It’s always easy to put off that writing project you’ve been meaning to dive into. There are only so many hours in a day, and writing can seem like a low priority when you have a busy law practice, hectic family schedules, a health and fitness routine, and maybe, just maybe, a social life. If you can set aside thirty minutes of spare time between a client meeting and picking your kids up from school, that’s great! But how do you find the focus during that time?
Here are a few tips and tricks for maximizing your writing productivity during whatever time you do have.
- Stop multitasking. In his book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel Levitin explains why multitasking is not an innate function of the human brain. When we “multitask” our brain is not doing two things at once as we perceive it to be, but rather rapidly switching focus back and forth between tasks. Not only is multitasking inefficient, it exhausts our mental capacities, leaving us drained by the end of the day. If you pride yourself on being a multitasker, you might be surprised to know that you may not be making the most of your time. So try to focus on the one task at hand: writing.
- Focus your energy. On the other hand, focusing on a single task is not always easy to do, which is why the Pomodoro [http://tomato-timer.com/] technique can be helpful. A Pomodoro timer is set in twenty-five minute intervals with five- or ten-minute breaks. Assign yourself a task to complete within those twenty-five minutes (e.g. write two paragraphs), and when the timer rings, take a five-minute break — get up and walk around, look outside, make yourself a cup of tea, etc. And repeat! Giving yourself short breaks will help you sustain your energy, build your mental agility, and allow your ideas to flow more freely.
- Eliminate distractions. How often do you get distracted? Every twenty minutes—? Seven minutes—? Ten seconds—? We are bombarded with distractions constantly, not only from external sources but also by our own internal monologue reminding us to reply to a client email or turn on the washing machine. Luckily there are tons of strategies for blocking out noisy distractions. Apps like Self-Control [http://visitsteve.com/made/selfcontrol/] or Freedom [https://freedom.to/] work wonders for blocking incoming emails and social media sites for a certain period of time. Keeping a to-do list close by is also valuable for quickly jotting down pesky reminders, so you can carry on with the task at hand.
- Create a new routine. If you’ve fallen into some bad habits and neglected your writing project because of them, maybe it’s time to mix things up. For example, if you’re like the majority of North Americans, you likely check your phone (text messages, emails, social media updates) within the first fifteen minutes of waking up. You might even do this again at night before bed. Could you replace these habits with more productive tasks? John Grisham first began writing by creating what he called “little rituals” in the morning before he would turn to his job as a lawyer. “The alarm clock would go off at five, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was five minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.”
- Get support from your family. Recruit your family to cheer you on and help out around the house while you’re writing. Asking for help is the first step—your family might not know to step in if you don’t talk to them. Spread out household responsibilities and plan some age appropriate chores for your kids to do. With youngsters, consider getting child care for those times you need to buckle down.