The most effective work-related documents are clear and focused. So it stands to reason that you will do your best writing during those times when you, the writer, are at your clearest and most focused. Here are a couple of ideas to help you get there.
1. Clean your desk
Sounds like an odd tip for better writing. But stay with me.
Imagine you’re about to write a policy memo to your staff. You lift the file folders off of your chair and set them on the floor, then sit down at your cluttered desk (which your colleagues call “Mount Stackapaper”).
You remember that one of the files you just set on the floor has an important letter you need to read before this afternoon’s conference call. You remind yourself to dig out that letter as soon as possible.
Next you push aside a small pile of notebooks blocking your mouse, and you realize one of them has your notes from the morning’s staff meeting, which you need to type up and distribute. Note to self: do that after the policy memo… no, wait, after you read that letter in the file on the floor.
You grab your mouse, open a blank document on your word processor, and begin thinking of a title for your policy memo. But then you spot a series of sticky notes affixed to your monitor. One of them reminds you to “CALL JANICE RE: OPEN ENROLLMENT QUESTION!” Note to self: call Janice, then find notes in notebook, then read the letter that’s somewhere on the floor.
The clutter around your workspace is sending you a constant stream of reminders and obligations and distractions. The mess is keeping you from being able to focus fully on your current task: writing that policy memo.
Even if you manage to complete a draft, what are the chances it will be as good as it could be? Not very good, because you’ll have written it over the constant, distracting noise of your office clutter.
Contrast that scenario with sitting down to write at a completely clean desk. You pull up your chair and see only your monitor, mouse and keyboard in front of you. You take a deep breath and begin focusing on just one thing: policy memo. That ability to focus, that clarity in your mind about the task at hand, means you are going to write a better document.
Related suggestion: A clean, organized workspace is ideal for writing time. But if you can’t clear the clutter, and you can’t find a clean space for writing, use someone else’s desk. Their clutter might be annoying, but it won’t mean anything to you, so it won’t be as distracting as your own.
2. Let your body clock tell you when to write
Every day, my wife experiences a drop in energy between 10:30am and noon. Fortunately, because she works from home, she can schedule her job’s more demanding tasks for later in the day – when she’s clear, alert and full of energy.
(Pssst. She would be very upset if she knew I was sharing this with you. Luckily, she doesn’t read my articles. Or listen to me when I’m talking.)
Because my wife knows this slow period hits her at that time every day, if she has a task that requires all of her focus and mental clarity – like writing a document for her staff – she makes time for it in the late afternoon, or even at night, after we’ve put our daughter to sleep and she’s had a chance to pretend to listen to me while I tell her about my day.
You know yourself. You know the times of day when you’re alert and productive (the times to write) and when you’re exhausted and working just to keep your eyes open (not the time to write).
Most of us jot down a to-do list and simply tackle each item on it when we have the time. Problem is, if a mentally demanding task like writing pops up as the next item on your list while your body and mind are in their naturally slow period, you’re not going to do your best work.
The only times right for writing are those times your body is full of energy and your mind is able to focus. If you try to write during the slower times, your body’s natural exhaustion will turn on you like your cluttered desk. As you try to draft that policy memo you’ll think, rest, pillow, couch, pillow.
Schedule your writing time farther in advance whenever possible, so you can set aside time for them only during those times of day when you know you’ll be at your sharpest.
Related suggestion: If you don’t know your natural daily peaks and valleys of energy and alertness, spend some time monitoring yourself throughout your workday, until you get a sense of when you’re ready to take on the world… and when you consider going into the bathroom so you can take a 5-minute nap unnoticed.