Writing is fun, it’s a great way to get creative and let the imagination run free or to learn about a new subject as you write. We have the internet available to us now as well which means we can easily write our ideas down and share them with the world as soon as we’re finished, just look at me go! The internet, however, is also filled with lots of other fun and often less meaningful things, such as, Youtube, and more specifically hilarious cat videos, Facebook, the endless feed that considers pictures of babies and your next door neighbours salad as news, and of course, there is Tumblr, providing us with unlimited funny gifs and memes to keep our minds and our mouse’s leading astray all day.
So when it comes to sitting down and getting a few hours writing done as we can see from the select examples above, concentration can be hard when there are so many ways we can switch off and focus on something else. This leads to us needing to be strict with ourselves, which can be difficult when the monkey in our brain just wants to have fun and watch the latest fail videos and talk nonsense to our Facebook friends.
When it comes to procrastination, I’ll hold my hands up and admit it, this has got the better of me in the past and been one of my major sticking points. Over time, I have had to work very hard on this area of my life and so here I am going to share with you, my top 5 tips on keeping focused and being productive.
1. Turn it off, turn it all off!
The first point should go without saying but it is an important one and one most of us fail on. Just think about all the things that distract you when you’re trying to work i.e. you’re trying to write a new article but your friend on Facebook keeps sending you Buzzfeed articles and funny videos, it’s all too easy to get sucked in by and before you know it a 20 minute task has taken you over an hour because you haven’t been focused.
This is why it is important to make sure when you have an important task at hand that you start by logging out of your email, putting your phone on voicemail if you can, turn any alerts on your computer off, make sure you’re signed out of any social media accounts, turn push notifications off from your phone and if you’re talking to a friend online tell them you will be with them once you have finished the task (more relating to this in point 5). Be strict with yourself here, no Youtube until the task is done, the more you practice this the better you will get.
2. Find a peaceful workspace and mix up your work environment to keep it interesting!
If you’re working alone as a freelance writer it is important to change your environment to keep things interesting and to always work somewhere you can focus. When you get bored of sitting around in bed in your pajamas or working on your kitchen table it could be time to take your laptop down the local coffee shop or library for some fresh new scenery.
Sitting around on the computer staring at a screen all day is unhealthy and damaging to your creativity so it’s important to get away from it at some stage, and the best way to do this is to schedule some exercise. Whether that involves going out for a run, to the gym, having a swim, taking a yoga class or even meeting a friend for a game of squash it doesn’t matter but just make sure you do something active to break up the day.
Exercise is proven to improve productivity at work so don’t see it as a form of procrastination itself but see it more as an essential part of your working day which will also benefit you in all other areas of your life. Once you come back from a nice run and have a shower you’ll feel a lot more alert and ready to focus.
3. Find a subject that interests you or find a way of making the given subject interesting!
If the subject is interesting to you then that’s great and will help you get deeply involved in your writing and enjoy the process, therefore making your mind less likely to wander. If however the subject is not that interesting to you then here you will have to try harder to make it interesting because for the next few hours love it or hate it, you’re going to have to focus on it and get it done so you might as well try and approach it with positivity.
Whereas I would love to always write about my passions and cool interesting subjects, that can take a long time to become a reality but I have however found ways of enjoying writing about literally anything because it allows me to be creative and transition my mindset to places I wouldn’t usually go. For example, if you’re given the challenge of writing product descriptions for women’s clothes that will sell but you have no interest in women’s clothes, don’t look at it from the latter perspective that you’re just writing about women’s clothes but look at it from the former perspective that what you’re writing is a challenge and if you can write 50 descriptions on a subject you have no previous interest in and the employer is happy plus as an added bonus they all sell well then as a writer, how versatile and awesome does that make you!?
There are many ways you can take a dull task in writing and make it more interesting so be creative with this because as a writer, creativity is part of your job! Once you transition your mindset to one of positivity and try to take on a challenge or see it as a game the research and writing process will then seem a lot more fun and easy to get carried away with. My next point of goal setting will also help you with this.
4. Break it down setting clear outcomes/ goals for motivation and clarity!
There’s no better way to find motivation in a project than by having a clear goal at the end of it and knowing the positive outcome you are working towards will fill you with the energy needed to power through to the end and keep the momentum going until the goal is reached.
Let’s go back to the task of writing product descriptions for women’s clothing here, if you’re sitting around procrastinating and not getting on with the task at hand because there’s other much more fun and interesting things you can be doing like watching family guy you should also know that this task needs doing at some stage and the more you put it on hold the more pressure you will put on yourself and you can even make yourself feel guilty when procrastinating so now is the time to take the first step, get a pen and paper and set some clear positive outcomes that you will achieve at the end of doing this along with an action plan of the steps you will take to get there. These outcomes could be anything that motivates you such as:
Once I finish I can relax anxiety free tonight knowing the job is done
Once I finish I will get paid
If I do a great job I can add this to my portfolio showing how versatile I am as a writer and get more paid work from it
You can then set the goals you need to achieve to make your work shine and break the job down into clear steps to reach these goals.
‘Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible’ – Tony Robbins
To really help you to not switch off and get distracted from your action plan my next step will help you out!
5. Set a timer, find your flow and go go go!
Think back to the last time you were deeply involved in your writing, there was nothing between you but pen and paper or more likely keyboard and on-screen document and you just couldn’t stop writing because you didn’t want to, everything you wrote was golden and you were writing with passion because you wanted this to piece of writing to turn out amazing at the end. That is known as being in a state of ‘flow’.
Once you have the vision in mind as we discussed before and you’re now motivated to write a great piece the next step is getting on with it. Setting a timer for each step on your action plan can be a great way to do this because the hardest part of beating procrastination is starting. Once you set a deadline to finish the work by you then have to start writing and with an action plan set out for you the maps already there you just have to follow it and before you know it you should find yourself in that state of flow.
Also, remember some tasks might be too large to finish all at once so break them down into an action plan of small steps over time and focus on sticking to this. Once you have completed the first step on that plan after being in a state of flow your mindset will shift and you will be more motivated to get back to the next step when the time comes.
You can mix this final step in with step 2 i.e. if you have a big task you need to start but are struggling you could schedule to go to a local coffee shop for 2 or 3 hours each day to get out the house and work on this task. Once you’re there the change in environment will help you focus and start the job immediately.
‘The best way to get something done is to begin’ – Author Unknown
And a final thought, when you do have an urge to procrastinate from your work, acknowledge that urge but by all means don’t do it, it will pass and the more you let your urges pass the more you will train yourself to focus!