How to get the ‘write’ mindset

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Do you struggle with getting words on paper? If so, it may surprise you to learn that 11 highly counterintuitive strategies may help get you in to the write mindset….

In case you didn’t know, money doesn’t buy happiness. Science tells us that most of us are much more motivated by internal rewards than by external ones. And a 2010 meta-analysis (that’s a study of previously done studies that are otherwise unrelated) found there to be almost no tie at all between job happiness and salary.

So if you want to improve your own performance — whether you’re a self-employed freelancer or working for “the man” — don’t measure your achievements by how much money you make. Instead, consider how happy you are.

Here are 11 counterintuitive ways to get in the ‘write’ mindset by improving your own engagement, creativity and productivity:

  1. Disconnect. My husband frequently calls me the Queen of Email. He does not mean it as a compliment. Part of the challenge is that I connect with many of my clients via email and I need to respond to them in a reasonable amount of time. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to check it no more than six times a day. (My ultimate goal is twice daily.) At least I always keep my email notifications turned off, forcing me to collect the stuff manually. (I have no desire to be taunted by the cheery “ping!” of a new email arriving or the little red number reporting how many emails I have.) Fortunately, I’ve also never fallen in love with Facebook so I don’t have to worry about that app eating my time. As well, I’m able to keep my Twitter habit constrained to 15 minutes daily. But I know I need to reduce my reliance on email.
  2. Have plants on your desk. There’s a surprising amount of evidence showing the link between greenery and creativity. For this very reason, I started keeping plants on my desk beginning about a year ago. I have an African violet — a gift from my daughter — and a gardenia — a gift from my husband — and both of these plants give me so much pleasure. I don’t know how to explain the link to creativity. Is it the nurturing the plants require or is it simply their colour? Or the signs of life? I don’t know, but they work.
  3. Move more frequently. Why do so many writers have such a hard time being productive? They spend way too much time sitting! I solved this problem with a treadmill desk. But if that seems too extreme to you, be sure to get plenty of exercise breaks by going for walks, even if only around your office. Note that these can be working breaks if you deliberately spend your walking time thinking about what you are going to write.
  4. Volunteer. Not all writing work has to be about writing. The reward you get from volunteering washes over into all areas of your life. I know I’m a better writer because I’m also a volunteer debate coach at my local high school. I spend an average of three hours per week on this activity (much more during competition season) and it pays me back a hundredfold.
  5. Take advantage of your commute. I commute only one day each week — otherwise, I work from my home office. But on my downtown day, I walk partway to the office and use the walking time to think about my next Power Writing column. Then, when I finish my commute on the bus or train I either read a book or listen to a podcast. As I’m writing this column right now, I’m “commuting” to a holiday and am on a ferry. The holiday won’t begin until we disembark so that’s why I’m making good use of this time right now.
  6. Quit multitasking. In the ’80s and ’90s we admired mulitaskers, thinking they were wildly accomplished. Now we understand that our admiration was mostly deluded. But that still doesn’t stop many of us from trying to multitask. We feel as though we can check email and write at the same time (or, worse, drive and text.) The secret to accomplishing a lot, however, is being adamantly focused. When we’re focused we can accomplish most tasks in a fraction of the time.
  7. Use a timer. Because our society has done such a poor job of training us to focus, most of us need a little help with the process. One sure-fire way is to use a noisy timer. Somehow, the sound of a ticking clock is deeply motivating to many of us and helps us keep on track with what we’re doing. This is called the Pomodoro Method.  Learn it, use it and watch your productivity skyrocket.
  8. Plan each day the night before. If you know specifically what you want to accomplish, you’re far more likely to get it done. Don’t try to accomplish a million things each day or, for that matter, even 10. Limit yourself to no more than five essential tasks. And if you can reduce that list to three, so much the better. But plan your list the night before so you’re able to get off to a roaring start in the morning.
  9. Take lunch away from your desk. When I worked in a newsroom, I typically ate lunch at my desk. This, I now understand, was a mistake. Today, I mostly work from home and I walk downstairs to our dining room to eat my lunch there. The break from my work, although brief, is relaxing and invigorating. There is no advantage to spending every second of the day focused on work, and there is considerable disadvantage.
  10. Identify your most productive time and do your most challenging work during it. I know I’m now most productive first thing in the morning. (When I was younger, however, my prime time was after 10 pm.) For this reason, I now reserve my mornings for writing. I spend my afternoons in interviews or meetings with clients, when the energy I get from social interaction helps keep me buoyed.
  11. Take more breaks. Working longer hours usually doesn’t improve our productivity. Instead, it degrades This is doubly true if your work requires any sort of creativity. Instead of figuring out when you can spend more time writing, determine how you can take more breaks. Walks, listening to music, reading or spending time with friends are all activities that will help you become more productive.

The bottom line is that work isn’t always about work. Instead, it’s about how focused, ready and relaxed you are. You can get more done in a fraction of the time if you have the right mindset. Concentrate on that idea, instead of wishing for more time.

How do you get into the write mindset? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post  (or any others) by May 31, will be put in a draw for a copy of Metaphorically Selling by Anne Miller. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.