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Got Writer’s Block? Here Are 3 Things That’ll Work When You Just Can’t %*&# Start.

Got Writer’s Block? Here Are 3 Things That’ll Work When You Just Can’t %*&# Start.

As someone who writes several thousand words a week for a living, I can’t afford writer’s block. In my case, that horrible affliction is a lot more than a frustration (although it’s certainly that too) — it can place my whole career at risk. So when I find myself unable to start a writing project, or getting stuck mid-assignment, I have some strong reactions. Some are unproductive, others are really stupid, and a few actually work.

What not to do if you hit writer’s block.

First, the unproductive and the really stupid. I’ve punched my laptop. More than once. If I had any upper-body strength at all, I’d need a new laptop.

When I just can’t %$&* start a new writing task, I also whine. I occasionally throw things. Sometimes I scream profanity. Okay, more than sometimes.

As you might guess, none of those are effective strategies for overcoming writer’s block. But these are. I promise.

Three things to try if you hit writer’s block. And you’ll need only one. They all work. Every time.

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1. Write something else.

For this one, I give credit to economist Thomas Sowell, a longtime syndicated columnist and author of a zillion books, including the must-read classic Basic Economics.

When asked how he’s been such a prolific writer for so long (Sowell is in his 80s and continues cranking out books, sometimes two in a year), Sowell says he always has multiple projects going at once. If he gets stuck on any one of them, he just switches to another. Eventually he finds his way back to the project he couldn’t move forward, and with fresh eyes (or some burst of inspiration), he’s able to pick up the writing again.

Here’s why this works. Say you’re drafting a presentation, and you get stuck. You’re not likely to find the answers or the ideas you need to push forward just by staring at what you’ve already got on the screen. (Hitting the screen won’t help either, I can tell you from experience.)

But stepping away from the task altogether is a gamble. Yes, inspiration might strike while you’re out on a walk or communing with nature or whatever else people tell you to do in situations like this to “clear your head.” But it also might not, because you’ve now completely shifted away from your creative process, part of which obviously features you in front of your computer, writing.

So your best bet is to continue writing, only on a different project. If you get stuck on that presentation, don’t leave the office. Just reply to a few business emails that need answering. You’ll be calling on those same creative muscles, keeping them loose and active, as your presentation fades — temporarily — into your subconscious.

In this state, writing, you’re far more likely to be visited by your muse, which will guide you back with an idea or two about your presentation. When that happens, and it will, pop open the presentation file again. It’s nature’s way of telling you you’re ready to make more progress on it.

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Bottom line: Stuck writing this? Start writing that.

2. Just start talking.

This is a powerful strategy I stumbled onto myself, and I think it can be even more effective for non-writers than it has been for me.

Assuming you’re not a professional writer, part of the reason you might experience writer’s block is that putting your thoughts to paper or screen can be scary. Because we invest the written word with such tremendous weight, when we write anything — a memo, a report, a speech for a friend’s wedding — we approach the task as though every sentence, every insight needs to be perfect. So we stare at our monitors, afraid to type a single word.

Casually talking, on the other hand? Nobody’s afraid to do that.

When we’re speaking, especially in a comfortable setting with friends or colleagues we feel close to, the ideas and insights just flow naturally. Precisely because talking isn’t the permanent and highly judged form of communication that writing is, we’re far less likely to freeze when we’re chatting than we are when we’re writing. And you can exploit this fact.

If you’re not sure how to start on a new writing task — say, an important email you need to send a client — talk it out. Literally. Start speaking. And if you can find a trusted friend or colleague to listen as you work through your message verbally, so much the better.

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Start talking as casually as you can. That’s the best way to start the ideas flowing, because it heightens the contrast between your verbal first draft and the final email you’ll eventually send. In other words, the more casually you can talk through the email at first, the less intimidating — the less like writing — it’ll seem. That’s the whole point.

And if you invite your colleague to your office to hear you talk through your email draft — and you still can’t get started, even verbally — have your colleague ask you prompting questions about the email. Better yet, have your colleague challenge you about it. “Do you really need to send this email?” “Why is it so important?” That’s when the creative centers of your brain will take over and the insights will start pouring out.

Bottom line: Can’t start writing? Start talking.

3. Write a letter

Credit here to author Joe Vitale, whose brilliant strategy for blasting through writer’s block is to pretend the document you’re having trouble starting is actually a letter you’re writing to a close friend.

You’ve probably noticed that you’re funnier, more articulate and more insightful when you’re around good friends. When you’re with people who make you feel comfortable, you’re able to relax — and tap your creative side.

The same goes for email, even work-related messages. If you’re comfortable with the person you’re writing to, you seem to come up with great points and insights almost without effort; they just flow through your fingers. Admit it: You’ve written an email to a colleague that was so damn good, you went into your Sent messages and reread it. Right? (Or did I just make a really embarrassing confession?)

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That’s Vitale’s brilliant insight: Crafting an email or letter to a friend is when you’re likely to do your best writing.

So if you can’t start that report or your bio for the company website, pretend it’s a letter to a close friend. Think of a real person, address the top of the document — “Hey Michelle” — and start writing to Michelle. Then watch the insights flow.

Bottom line: Can’t write the document? Write to your friend instead.

Featured photo credit: I can’t believe what I’m looking at/Ed Yourdon via flickr.com

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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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