5 ways to focus so you can write

I have a confession to make. I’m not actually very productive when it comes to writing — at my day job, that is.

For three weeks I’ve been trying to write an article about a business initiative, and I can’t get to it. I open a blank Word document with every intention of starting the article, and then the emails start. Or the phone rings. Or someone stops by.

Everyone experiences this. We are all doing more with less time and fewer resources. But in the “age of distraction” how do you find time to focus on the task of researching a topic and writing about it? Here are a few tactics:

Stay offline (and I mean offline)

If constant interruptions are keeping you from writing, minimize them. Log out of chat, quit Outlook, put your phone on “do not disturb,” and shut your door. I’m not saying to spend your entire workday like this, but try it for an hour and see how much you get done. Don’t worry about any urgent requests you might receive while offline. They can wait an hour.

Set aside ‘writing time’

Another option is to create a block of “writing time” in your schedule. You have regularly scheduled meetings, so why not schedule “writing time”? It might be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. daily, or maybe every Thursday afternoon. Put it on your calendar as “writing time,” and spend that time completing your writing tasks—and only your writing tasks.

Or set aside ‘everything else time’

If you need to spend most of your day writing and your time is eaten up by non-writing tasks, schedule a specific time to complete those tasks. Only answer email or return phone calls from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Break it up

When possible, break the writing task into smaller, more manageable tasks. Make it your goal for the day to complete your research. The next day, it may be to finish the outline. Then you can break the writing tasks down based on the outline. If you start the day thinking you have to complete the entire assignment in one sitting and then the phone starts ringing, you could feel overwhelmed.

Know your own stalling tactics

If you tend to procrastinate or you are not particularly enthused about your writing assignment, are you using all your interruptions as an excuse not to write? Are you secretly hoping you’ll get an email that will take precedence over completing your assignment? Reflecting on these types of questions will help you identify the true nature of the problem. Are you busy or just putting it off?

Readers, care to share any other techniques?

A version of this article first appeared on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.

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