Productivity, Writing

6 Tips to Improve Productivity and Focus to Write

As a writer, it can be challenging to find time to focus and maintain a disciplined schedule. In order to finish anything, you first have to begin, but also need to keep going. What drives you to write? Whatever it is, don’t let go of that passion and spark, but also recognize you need to be dedicated and invested in the process just as much as in the outcome to make it work. Somehow as if that’s not challenging enough, real life swirls around you. For the most part, all these tips are applicable for other professions as well. It takes all these and practicing and honing of one’s skills to achieve anything. Each person finds these things are slightly different, but these 6 tips to improve productivity and focus to write will help you.

1. Plan and prioritize

Comprehending and documenting your tasks, both large and small, is a solid first step in the process that will guide to your time management so you can protect regular writing time. This section is also useful for non-writers. Start each day by creating a to-do list of tasks that need to be completed, including deadlines and any dependencies. Review the tasks on your list and determine which are urgent and which are important. Urgent tasks are those that require immediate attention, while important tasks are those that contribute to your overall goals. Use the urgency and importance evaluation to assign priorities to each task. You can use a simple numbering system, such as 1 for the most important and urgent tasks, 2 for important tasks, and 3 for less urgent and important tasks. Estimate the amount of time each task will take and allocate time for each task in your schedule. Be realistic about how long each task will take and try not to overcommit. Allocate specific time slots for each task. Schedule the most important and urgent tasks for the time of day when you have the most focus and energy. By completing these tasks, you’ll feel more productive and motivated to tackle other tasks. Schedule less urgent tasks for times when you have lower energy levels. This isn’t just a one-off event either, it benefits you to do this on an ongoing basis. Regularly review your task list and adjust priorities as needed. Priorities may change due to changing circumstances, and it’s important to stay flexible and adaptable. Planning and prioritizing can help you stay focused and avoid wasting time on low-value activities.

2. Write regularly

Writing regularly is key to building momentum and maintaining productivity. When you write consistently, you train your brain to expect and prioritize writing time. This habit also allows your brain to generate ideas more freely, as it becomes accustomed to the process of writing. Maintaining a consistent habit brings out your best work, not necessarily every day but over time. Set a daily or weekly writing goal and stick to it, even if it’s only for a short period of time. Writing regularly builds momentum. Each time you write, you build on the work you’ve done before, creating a sense of progress and momentum. Even if you only write for a short time each day, you’re making steady progress towards your goals. For procrastinators, it also helps alleviate the ‘blank page’ anxiety. When you have a regular writing schedule, you’re less likely to put off writing tasks until the last minute or avoid them altogether. Consistency is key to making progress.

3. Don’t edit while writing your first draft

Writing the first draft without editing can be a useful technique for combatting blank page anxiety because it allows you to overcome the fear of not having anything to say, and just start writing. When we try to write a perfect first draft, we can get bogged down in self-criticism and doubt. By giving ourselves permission to write without editing, we can free ourselves from the pressure to be perfect and just focus on getting our thoughts down on paper. Once we start writing, it can be easier to keep going. By getting into a flow state, we can build momentum and make progress on our writing, which can help boost our confidence and motivation. Sometimes, the act of writing can help us generate new ideas and insights that we might not have thought of otherwise. Maybe those ideas don’t mesh in that part of your writing, but by documenting it in your first draft you can work with it later through editing.

4. Minimize distractions

Notifications from emails, messaging apps, and social media can be a significant distraction when you’re working. To minimize distractions, turn off notifications on your computer and phone or use software that temporarily blocks them during your work time. Having multiple tabs open on your computer can also be distracting, even if they’re not related to your work. Close unnecessary tabs to help you stay focused on your task. If you need those tasks to remind you of action items, consider entering the title, related task, and URL into a Google Sheet which you then make your web browser home page. Still reminding you, but not in the moment you need to be focused on something else. Designate a dedicated workspace for your writing, free from distractions such as television or noise. If possible, try to make this space comfortable and conducive to writing. If you’re working from home or in an open office, it’s important to set boundaries with others to minimize distractions. Let your family members or coworkers know when you’re working and need uninterrupted time. Taking regular breaks can help minimize distractions and increase productivity. Schedule short breaks throughout the day to recharge your batteries and come back to your work refreshed and focused. If you’re working in a noisy environment, consider using noise-cancelling headphones to block out distracting sounds. Distractions can disrupt your flow and make it difficult to concentrate.

5. Take breaks

Schedule short breaks throughout the day to recharge your batteries and come back to your work refreshed and focused. Your brains need rest just like any other part of your body. Taking breaks allows you to rest your minds and come back to your work refreshed and re-energized. This simple activity also helps prevent burnout and increase productivity. When you work for long periods of time without a break, your focus can start to wane. Taking breaks can help you maintain your focus by allowing you to come back to your work with a clear mind and reduced stress levels. When you take a break, you give yourselves the opportunity to recharge your batteries, which can help you feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed. Sometimes taking a break can lead to increased creativity by giving your minds time to be free to wander and explore new ideas, which can lead to breakthroughs and innovative thinking.

