Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How to Get Your Writing Done Every Day: The 3-Bucket System

Note: I have a free video teaching on this system. If you’d rather watch that, click here.

Most writers struggle with getting their writing done for one surprising reason. They think writing is a one-step process, when in fact, it’s a three-step process.

How to Get Your Writing Done Every Day: The Three-Bucket System

What we call “writing” is actually made up of three distinct activities: coming up with ideas, turning those ideas into drafts, and then editing those drafts into publishable pieces.

When I decided to become a writer and made the commitment to write 500 words per day, every single day, I quickly ran into the resistance that holds most of us back from doing our work.

I’d get up early, brew my coffee, and sit down to write. And I’d wait. And wait. And I’d wait for the words to come, but nothing would come quickly. Some days, nothing would come at all.

The minutes would tick by, with me stupidly staring at the cursor, squandering what little time I had before having to go to work. When my writing time was over, I’d pack my stuff up, defeated, and beat myself up for the rest of the day.

Why couldn’t I focus?

The truth is most writers struggle with this. Because they believe the myth that writing is one thing. When I realized that coming up with a great idea, writing 500–1,000 words on that idea, and then editing that idea into something I could publish on my blog – all in one sitting – was, in fact, a ridiculous goal, everything changed.

I began breaking those activities – ideation, creation, and editing – into three separate actions. And you know what? When you have one goal to accomplish, you are far more productive and focused than when you have three.

Imagine that.

As I did this, writing became easier and easier. I started writing more. I stopped getting writer’s block – period. I didn’t feel stuck anymore. I knew exactly what I needed to do, and I knew I could do it – so I did.

What resulted was, to my own chagrin, a system. To be honest, I’m not a very organized guy. I wish I were. But the truth is most of my life is messier than I care to admit. But what I’ve realized is every working writer I know has some sort of system to get the work done.

A system doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing. It just has to work. To quote my friend Tim Grahl, a system is just a way of doing something that gets you a predictable result every time. Like, putting your keys in the same place every day after work (which I only recently started doing).

Below is my system, and maybe it’ll work for you, too. I call it: The Three-Bucket System. And it’s how I get my writing done.

Bucket #1: Ideas

All throughout the day, I capture ideas using an app called Drafts that syncs with Evernote.

That’s the first bucket: ideas.

I have a whole folder full of them for when I’m feeling dry in the creativity department.

You can use a notebook for this as well. The tool doesn’t matter, as long as you aren’t just hanging onto all those ideas in your brain. Don’t trust that operating system. It will fail you.

You must capture ideas in a place where you can return to them later when your memory fails you and the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.

Bucket #2: Drafts

Then, when it’s time for me to write (usually in the morning), I’ll pull an idea out from the first bucket and start writing, usually around 500 words in one session. This process makes it easier to just start writing because I don’t have to think about what I’m going to write – I already have a prompt.

The ideas I collect function as prompts for me, but this is not just a writing exercise. It’s work. I never write something without the intent of publishing it. This is what my friend Marion calls “writing with intent.” The best practice is the kind done in public, and the best writing is the stuff you intend to publish.

Once I’ve written about 500 words on my idea, I save it as a draft in Scrivener (if I’m working on a book) or in Byword (if it’s a blog post). Again, these are the tools I use. They don’t matter as much as the method.

This is the second bucket: drafts.

At any given time, I have a whole bunch of half-finished chapters and blog posts on my computer begging to be edited and completed.

This is not an overwhelming feeling. It’s an empowering one, because when it’s time to edit, I get to choose what I want to work on. I don’t have to come up with an idea or “just write.”

The point of this system is to think as little as possible and just do the next thing.

Bucket #3: Edits

Finally, I pull out one of those half-completed drafts and edit it. I’ll polish up the flow and sentence structure and of course, check for grammar and spelling.

At this point, the piece isn’t perfect, but it’s at least 90% done. I’ll either schedule it for a blog post or tuck it away in another folder called “Finished pieces” on my computer.

This is the third bucket: edits.

These are pieces of writing that are more or less ready for the world to see. The next step is to share them with an editor or publisher or post to my blog. Again, I don’t write anything just for fun. It all has a purpose.

This is what professionals do. They write for an audience, always with the intent of publishing. Anything less than that will result in something that isn’t your best work.

Putting it together

So here’s how this works in practice. But a quick word: if you’re just beginning, you’ll really need two days to get the system fully running.

1. Collect Ideas

Today, as you go on with the rest of your day, grab any ideas that come to you and capture them in a notebook or on an app that you can easily return to later. Shoot for five ideas. Write down a sentence or a phrase. Just enough to save the idea.

