pride in those small steps you’re taking. They’re all moving you closer towards your goals!

Get stuff done that matters to you, and your days will matter more and more.

How do you make sure you get something productive done each day? Let me know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “50 productive things writers can do in five minutes

  1. You mentioned To-Do Lists and old pens. For to-do lists, have you heard of Habitica.com? It’s a really cool way to organize daily and one-time tasks, and use them to level up an RPG character. As for old pens, you can mail them to the artist at thepenguy.com, who’ll recycle them into artwork. These things just seemed to fit with the theme of your article, so I thought I’d share. Thank you again for the shout-out!


  2. Love this post Rachel! So many good ideas. I definitely have a notebook addiction, so trying to go through old ones is a brilliant idea. I’m just worried about whether I’ll be able to read my writing! Screenshotting positive comments is also a lovely idea.

    One new thing I’m trying is writing morning pages (although my version is writing 1 page of A4 on my morning commute as I reaaally don’t have time in the morning). Have you given this a go before? Writing down my thoughts has been a great way to clear my mind ready for the day ahead!



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