At Freedom, we love our users – not just because they use our product, but because they’re cool – cool people working on cool stuff. Academy Award-nominated screenwriters, bestselling authors, editors, journalists, developers, illustrators, designers, academics, coaches, podcast hosts, explorers, and entrepreneurs – the Freedom community is packed with curious, creative, and passionate go-getters. We love to share their stories, advice, and process because how better to learn about productivity than from the productive?
Meet Kia Abdullah.
Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. She has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, BBC and Lonely Planet among others.
Kia has written three novels, the most recent of which is Take It Back, published by HarperCollins in August 2019. Described by The Guardian as “a superb legal thriller that crackles with tension,” Take It Back examines issues around race, faith and gender in the context of a gripping thriller.
Kia is also the founding editor of outdoor travel blog Atlas & Boots which is read by 250,000 people a month. Kia is frequently on the road as part of her role and has travelled to over 60 countries including off-the-beaten places like Vanuatu, Tonga, Djibouti, Lesotho, and Eswatini.
Today, Kia lives in the Yorkshire Dales town of Richmond and spends her time writing, hiking, and mentoring pupils from Tower Hamlets.
So this week we spoke to Kia about how she finds the focus to juggle her different roles both on the road and back at home.
How did you know that you wanted to be an author and what were your first steps in making this your career?
I grew up in the late eighties and early nineties when the internet wasn’t in every home. Reading books and writing fiction was how I kept myself entertained. When I was 10 years old, a teacher gave me a notebook and told me to write down snippets of conversation that I heard in public to use in my stories. He’s the first person who said I’d write for a living.
Sadly, I didn’t know any writers in real life so when it came to choosing my major at university, I decided to go down the sensible route and chose Computer Science. My heart was always in writing though and three years after graduation, I took a 50% pay cut for a role at Asian Woman magazine, which is how I started writing professionally.
At what point did you realize that tech was taking a toll on your productivity? When did you know that you had to do something about it?
Social media has been deeply detrimental to my productivity – Twitter in particular. Last year, I checked the battery usage on my iPhone and realised that I was spending nearly an hour a day on Twitter. That’s 30 hours a month; an entire day and night! That was a real wakeup call.
As someone with many roles, how do you prioritize what gets your time and attention each day?
I am very regimented with my time. Mon-Tues I work on Atlas & Boots and Wed-Sat I work on my novel.
That said, my schedule is frequently upended when I’m on the road for Atlas & Boots. I work extra hard when I’m at home so I don’t have to when I’m travelling.
How do you stay focused and motivated on a daily basis? Do you have a routine, ritual, or process that helps to get into a productive flow?
I was time-blocking for about six months and that was great for my productivity. Sadly, I fell out of practice in the lead-up to the publication of my novel because there was so much ad-hoc stuff to do. My publicist might email me and say can you do this interview or write this article and suddenly my carefully planned schedule would be thrown out the window. I want to get back into it because it really was effective.
Separate to that, I try to be disciplined about the hours I keep at my desk: 10am to 7pm. When you work for yourself, time bleeds away easily so this adds some structure to my day.
As for staying motivated, I love what I do so that helps!
How do you optimize your environment for productivity and focus? How do you incorporate Freedom into your schedule?
Social media is anathema when it comes to my productivity so I use Freedom to block it out. I’ll check Twitter when I first sit down at my desk but after that I’ll start a Freedom session for 120 minutes. It truly is a lifesaver for me.
I try not to look at my email while I’m working in these two-hour stretches. I share my study with my partner so we’ll often warn each other that we’re “plugging in”. I don’t plug in literally as I can’t write to music; it’s just a way of telling each other that we really need to focus.
What is the most difficult or challenging aspect about your work or working process? Do you have any strategies that you use to help overcome these challenges?
Writing a novel is a leap of faith; a year-long mind trick through which you convince yourself to suspend self-doubt and to persevere in the belief that someone, some day, will see the worth of your work. That can be a difficult thing to grapple with, especially after a bad writing day.
What resources or tools do you use daily and have found most beneficial to your working process?
I write my novels in Google Docs which some people find weird, but Microsoft Word feels unwieldy in comparison.
I use Gmail for email. Boomerang is great for scheduling messages when I’m working unsociable hours (although Gmail now has a native way to do this). I use Google Sheets for keeping track of my schedule which I find far more fluid than the Calendar app.
I use Freedom to block out social media and Airtable to keep track of invoices and clients for Atlas & Boots.
What projects are you currently most excited about?
My novel, Take It Back, was released in August 2019 which is incredibly exciting. It has been years in the making and the fact that real people are reading it now and sending me the most amazing feedback is so gratifying.
I’m currently working towards a deadline for my next book. After that, I can’t wait to get back on the road. Travelling has taken a backseat this past year so I’m raring to go.
What do you do outside of your work routine that helps you stay healthy and productive?
I try to spend as much time as possible in nature. In 2018, I moved from London to Richmond, a small town on the edge of Yorkshire Dales National Park, known as one of ‘Britain’s breathing spaces’. Hiking in the Dales helps clear my head and keeps me healthy and motivated.
Where are you currently based?
I split my time between London and the Yorkshire Dales.
To learn more about Kia Abdullah or her work, you can visit her site at KiaAbdullah.com.