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From an Engineer to an Author, I Find These Writing Tips Really Helpful

From an Engineer to an Author, I Find These Writing Tips Really Helpful

Writing well is one of those things that’s seen to be hard to do or only a skill possessed by people with a natural talent. Trying to convey stories and thoughts in a constructive and flowing manner can leave many people feeling frustration and lack of real ability.

But I’m here to tell you that, as a fan of life hacks, I believe anyone can become a great writer with the right knowledge.

Making the transition from engineer to writer over the past 10 years, I’ve come across many of the common issues people encounter when they write and discovered the writing tips to allow them to write 10 times better.

We Aren’t Really Taught How to Write Well in School

Don’t feel disheartened if writing doesn’t come naturally to you. In this online age, more of us have the opportunity to put our ideas out there but struggle to know where to start when we sit down to do it.

One reason is we aren’t really taught how to write well in school. Much of the emphasis is put on grammar rules and fluency instead of developing the ability to write appealing and influential work.

Writing is also the part of language skill learning that requires creativity compared to speaking, listening, and reading, making it a more challenging skill to develop. Speaking, for example, has a creative aspect but it doesn’t have the same need for precision as writing where even a single connective should be considered carefully in order to create a coherent and well-written piece of work.

The Common Difficulties People Have When Writing

For anyone who’s sat down to write something profound or even just to get their points across in an effective manner will have experienced those common feelings of writer’s block. These usually manifest as:

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  • Having no ideas to write
  • Not knowing where to start
  • Not knowing how to organise any ideas you do have
  • Not knowing how to write words in an appealing way
  • Taking too long to finish a piece of writing and getting demotivated

When we experience these, our writing often suffers becoming fragmented, simple and shallow. The flow can become messy and hard to follow and in danger of even being boring and ordinary.

The Hacks You Need to Follow to Unlock Your Writing Potential

There are several things to keep in mind when you sit down to write and by following these hacks, you can steer your writing to that of flow, appeal and coherency.

Don’t Google General Ideas on Your Topic

Trying to think of ideas can be the first hurdle for many people. If you have a particular topic (for example “how to think positively”) and you feel stuck for ideas, don’t automatically search google with your general topic. Instead, try to narrow down the scope first because google will only spit out very generic and clichéd tips that people have written time and time again.

Instead, ask yourself certain questions that will elicit the answer from within.

  • Why do we need to think positively?
  • What happens to our brains when we think positively?
  • What’s the difference between people who think positively and people who think negatively?
  • What are the mindsets we need to change before we can think positively?
  • What are some daily habits we can build to think more positively?

Brainstorming helps narrow down your topic and create different points to elaborate in your writing. Readers of your work will then feel that you’re really making good points.

Don’t Dwell on the Beginning, Focus on the Body

When we read things, the headline is what gets our attention which leads us to the main body of the writing. As a writer, this is the other way around.

When writing, the key is to write the main content first and then tune the headline accordingly. But this should also be applied to the introduction – focus on the main content and points first so you know the heart of what you’re writing about and then think about the beginning in relation to it.

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Design the Flow Like Designing a Drama: The Model AIDA

Getting your words to flow can be one of the hardest challenges. There’s a marketing and advertising model called AIDA which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

This strategy can also be applied to writing to create a good sense of structure and flow in order to get readers interested instead of merely throwing information at them. So keep this in mind when creating your content.

Avoid Perfectionism

Being a perfectionist could be a massive disadvantage when it comes to your writing.

We all want our work to be perfect but this can lead to the temptation to rewrite paragraphs once you start the next one which can be detrimental to the overall piece. This creates a lack of time and while your introduction may be spot on, the rest of your writing can end up disappointing your readers.

Editing is an important part of the process but leave this until the end when you can see the big picture rather than doing it as you go.

The key is getting your ideas down in an organised manner.  Worry about any changes once these are down.  Don’t get so attached to your first draft – as Hemingway famously said “the first draft of everything is shit.”

Replace Vague Words with Concrete Ones

Try avoiding bland and general words in your writing. Instead, think about more descriptive words that make your piece sound more attractive. If you write ‘good’ ask yourself how good? Could it be wonderful, exceptional or excellent? Could ‘bad’ be atrocious, lousy, inadequate? Or could ‘a lot’ be a massive amount, tons or plentiful?

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Using more descriptive and imaginative words will help engage the reader and give your writing more life.

Remove Fillers and Redundant Words

When we speak, we naturally use filler words like: ‘some kind of’, ‘sort of’, ‘to start with’, ‘due to the fact that’, ‘I believe’, ‘in terms of’ and ‘in order to’.

While it’s common to use these types of fillers and redundant words, they can actually decrease your credibility because they make the reader feel that you’re adding no meaning to a sentence and can give the impression your logic is lacking.

For example: All of the people rushed to get the train can be better read as All the people rushed to get the train.

In the process of starting my company, I hired three new members of staff would be better written as When I started my company, I hired three new members of staff.

Fillers and redundant words make your writing conversational but if you’re creating more informative content, avoid fillers at all costs.

Always Choose Simpler Words Over Convoluted Ones

With all kinds of writing whether formal or informal, it’s a good idea to avoid long and more difficult words.

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You may think using simple words is a no-no especially when, at school, we’re often taught to write as descriptive as possible. But while this may be good for story-telling, other forms of writing tend to have the intention of getting a message across and simple words are more effective.

For example: “use” instead “utilise”, “to” instead of “in order to”, “help” instead of “facilitate”, “start” instead of “commence”.

Remember, brilliant writing is simple writing.

Design Punchlines: One Word Sentences or One Line Paragraphs

Look.

Have I got your attention now? That’s the beauty of using a single word in a paragraph. This technique is a great hook for the reader to increase their intrigue. Use this to create a sense of importance in what you’re about to write next but just make sure not to overdo it – use it only once in once piece of writing.

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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