2. Write and Save

Tomorrow, when it’s time to write (say, in the morning, or whenever works for you), pull one of those ideas out of that first bucket.

I find that certain ideas speak to me, call to me even, and I try to listen to that voice. But sometimes, I just pick one. Typically, I choose the one that either most excites me or represents a deadline I have to meet.

When you’re done, put this piece in the “drafts” folder and save it for later. Then today, you’re done.

3. Edit and Publish

The day after, return to yesterday’s draft and edit it. Then move it to bucket three, maybe even publish it on your blog or wherever. Then go to bucket one to pull out a new idea and start writing again.

Do this every day, and you’ll never run out of writing topics. You’ll never run out of things to edit and publish. You’ll never have writer’s block again.

As long as you remember: writing is not one thing. It’s three things. So that’s my system. Give it a try, and let me know how it works.

If this advice has inspired you and you want to go deeper in becoming a productive writer, you should check out the free video series I’ve just released with Tim Grahl. You’ll learn more about this three bucket system as well other strategies you can use to create a writing system that gets results every day.

Click here to check out the free video series.

Can you relate to my story of feeling stuck as a writer? Do you ever feel discouraged because you aren’t making progress? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Kerri Reinbold

    Thank you! Super helpful. As common sense as this is, you helped turn on a lightbulb for me. 🙂

  • MK

    This is so important! When I first decided to become a writer I was trying to write and edit all in one go, and the truth is, you really need distance from what you wrote to be able to edit it with any clarity. Now I always take a break between writing and editing (to work on something else) and it makes it much easier.

  • This is exactly the advice I needed today. Thank you!

  • Laura Siller

    Thanks Jeff, this was thought-provoking. Great ideas to implement.

  • Coffee Au Chocolat

    I have the same blocks and writing 500 words seemed not doable for me but with these tips, I think I can do it. Thanks for this, Jeff.

  • So helpful! Thanks Jeff! Do you know if Drafts is available for Android? I clicked the link but it looked pretty iPhone heavy…

    • Sefton

      It seems not. I use Simple Notepad, though this doesn’t sync with anything. Evernote is my favorite though!

    • Not that I know of, but you could just use Evernote.

  • wendygoerl

    My problem is I’ll get a strong idea, dash of 500-3,000 words of it (something that will probably finish in the 10,000-200,000 range), then come back later and not be able to re-capture the idea/flow I had when I first started it.

  • I just love this, Jeff! Thanks for sharing it. I do these things already but I love how you have brought more clarity and implementation to it!

  • erniebowling

    Thanks, Jeff! This was very enlightening.

  • Sefton

    This is great! I’m thinking how I can apply it to longform projects such as… My novel. I guess I can use bucket #1 to avoid the temptation to run off and develop other brilliant ideas instead of writing my current novel. If I’ve captured all those tempting ideas, I can relax. And bucket#2, that must be my scene list. Bucket#3, which I’m itching to get to, is editing…but not till I’m done with the first two. What do you think? Sef

  • For a long time, I thought I had no ideas. Once I started generating them, after years of journaling, I had more than I knew what to do with. That was success. Now I sometimes struggle with idea overwhelm. If I’m not careful, I see all the ones that don’t get written and published as accumulated “failure.” Over time, the idea bucket overflows with abandoned discards. I start to feel buried beneath everything that “didn’t work.” The antidote for me is understanding that being buried under too many ideas is a much better place to be than lost in a vacuum. It’s a sign of achieving a new level of progress and plenty.

    What do you do with unused ideas? Do you save them or discard them?

    • Never discard. Always saving them for later.

  • Question: Why do you use Drafts to capture ideas instead of just using Evernote? Is there a particular reason you’d rather capture ideas in a totally separate app?

    • I push the ideas from Drafts to Evernote. I just like the interface better. It’s prettier. 🙂

  • Bob Carpenter

    Most astute observation, Jeff; writing is not one thing, but three. How profound and helpful. Thanks a lot. It seems like this plan will help to make writing less time consuming, too.

  • Adalbertina Meszretov

    I really liked this article! Thank you so much!
    As I was reading this I was thinking of David Allen’s book called “Getting Thing Done”. It says that a project is not a to-do, but the sum of several to-dos.
    It’s a great method to think about writing as a project.

    (Excuse my English, I am not a native speaker.)

  • Helpful stuff, Jeff. I use a concept I call “word seeds” for the idea generation, where I get a core idea and then people that with three or four phrases or single words that are part of an article (or story) framework. Might take a moment more than your idea jot, but that feels like I have more of a structure to return to when I build the draft. (The draft is the “tree” that grows from the seeds.)

