"Bad Language"

A column about writing in business

How to concentrate on writing

When I am up against a deadline and I absolutely, definitely have to get on with my work, I use a few tactics to force myself to concentrate:

  1. Switch off email. I don't start Outlook (or if I do, I disable all the notifications that tell me I have new mail).

  2. Isolate myself. I use Bose noise-canceling headphones but don't plug them into anything. The silence really is golden.

  3. Greed and guilt. I remind myself how much money I'm getting paid for a particular assignment and how ashamed I will be if I miss the deadline. This actually works sometimes.

  4. Stop with the blog already. When I'm pressed for time, distractions like blogging and tidying up become very compelling. Knowing this makes it easier to resist.

  5. Get up early. 6am is the most productive time of day for writing. No distractions. It also feels more virtuous than staying up late with work.

  6. Little treats. I bribe myself: "Matthew, if you write another 500 words, you can have a cup of tea and a cookie."

  7. Chunking. Setting a timer or alarm clock for 15, 20, 30, 50 minutes and doing nothing but writing until it goes off and then taking a break seems like a good way to make progress.

  8. Go full screen. Switching Word into full screen mode (from the view menu) eliminates all distractions but the piece I'm working on. There are minimalist word processors that do this too: Mac: WriteRoom, Windows: Dark Room, Java (should work on Windows, Mac and Linux): JDarkRoom.

  9. Crappy first draft. Splitting the work into distinct writing and editing phases breaks the job down nicely and it takes off some of the pressure to "get it right first time."

  10. Change location. Sometimes, if I'm really struggling to get started, taking a laptop or my notebook to a cafe and scribbling out something there - a fresh new location - is a good way to jolt-start an assignment.

Kindly visitors to my blog suggested some other tactics that help them. You can find these on the site itself.

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Columnist Matthew Stibbe is Writer-in-chief for Articulate Marketing, a specialist copywriting agency. His clients include Microsoft, the British Government and leading magazines like Wired and Popular Science. Matthew also writes a blog called Bad Language. Click here to read more articles by Matthew Stibbe.

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Comments from our users:

Monday August 7th 2006, 4:44 PM
Comment by: Donnie S.
I like these tips, it's nice to know I'm not the only writer who struggles with concentration from time to time. My tip: get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep multiplies any distractions that come my way.
Tuesday August 8th 2006, 3:33 PM
Comment by: Michael R. (Wheaton, IL)
These are great tips indeed. I've also found that working in a very basic editing program helps me focus on the words and the content and not the format. I use NoteTab Pro, which has a tabbed interface and let me easily click between documents. I just leave the program up all day and as ideas come to me I add them to the working documents.
Monday December 31st 2007, 11:39 AM
Comment by: Rhea D.
I'm going to try some of these tips. I need them. Thanks.

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