How CCTV can help improve your productivity

Find out how you can improve your writing productivity through a little self-inflicted CCTV and one small promise to share your tape with the rest of the world!

Okay, so as I mentioned in my post about prioritising your priorities, I’m spending much of this summer editing my novel into shape. That’s because I now have a literary agent, which is very exciting, although not what this post is about.
If you’d like to know more about that, you can do so by going here and I’ll no doubt be blogging about it on Write for Your Life in time. There’s lots of good stuff in the pipeline, so don’t go away!

CCTV = productivity

Anyway, I’ve spent most of the weekend in the kitchen with my laptop, notebooks, various drafts and a cup of tea. Yesterday went pretty well and I got quite a bit done. Today though was much more sluggish and I found myself really struggling to, you know, ‘get my head down’.

Then I had an idea. A silly idea really, but one that helped force me to stay in one place and get on with my work. Essentially, I filmed myself writing. More than that, I filmed myself writing with the promise (to myself) that I would show the results to other people (that’s you).

And it worked out pretty well! Knowing that I’d get caught out if I got up and did something else for half an hour, I more or less rooted myself to the chair. Of course, there were natural breaks, including cat feeding, phone answering and toast making, but on the whole, the experiment was a success.

The results can be seen by watching the video above. It was filmed over roughly three and a half hours where I got more work done than in the rest of the day put together. Obviously, it’s rather boring viewing, but that’s not the point. It helped improve my productivity at a time when I was struggling.

How did I do it?

Well, I have an iPhone (sorry), but not one of those fancy new ones with video capability. So instead I found an application called TimeLapse, which can be set up to take still images at a set interval. Stitched together, those images provide a cut down version of events.

Obviously, you can also use a normal camera to create similar time-lapse videos, so long as it has the ability to automatically take snaps at set intervals. You could also just film yourself with a normal video camera or phone with a video recording function.

Over to you!

So what do you think? Might self-inflicted CCTV help you with your writing? The key thing is that promise. If you don’t commit to showing other people, you could still take your half an hour breaks and no one would be any the wiser. For me, the filming worked because it created that positive pressure.

I’d be really interested to know if you have a go at this yourself. In fact, I actively challenge you to do so! You never know, together we could create the most boring, yet potentially fascinating video gallery in the world. Posssibly. Maybe.

Share your thoughts using the comment section below.


Anonymous 20 July 2009 Reply

[…] This post was Twitted by joannayoung […] 20 July 2009 Reply

I’ve been thinking about this lately too. In my work in education, I’ve live-streamed as I worked and it’s definitely helped with the productivity and accountability. What I would really like to do, is time-lapse screen capture so others can see exactly how I write and revise. Thanks for sharing your process! 21 July 2009 Reply

What a fantastic idea! Catching the body language glimpses was priceless! I think it’s a very unique and inventive idea. It sounds like you had a lot of fun doing it as well!

George 21 July 2009 Reply

Interesting idea. But if you were the Barbara Cartland type, you’d probably spend six hours prior to the filming sorting out hair and make-up.You’ve got to be pretty techi too, which sadly, I am not.
But it’s good to have a broad range of ideas floating around that help some whilst not so much others. Now, when I retreated to the writing retreat for a rather long and expensive weekend (300 is a lot to invest on catchup) I found the most effective solution to my problem. I immersed myself in the company of enthusiastic, committed, hard-working writers and felt so guilty, just sitting staring hopelessly at the wall whilst all around fingers feverishly tapped on keys that all their energy kicked me into action.
So, when I have room, I intend filling my house with writers and setting them to work. 21 July 2009 Reply

This is interesting – most notably, how little actualy typing you do. But it also made me feel mildly stalkerish. And in my own writing practice, it would be simply impossible due to my aversion to combing my hair when I am deep in a project. Although it would also afford me a nice opportunity to record my collection of indoor scarves. 21 July 2009 Reply

This is a nice article about cctv… very interesting….
roshid 21 July 2009 Reply

So you’re using social accountability like this 🙂
What might work even better, is live CCTV, where your camfeed is going directly to one or more productivity buddies who also want to work during that period. If someone strays, the group returns him/her to work.

It’s like an online studygroup 🙂

Good thinking, might need summa that as well 🙂 21 July 2009 Reply

Love this idea, it really made me hoot! A silent invigilator, making sure you keep working and don’t succumb to the imp of the perverse!
But staying at the keyboard isn’t everything. What you also need is a keystroke spy – to detect the sneaky breaks for google browsing, the emails to friends, the ideas for blog posts when you’re meant to be building your wordcount. 21 July 2009 Reply

Leechblock can also help in avoiding distraction.

And Writeroom, which all writers on Macs are probably familiar with. 22 July 2009 Reply

Thanks for all the great responses everyone, I’ll respond to you all properly soon – I’m currently editing… privately!

Anonymous 31 July 2009 Reply

[…] Iain Broome at Write for Your Life has a lot of productivity tips for writers, including those of you writing novels.  His most recent experiment is well worth a read watch: How CCTV can help improve your productivity […] 24 September 2009 Reply

I do something similar myself! I have Y-cam IP camera setup ( in the corner of my den… Only the missus has access, kind of “big brother” style… If I even think she is watching, i don’t DARE to mess around! haha 😀 25 September 2009 Reply

@Jim Hello Jim and welcome. I think your solution sounds even more bonkers than mine! What happens if you get caught??! 25 September 2009 Reply

haha – but it works!! The earful I get from “she who must be obeyed” just isn’t worth slacking!!

Anonymous 7 January 2010 Reply

[…] How CCTV can help improve your productivity This post seemed a bit silly when I first came up with the idea. But actually, it turned out to be […]

Anonymous 13 February 2011 Reply

Strangely compelling viewing. I particularly liked the bit where your cat appeared on your lap for a second.
You didn’t appear to do much actual writing? I guess the stuff in your notebooks and on paper are notes and ideas you have jotted down, or character bios and whatnot.
When you were reading on screen though, what was it? More of your own notes or outside influences/inspirations?
Hope it’s not too private a question; peering too deeply into your personal routine or whatever.

Finding your blog very helpful in general. I actually write poems over at my blog but have for some time been battling in the back of my mind with a book idea. I occasionally write down a few paragraphs or a chapter here and there but since finding your blog, I have resolved to be more structured.

We’ll see how long that lasts!

Much Love 13 February 2011 Reply

This was quite near the end of the writing process actually, when I was completing my novel. So if I remember correctly, this was part writing, part editing, which perhaps explains the pauses. That said, I am quite a slow writer. Well, meticulous. That sounds better. And yes, I always edit on paper, and leave the screen simply for actually doing amends and writing fresh material, if that makes sense.
Glad you’re finding the blog helpful – that’s great!

Anonymous 12 March 2011 Reply

Hi Ian, I enjoyed the video and coincidentally have been doing something similar. Here is something I shot last Tuesday.
R-) 13 March 2011 Reply

Hi Richard – hope you’re well. That’s ace! I haven’t done this for ages but the results were quite surprising. And I really did end up writing more that day!

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