    You’re so right that persistently writing, even in small amounts, can both result in a solid block of useable writing, but also lets you see yourself as writer, and a productive one. The habit builds on itself.

  • Great advice! Thanks.

  • Great advice Jeff. I often find myself wandering around and the ideas come to me. I think I look like an idiot sometimes when people see me talking to my voice recorder in my phone. Lol.

    Thanks for the article,

    Joel

  • Skye Kelrose

    I still definitely have to try this! I’m a ghost writer and I have to write 12,000 words a week. It probably doesn’t sound like much, but its starting to get really difficult.
    I’ve tried the 2000 words a day tactic, but I can never seem to meet it, then I just get behind and discouraged. And lately I feel like I just keep lagging more and more.
    Would you have any advice on how to keep from falling into that slump?
    I love my job and employer, but writing is starting to feel more like a burden than an enjoyment.
    Thanks

    • I wouldn’t set such a high bar. And I’d follow this system. 🙂

  • Ryan Curtis

    I feel discouraged because I don’t feel like anyone is reading what I’m writing. I put out my best work, but my platform isn’t growing. I have the free books and will continue to try and grow my audience. Then the habit of writing will be more meaningful.

    • I get that, Ryan. Have you read this? https://goinswriter.com/grow-blog/

      • Ryan Curtis

        I could improve on all those areas. I need to be more helpful and network more so I can branch out and get more eyeballs back to my site. Thank you Jeff for putting helpful content out there. I will be working on your tips to build a stronger tribe.

  • Izzy

    Great article – definitely taking this on board. I used to be able to work on my blog throughout the day, but I have recently changed jobs to a much busier one, and one where even if I had time, I don’t think my boss would be too happy if I was blogging during the work day! So I am struggling to keep to my regular schedule and recent I’ve missed a few posts or have published them at random times in the week (I used to publish every Monday). Before I decide to change my publishing schedule, I’m definitely trying this. Because it’s the lack of time tk rally spend on my writing that is causing this, and I hope following this will help me get back on track! Thanks so much for the tips!

  • Liz

    I use a fairly similar system. But I guess I’m old-school! I record the feelings and details of an event that I think could be turned in to a lesson for a post in a plain old composition notebook. In fact I use all the old ones my kids *needed* for school but only used 11 pages. Then, later I go back through and pick one to write on, type it out and add the lesson. I generally wait quite a bit longer to edit, however. Great points! I didn’t know I was doing it correctly!

  • I love the analogy Jeff. The first two buckets are the fun ones for most of us but the third bucket can make all the difference between a good and great piece.

    Great work as ever!

  • I have a similar process, but I use small moleskine notebooks. Every time I have ideas, concepts, quotes, book notes, I jot them down. I sometimes use the notes feature in my iPhone, too. Idea generation is the most important part of the process for me, as the writing and editing go faster when I have a good idea to work with. Thanks, Jeff, great post!

    • Euna

      Jeffy, you are good. I love your writing. It is one of the best. When I found your blog a few days ago by coincidence I knew instantly that I have touched the jackpot. Keep feeding us. We want more. Thank you for being what you are. I will difinitely apply your 3 bucket tips into my writing.

  • Samantha

    Wow! Jeff, this is an excellent system of ideas… I can’t say it’s all totally new to me. I’v found myself exposed to all three but never used them in that way. Great! Thanks a million.

  • Julie Hahn

    Thank you – Thank you! I have no lack of ideas or even discipline – but haven’t had a system for transferring them from paper to drafts – then to edit and publish. This is a simple concept and I’m putting it into practice today!

  • Christie Powell

    Great post, thanks. I have always thought of drafting and editing as completely separate processes but I haven’t really considered idea-getting. It’s good to know that my brainstorming and meditating about my writing is actually a step in the process, not just procrastinating!

  • For my writing adventures this is the best article I’ve ever read! The simplest of methods immediately cleared up why I have so much trouble getting from desire to posting.

    • Well thanks, Mike. That means a lot. I appreciate it.

  • Damn you Jeff! Why couldn’t you have posted this two years ago? Then maybe I wouldn’t have had to figure this all out by myself. Good to know I came up with a system similar to yours on my own. Great minds, right?

  • Eric Klee

    First, I can’t wait to go to the conference Sept 16-18. The idea of the buckets breaks this down a bit for me, to doable work. Maybe now, I can keep from making this too hard, by taking my thoughts from idea to almost final draft in one step. Easy stuff to apply.

