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Three Steps to Effective Business Writing

Three Steps to Effective Business Writing

Written documents are how professionals convey their ideas to the peers, clients, and bosses. This means that professionals need to be skilled writers if they want to get ahead.

(Here’s more on why writing is a critical skill for professionals today).

Unfortunately, I often find that even the smartest, most talented professionals lack the requisite writing skills. Here are my three most important lessons for getting better at business writing:

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1. Plan ahead by writing an outline

Creating outlines can help you ease the intense mental burden of the writing process. While you write, you have to (1) organize your ideas into a coherent structure, (2) translate your ideas into words and sentences, and (3) re-evaluate whether each new sentence conforms to what you’ve already written. If you try to do all three steps at the same time, you’ll get stuck.

A better strategy is to separate these steps of the writing process, as much as possible. That lets your brain focus on one thing at a time, instead of having to juggle many different tasks.

You can accomplish the first step of the writing process—organizing your ideas into a coherent structure—by creating an outline before you actually start writing. Write down your key points and think about how they go together. Which points, or counterpoints, follow from your main arguments?

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Although the step of creating an outline takes time, you’ll make up for it when you sit down to actually write. That’s what Professor Ronald Kellogg, an expert on the science of the writing process, found in his experiment. Professor Kellogg randomly assigned students into two groups, one that was told to outline for up to 10 minutes before writing, and another group that was told not to outline at all. Both groups wrote the same number of words per minute—even taking into account the time spent outlining. Independent scorers found that the “outline” group tended to write better papers.

2. Don’t try to write a perfect first draft

A lot of people get hung up trying to perfect the wording of every sentence before moving onto the next one. In other words, they try to write and revise at the same time—creating a very high mental workload.

Instead, you should be willing to write a very rough first draft. Try to capture the gist of your ideas, without worrying too much about whether you’re saying it in the best possible way. After writing a draft (of the entire document, or at least a significant chunk of it), you can come back and revise your original sentences.

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Better yet, take a break after writing before coming back to analyze your wording. Go for a walk, or do some of that mindless busy-work that you’ve been putting off. After a mental break, you’ll be able to approach your draft with a fresh mind, which will help you come up with the new ideas that you need.

3. Structure your writing for skimmers

If you’re writing a lengthy document (more than a page or two), you should write in a style that makes it easy for time-sensitive readers to find the information that they need. These “skimmers” might be looking to pick up the main ideas, a specific example, or something else related to their own purpose for reading your document.

That means including an executive summary and/or a clear introduction that summarizes the main points of your document. Similarly, your conclusion should provide the key takeaways—without just summarizing what you’ve already written. In addition, you should make use of subtitles and headings to “direct” your readers to the sections most relevant to them.

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Finally, organize each paragraph to make it easy for skimmers: start each one with a topic sentence that conveys what the paragraph will say. A skimmer should be able to understand the line of argument (or main points) of your document by reading only your topic sentences.

If you follow these three steps, you will write faster and more effectively – helping you become a more productive professional.

(Now that you’ve learned the basics, read more tips on developing your writing skills.)

Featured photo credit:  signing finance contract via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on March 29, 2020

How To Work Remotely And Stay Productive

How To Work Remotely And Stay Productive

With long commutes, increased traffic, limited job opportunities, and, not to mention, unpredictable pandemics, many people are finding it difficult to get out and go to work, build an income, and provide for a family.

All of this presents an opportunity for you to consider working remotely. After all, this is something that’s been on your mind, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

However, when it comes to working remotely, there is a lot more to it than you might think. First, you need to know how to work remotely, as it’s involves many changes if you’re coming from a standard job.

There is also staying productive and gaining a profit, too. With more people indoors and not working, people are going to be more conservative with their money. With these things in mind, here is a guide to help you get on track and address these issues.

How Can I Get Remote Jobs?

The first big question to address is how to work remotely in the first place. As mentioned, getting your first gig is unlike traditional job hunting. In today’s gig economy, there are a lot of platforms that you can consider, which are filled to the brim with other applicants.

No longer are you competing with people within your business or your city, but across the globe.

This makes it necessary to have a new kind of skill set. You need to look beyond a resume and filling out application after application. Instead, you want to be looking at how you can better market yourself, how you can be more creative, as well as how to deliver something people are willing to pay for.

1. Market In The Right Place

When you think about job hunting, you begin to think of the traditional job posting sites: places like Monster, Indeed, and maybe LinkedIn. There are other sites like this that even have a section devoted solely to remote work.

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But places like these are the worst place to be looking. Why? Because a lot of the freelance or remote work on those sites are usually location-specific. That, or they require some in-person contact or are questionable businesses in the first place.

