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.

Posted May 9th, 2017 in Power Writing

  • Lisa Maggart

    Getting in the right mindset to write is a challenge for most writers, I believe. One trick I’ve learned is that before I begin writing (or if I feel I am dealing with writer’s block) is to find articles online about the similar topic, and at a similar reader/audience level. For example, if I’m writing about something medical- or health-related, I have my “go-to” doctor’s websites and health sites that are a constant source of inspiration. After reading two to three articles, I “hear the voice” inside my head that needs to be put on paper, and find that I can begin writing much more easily!

    • That’s a great tip, Lisa. I’ll often read for a little bit (essays and/or magazine articles) if I want to get my writer’s voice going but it’s never occurred to me to read on a similar topic to the one I need to write about. Great idea!

  • Philomena

    I always like fresh flowers on my desk. It’s something I have changed about each week and had a whole array of vases from the Goodwill collection. These are nothing too fancy that I could pick up at the local store.
    I send myself an email at the end of the day to ID the tasks I wanted to get to the next day. I sometimes include hyperlinks to the documents involved to save searching for them.
    I use MS Word extensively and found that pinning the most frequently used docs in current projects gives me ready access (I am dealing with content libraries of hundreds of documents). When you choose to open a document from within Word, you’ll see the little pushpin symbol off to the right in the Open dialog box. Select the doc you want to Pin and click on the pushpin. Word now keeps your pinned docs at the top of the open list.

    • I didn’t know that about Word, Philomena. Thanks for sharing that spectacularly useful tip! I will be using pushpins from now on!

  • I was in my home office, shoveling a salad into my mouth when I read your to-the-point words, “Take lunch away from your desk.” Ugh. Okay. I will… tomorrow. You know what, though? I nail it in the greenery-in-the-work-space arena. In fact, my desk views won an award last week! Here is a video tour:

    • Thanks for sharing the video, Bethany. OMG, you have the most BEAUTIFUL office. Not only do you have beautiful plants and an architecturally stunning space but you have so much room!! If I had a space like that, I think I would be turning cartwheels on the floor!

  • Tracy Isaacs

    I love the idea of plants on my desk and never thought of it before. The dead African violet on the window sill in my office doesn’t count. I am going to get a new, alive plant this week! These are great refresher tips for me. I have a new project that I’m avoiding. Timing-wise, I’m still in a “safe zone” if I get started really, really soon. But that could easily tip into “caution” if I leave it for another week, and “danger” if I leave it for two more weeks. So thank you for this list, which will help to kick-start my mind-map and get things flowing again.

    • And African violets are so easy to care for. They seem to thrive on neglect. I have a north facing window, too, so it’s not as if my plants get a whole bunch of light.

  • Subhash K

    The bold side heading(Disconnect) associated with the first point is somehow present in the email, but is not present in the blog post. Please check.

    • Thanks so much for letting me know, Subhash. I’ve now restored it. That word was there last night — not sure why my computer decided to eat it!

  • Julie

    I love Philomena’s suggestion for tagging documents. Great tip!

    I used to work upstairs in my office but my desk wasn’t near any windows so it was too isolated from the world. I felt like I was in an underground bunker. Now I work at the dining table which is surrounded by windows and looks out over a nature preserve. I can watch the giant hawks hunting every morning as I work. When the weather’s nice, I open the French doors that lead to our balcony. I can’t think of a better working environment. Oh, and I talk to my cat.

    When getting started on a big project, I always remember the saying “How do you eat an elephant? One spoonful at a time.” I start by looking for just one interesting fact or feature of the client, industry or product. Then I start researching that one topic. When I’m done, I move to the next item. I try to never look at the project as a whole until the research is done. It can be overwhelming. Doing the research in pieces helps me focus and by the time I’m done, I’ve got most of the writing done in my head. I also think that focusing on one thing at a time clears your head and allows you discover ideas and leads that you might otherwise miss.

    Last but not least, I write letters or “fun” journal before I start my work day. It gets me in the writing mode. I journal about weird stuff. I write conversations I want to have with my kids. I’ll write about a place I want to go or an old memory. I wrote a letter to my sister last week. (Don’t you love getting handwritten letters in the mail?) I don’t get into anything too serious so when I’m done I can shut it off and start working.

    • Thanks for all your suggestions, Julie. I’m so glad to hear you have a place to work with a window. I think being able to see natural light is so very important to productivity (and happiness)!

  • I love your suggestions Daphne, especially the simplicity of putting a plant/flowers on my desk. I’m going to research at least a standing desk, as well.

    • Plants are inexpensive, Dell, but be careful of the standing desk. I tried it and didn’t like it until I also bought a treadmill. (Then I LOVED it.) I have a bad back and just standing was way too tough on it….

  • Cheryl Hilderbrand

    Am moving an African Violet from my kitchen window to my desk as soon as I stop typing. Thanks.

  • Beth

    Usborne books has a series for children (specific to age) that teaches writing. I was pleased to read some stories my grandchildren wrote using those.

    • I remember Usborne books from when my own kids were young. We LOVED them!