    Thanks Jeff

  • Hi Jeff,

    I feel grateful because #1 and #2 came naturally to me after writing 1000 to 10,000 words daily for many months.

    I’ve probably written 1000 words daily – for most days – over the past 5 years. So no probs on #1 or #2.

    I doubled down on #3 over the past few months, creating crisper, cleaner work.

    Think 3 steps versus 1. Make each step bite-sized. Break down the big goal into little, manageable goals to reach your ultimate goal: getting the blog post or book published over a reasonable time frame.

    I’ve also found – for struggling writers – that doing the inner work through meditating, or doing some outer work through exercise, both help to dissolve mental blocks, leading to more ideas, more writing, and more publishing. Find ways away from the laptop to increase your energy flow and you’ll be amazed at how ideas flow through you noggin.

    My fave idea boosting technique: taking an icy cold shower on waking. Please guys, talk to your doctor before going this route. It can be intense 😉

    Thanks for sharing the 3 buckets Jeff.

    Ryan

    • That’s an incredible output, Ryan. No wonder you’ve been so successful.

  • Katharine

    I mapped a list of a year’s worth of raw topics for my brand. Now to write. Ha!

  • Hi Jeff,
    I’m glad that I’ve been doing just what you indicated, but with different tools, perhaps.
    What’s the tweet plugin you use in your WordPresss?
    Thanks

    • It’s part of my theme: tribetheme.com

  • ted

    I’m an extreme Newby at this writing thing but I want to get started. I need some advice. Can someone tell me a couple of things? 1. I am looking for a book to use as a guide to writing my book. Something to help me get started, thought organize, outline etc. 2. What’s the best/easiest software to use in the actual writing of a the book? I saw several on Amazon but there are so many that it’s overwhelming trying to pick one.

    • Corrie Ann Gray

      What type of book are you writing Ted? Fiction or Nonfiction? Memoir? Your answer will drive my recommendation for a writing guide. For software I highly recommend Scrivener. It is designed for Mac, but the Windows version is great too. You can keep your notes and research organized. It is NOT a word processing program, so you don’t format your work there (you can export to Word), but I use Scrivener daily – fiction, nonfiction, articles/blogs, screenplays…

  • Trudie Schar

    Thanks, for sharing! I love this method. I kind of do a similar thing, but I’m going to officially adopt this method 🙂

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  • I may be one of thousand, but I want to say thank you for your ambitions to promote better writing in the net.

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  • N K

    Great ideas! Seems simple when you read it, but following these tips has made writing for me so much easier than it once was. Thanks Jeff!

  • Hi Jeff,
    This article really helped me because I do write my ideas down, but they get lost because I write them in several different places. Whatever is closest at hand, or handiest at the moment is what I go for. And then too, some are in note apps or docs on either my phone or ipad. So I really liked the idea of an ideas folder and a finished articles or a ready for publishing folder, because then, no matter what medium I’m using, I could separate and contain these folders within my writing folders, and know where to look in any device for my ideas when I’m ready to write. Thank you. Very helpful.

    Sandy
    http://www.sandramurquhart.com

  • Rajeev Gupta

    Jeff, what are some of your best sellers?

  • Chad Godoy

    For over thw years I’ve stuck on thinking how can I be a writer? Days become weeks, weeks become months and months turn into years and still I’m lost. But not in the time that I met this blog. I’ve started to write at least 500 words per day about investing and share my experience. I join the league of 500 words. All I know is that this simple habits will reward me thru time. Thank you!

  • Excellent content, Jeff. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. This concept will definitely kickstart me in completing my first book and keeping up with my blog. I’ve begun using evernote to capture my ideas, but now you’ve given me an organized way to file them so I will come back to them. This coupled with the 500-word daily writing habit is going to help my growth exponentially.

  • This is such a helpful article. I cannot wait to watch the video series. Thinking of writing as having three parts, idea generation, drafting and then editing is gold. Thanks so much!

  • Cathy Lanski

    Hi Jeff? Why write in Drafts and sync to Evernote instead of writing directly in Evernote?

  • Noella Kimbi

    awesome. can’t thank you enough for all the content you put up to inspire young writers such as i. God bless you sir.

  • Coreena

    Thank you, I love breaking things down into baby steps as they seem more doable. I already break down drafts and editing, but hadn’t thought about ideas, which are so important!

  • Sibo

    I was doing this on a very small scale, having one idea a week but after reading this I’m going to focus on the ideas bit because that’s where it all starts. So simple and yet I hadn’t really looked at it like that. Thank you for sharing.

  • Bryan Carlile

    This is a nice formula, one that can be easily repeated. I will give it a chance.