The Productive Writer: an Interview with Alexis Grant

Alexis Grant is an entrepreneurial writer and digital strategist. She’s founder of The Write Life, a website that focuses on how to make a living as a writer. She also offers a number of ebooks and courses on her own site, She’s worked as a journalist for publications like U.S. News & World Report and her work has also appeared in Salon, The Christian Science Monitor, The Chicago Tribune, The Huffington Post, and many others.
Grant shared her daily routine and tips for prioritizing work, exercise, and beating procrastination.
What’s your own daily routine like? What habits do you cultivate and what benefits do you find in them?
One of the benefits of running my own business is I can set up my day in a way that works best for me and my body. I usually don’t set an alarm clock. I do a chunk of work in the morning, another in the afternoon, and sometimes another in the evening depending on whether I had a lot of calls that day or took time out to babysit my nephew.
I’ve cultivated two particular habits that work well for me:
A. Prioritizing exercise. I exercise almost every day, either a bike ride outside, spin class or tennis. My friends love tennis and are always asking What is my Tennis Rating. I think we’re all scared that someone will surpass our tennis score! This is a great way to destress. I block out that time and never schedule calls or meetings during those hours, even if someone requests them. And while I might skip a workout if I’m not feeling well, I don’t allow myself to skip them just because I have a lot of work or am deep into a project. I put it ahead of everything else because it keeps me sane mentally and healthy physically.
B. Batching phone calls. A lot of productivity experts recommend batching email—a habit I haven’t managed to stick to yet—but grouping phone calls together also saves time. I do almost all of my calls back-to-back on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, which gives me blocks of time to work on projects on other days without being interrupted.
Oh! I also just took work email off my smartphone, which has worked beautifully. It prevents me from worrying about work when I’m supposed to be enjoying other parts of my life.
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 think writing first thing in the morning is smart, before you tuck into all the tasks associated with email. I go through phases when I’m able to force myself to do this, and times when I have trouble focusing on my priority first thing in the morning. But I do think it’s good practice to do the most important thing first thing—whether that’s writing or some other project—because that ensures it gets done even if other tasks pop up during the day.
Are there any habits you’re trying to develop now? What motivated you to work on them?
I am constantly re-evaluating how I work and what I can do to be more productive. Giving my priorities the time they deserve is something I’m always working on—training myself to, as Tim Ferriss says, let little bad things happen so I can finish projects that matter. I’m motivated by how I feel at the end of each day; I always feel good about my day if I’ve spent time on my priority projects, and crappy about myself if all I’ve accomplished is wading through email and crossing off little tasks.
Who or what inspires you? Whose habits would you like to know more about and why?
I do a lot of Google Hangouts with my online peers, people who are also growing online businesses—that’s my main means of inspiration at the moment. I love these one-on-ones because you get a real glimpse inside that person’s workflow, especially when they’re generous enough to be honest about what’s working and not working for them. This is my version of the water-cooler chat! Hearing about what my friend are working on motivates me, and it’s always helpful to get their feedback on what I’m working on, too.
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