6. Stay organized

Keep your writing space and files organized to avoid wasting time looking for information. Develop a system for organizing research notes, drafts, and other documents that works for you. When you are organized, you can feel more in control of your work and your environment. This can help reduce stress and allow you to work more efficiently and productively. Though it often feels like organizing is a procrastinating technique, it is an investment in your upcoming work and mental state. By taking the time to organize your workspace, tasks, and schedule, you can set yourselves up for success and achieve your goals more efficiently.

No single technique or approach will help you become more productive. Not even this entire combination of 6 tips to improve productivity and focus to write will solve everything, but it’s a start. Work with these tips to find what works best for you and allow that to evolve with your needs and work. Also, allow yourself the flexibility and forgiveness to adapt. Things may not always go according to plan, but try to see those moments as a blip not a speed bump or detour. Now, stop reading and go write!


The Science Behind Why Our Brains Love Storytelling

Storytelling evokes the quaint images of a group sitting around a campfire with gestures casting shadows on the surrounding trees, drawing the listeners in and leaving them hooked until the very last word. Perhaps playing with a piece of bark to release nervous energy until finally a resolution and sense that the shared journey is complete. Modern storytelling is not a far cry from its campfire cousin with the connection it forges. As a story unfolds, the readers or listeners are reeled in which we all know to have happened, but now neuroscience backs this up with data.

We hang onto every word around the campfire because our brains are invested in and crave the connectivity and completion of the story. This unique neurological experience is studied by Paul Zak, Ph.D. of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University and of the Neurology Department at Loma Linda University Medical Center. He has found that the surmounting challenges and obstacles within a story build a connection with the listener. As that connection strengthens, the listener’s body then produces more oxytocin. The stronger the connection, the more oxytocin created, and this is all measurable in the bloodstream. Oxytocin was discovered just over 100 years ago, but in the decades since the science community has found this is the same hormone and neuropeptide plays a key role in how humans build relationships and connections with one another. It increases the sense of an emotional bond. This is exactly the bond that Dr. Zak focuses on.

The study of neuroeconomics lends clarity as to how and why a story is a way to influence others. It is within the factors of influence that people build empathy and a desire to connect, support, or be involved with the story or those involved. As a neurotransmitter, Oxytocin immediately reacts within the brain when the person listens to an emotionally-driven story. This increases Oxytocin in the bloodstream, thereby strengthening the level of empathy felt. The presence of Oxytocin is measurable and can be used to further engage the listener and connect with them. Creating a story that triggers the creation of Oxytocin is essential to be able to then use that in the way you need to develop a stronger relationship with the listener, your potential customer. 

For all this to work, the listener must be paying attention and actually listening. This is rare enough, but even more so in today’s business and social environment. This makes the art of storytelling all the more important. Ensuring that the listener is engaged begins with the content of the story itself. When selecting what tale to share, consider the interests of the audience and the take-away the story offers them. According to Dr. Zak, the first 15 seconds must engage the listener. Unveiling layers of the story in a particular way and order helps to elicit emotional engagement. Express the story in a three-act structure: Grab attention, introduce conflict, and share resolution. There needs to be a moment in which the protagonist of the story faces a crisis or seemingly insurmountable obstacle. The engagement is locked in and brings the listener to the point of wanting to act on the story or help.

Applying this knowledge to your own storytelling becomes an artful endeavour. Just blandly saying the facts of a project or experience could be enough for some to engage, but moments and details are often useful to help draw people in. In the business world, overcoming the habit of being unemotional and exacting may be the first step. It is important to share the authentic feelings on why this particular obstacle or crisis is such a formidable challenge that must be overcome. It needs to be intense enough to be felt by the listener, triggering their own feelings of empathy. Engaging the listener helps them become furled into the story as well, craving a resolution in the outcome. Even a small anecdote or tale can engage the mind and result in loyalty and emotional investment. 

Once it happens, the ability to influence becomes possible. How you use that newly forged influence and customer loyalty depends on your business needs and goals. This could inform your storytelling strategy or be a sign you need such a strategy because a well-crafted message, content, or story can direct customers to your desired result, whether it be sales, donations, or interaction with the business on social media. Dr. Zak’s findings also show that the engagement does not have to be in-person. In fact, there is a very strong response from mobile device users on social media. The warm glow of a screen is just as effective as the warm glow of a campfire. Just as with other business skills, storytelling is worth the effort in business and the science behind it continues to yield impressive data to help leverage storytelling to engage customers and build a stronger community.