It’s a cruel twist of technology that one of the focus-intensive tasks in the world almost always happens on the planet’s greatest distraction.
With the internet just a few clicks away, your phone within arm’s reach, and a dozen ideas knocking on the doors of your focus, it’s harder than ever to immerse yourself in work that really matters.
Here are a few strategies to help make the most of whatever time you can devote to your creative endeavors.
1. PRIME YOUR BRAIN FOR THE TASK
A productive writing session happens before you compose a single sentence. The headspace you bring to the desk will influence you
We don’t want to prime for general creativity, we want to prime for writing which is a very particular sort of work indeed.
Switching immediately from anything that doesn’t have to do with writing (i.e scrolling social media, playing with the dog, etc.) is going to make your brain lag. Instead, give yourself a transitionary period to get in the proper mindset.
Read a book about writing (or about the topic you’re covering). Do not read a book about anything not explicitly related to your writing and do not read anything at all online. That way darkness lies.
Take a walk and think about you story.
Think about why you’re doing this. Visualizing your goal, whether it’s to have a 1000 true fans or publish a book, can have a powerful effect on your productivity. All that and more is within your power to achieve.
2. SET A DEADLINE
Every piece you start should have an endpoint. Writing without a deadline or endpoint is journaling. If you start an article, give yourself a window to finish it. When time is up, publish the thing somewhere, anywhere.
If you don’t set a deadline, you’ll never allow the article to be finished. You’ll belabor every word and phrasing until it sits forgotten at the bottom of an “In Progress” list.
Whenever you start a piece, decide how long you have. Say, 48 hours for anything less than 1500 words. A shorter deadline puts the Pareto Principle to work that much faster (LINK) and forces away the never-finished nitpicky perfectionist mindset.
3. GET COMFORTABLE
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t play the long game if you’re not taking care of your body and mind. There’s a lot that goes into this but here are the essentials.
Let’s assume you’re feeling healthy and rested. The next factor is your work environment. Is it somewhere that’s conducive to creativity? That doesn’t mean it needs to be on a mountain top or nestled in the woods. I’m sitting in a dining room with bars on the windows but there’s a good breeze blowing and nice natural lighting.
How’s your posture? For years I was plagued by soreness in my back, neck, and wrists from terrible writing posture. If you do most your work from a laptop, you probaably know what I’m talking about.
Fix the stoop by raising your laptop to eye height and getting an internal keyboard/mouse set up. This can be as simple as resting it on top of some books or getting an external monitor.
I use this awesome thing because it’s super portable meaning I don’t have to compromise posture when I’m at a coffee shop or traveling (LINK).
4. WRITE FAST AND LOOSE
It’s easy to go back and formalize language but it’s hard to take stuffy diction and make it fun again. Cutting down playfulness is easy, forcing jokes in later is hard and awkward. Your job is to get out a first draft FAST.
Use the momentum that comes from having a good idea to get that idea down in it’s basic form. A single spark can light a fire but only if immediately given it fuel. Otherwise it goes out.
Trying to write formally/authoritatively on the first draft is the quickest way to get stuck and kill off that spark because, in addition to flushing out the idea, there’s a second voice in your head that’s tone policing!
More often than not, the structure of a piece that comes most naturally is the right structure. The best writing is easily digestible a.k.a easily understood a.k.a conversational because conversations are the primary form of human communication. It’s what people are used to.
Don’t compromise creativity, speed, or flow (which is largely dependent on speed) by becoming self-conscious about how something SHOULD sound.
5. STAY OFFLINE
Don’t start researching until you have to. The minute you open your browser, all sorts of distractions will come knocking. It’s like stepping into a candy shop but oh so much more tempting because all those internet sirens like your favorite blogs and news sites and ___ promise to help you! Don’t believe them!
When you write something that needs a citation or some further research, just put a big placeholder in its spot and keep going. Do the same thing for any content that you want to hyperlink.
The average person spends seventy five minutes A DAY clicking down rabbit holes of the internet after going online to search a specific fact (CITATION). That is why the average person gets so little done (LINK)!
6. WRITE ONE ARTICLE AT A TIME
Don’t write more than one article at a time. When you’re in the creative zone, ideas star
However, resist the temptation to flush those concepts out. Keep an indexed journal (LINK) with an ideas page or a document on your computer to quickly scratch down the basics but
DO NOT under any circumstances start writing that article until you’ve finished a first draft of the original.
There’s a lot to be said for striking while the iron is hot and striking two at the same time might be feasible but before you know it, you’ll have thirteen snippets of different essays and they’ll al be ice cold.
7. TAKE REAL BREAKS
As mentioned in the intro, the human mind has a limited attention span. Some people think you can discipline your way through distraction (LINK TO JOCKO), others thinks it’s better to bend than potentially break.
For instance, it’s better to schedule a five minute break every thirty minutes than getting distracted for an hour and half because you’re brain is exhausted after seventy-five minutes straight.
Having said that, a good break is itself an art form.
Before you stand up, set an alarm for when you will sit back down.
Do not derail your creativity by injesting something not directly related to your work. Scrolling the socials isn’t going to maintain a creative headspace, it’s going to distract.
You want to do something that’ll take the pressure off your mind but not remove the task at hand entirely. Rather, you want to let it rest in the back corner, somewhere between the thalamus and the hippocampus.
Make a snack, take a walk, do some light exercise. Send a text or two reminding someone that you’re grateful to have them around. Here’s a list of 33 things (LINK) to do that maintain a positive creative headspace.
Finally, if you go to the bathroom, DO NOT bring your phone! Not only are you getting little pieces of human waste on it, there’s no way you won’t be tempted to fall down some distracting rabbit hole. The next two hours of your life, gone.
If you don’t publish it, or submit it to be published, not only are you tempting the same fate, you’re cheating yourself. Publishing is the best way to get feedback on your work and it’s the only way to add value to anyone’s life with it.
It doesn’t matter where you publish it so much as sending it somewhere. ANYWHERE. Medium. Facebook. Personal Blog. Someone Else’s Blog, it doesn’t matter. Call it good enough and let it go.
Each of those comes with a different level of exposure and thus reservation but if they’re all too intimidating, send it to a family member or a single friend, someone you know will appreciate what you’re trying to do.
The point is that someone reads your work (preferably someone included in your audience) and gives feedback. This is the only way to quickly iterate and improve. What’s more, it’ll help you edit with an audience in mind.
If you don’t trust yourself to ever let a piece go, compose it in something that let’s you schedule an automatic post date. For instance, I use (SERVICE) to publish every Monday and Friday on Iterwrite.com. As soon as I start writing a piece, I give myself 48 hours to finish it.
9. TAKE A REAL BREAK.
Go do something else. Give your writer’s mind a break. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Prime your creativity with a pertinent book and visualization.
Set a short deadline
Work in a comfortable, healthy space.
Get the words out rough and fast
Don’t get online and research until you have the bones down
Take scheduled breaks that don’t derail your flow
When time’s up, seek out feedback.
Relax the mind, take a real break.