Either way, it’s better if you’re focusing more on continuous gigs from multiple clients rather than applying for full-time jobs while working at home. There are a lot of sites that can help with that. Ryan Robinson created a lengthy list of sites that post remote gig work that’s worth checking out.[1]

From there, it’s a matter of building up your portfolio. This can be difficult at first, but plenty of remote job posting sites can provide you with tips and tricks. Your profile on these sites also works similar to a resume.

2. Get People To Buy

The second part to how to work remotely is getting people to buy what you’re selling. If you’re in the right place, the next thing is to attract people. And naturally, people aren’t going to be coming to you in droves.

That being said, there are plenty of ways for you to build up your profile. A lot of it comes down to the skills that you have and how you showcase them.

Now, you have a lot of skills in your arsenal, but you want to be focusing on ones that close sales. For example, if you are someone who can finish work fast and maintain quality, that’ll be more appealing as clients can give you a larger workload or be confident that when they ask for some work, you can get it done fast.

This skill highlights one big thing that people care about and are willing to pay for: someone that they can trust.

Conveying that in a portfolio is difficult at first, but when you start getting work and people are leaving reviews about the speed of your work, people will begin to see that you are someone they can trust to get work done.

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You also have skills that go behind the scenes. These don’t contribute to your output directly, but they could lead you to more clients.[2]

One trait that’s mentioned is having a place dedicated to your work and where you can focus. This can help you increase your speed and productivity as you have a specific place for you to work.

This can lead to people buying more from you because you have created a system for yourself to enter a state of mind where you can work without interruptions.

How Can I Stay Productive While Working Remotely?

As you begin working away and getting clients, the next biggest challenge is staying productive. Like I mentioned above, having a place where you can focus will help you in staying productive, but oftentimes people need more than that.

For example, having a place where you can put out a lot of work is great, but what if your pickings are slim? Or maybe you’re not a huge fan of sifting through job postings?

Having a place where you can focus is good, but it might not help you to feel motivated to do parts of the work you don’t want to do.

When it comes to working remotely, there are times where you’ll have to do work that you don’t want to do. And there will be times when work comes slowly. During those times, you need to have ways to stay productive. Here are some suggestions to help.

1. Create an Ideal Work Space

Let’s go into more detail about what a productive space looks like and why it can be effective. First, you want to make sure that this space isn’t in your bedroom. Many remote workers work from their bed, and it’s bad for several reasons.[3]

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The biggest reason comes down to how we are programmed. When you are lying in bed, the brain is programmed to go to sleep. If you try rewiring your brain to think staying in bed is “going to work,” it’s difficult for your brain and your body to get into that mode.

You want to make sure that the area you are going to feels like you are “going to work.” Even though work is only a few footsteps away, that’s enough time for you to tell your brain, “I’m going to work now.”

With this in mind, you want your space to be ideal for working. Make sure that the space is clean and not cluttered. You want to make sure the area feels like an office or a place where you can get things done.

2. Take Breaks

When working remotely, you get to set your own hours. While that is great, this is something a lot of remote workers forget about.

You’d think that working at home is luxurious, but in reality, a lot of freelancers overwork themselves. It’s not out of the ordinary for freelancers to work exceedingly more time than those working a typical 40-hour workweek.[4]

With that in mind, be sure that you are pacing yourself. Take breaks, and get away from your office space once in a while. Even with a virus flying around, you can still get outside or walk around your home or apartment.

Not only is this good for your own sanity, but it can also be a productive tool as well. Our bodies aren’t built to continuously put out work without stopping, and even if we’re in a comfy chair, we can still feel drained by the end of the day if we attempt this.

By taking some regular breaks at your own pace, you can boost your productivity, especially if you are incorporating stretching and other activities that bring you energy.

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3. Set Regular Goals

One of the biggest challenges with how to work remotely is the fact that you need to set your own goals. When you’re going to work for a company, you already have your duties outlined.

That’s not the case when you are the one setting your own hours and acting as your own boss. That difference can be mentally shocking despite it being so obvious.

Because setting goals and working towards them is challenging for many people, some people give up on goals quickly or self-sabotage. They run into one problem and lose all motivation.

With this in mind, you want to be setting goals on a regular basis. You can think of it like a schedule. For this many hours, you want to be doing a specific task. Or maybe you want to structure it as a to-do list and schedule your time according to the tasks that need to get done.

Whatever the case is, setting goals or having a plan in place allows you to set markers that you can work towards. This is a system that works because businesses do this all the time through the duties and responsibilities in each position. They’re the ones setting the markers that you are working towards.

Final Thoughts

Working remotely isn’t as glamourous as it’s made out to be. You need to create systems and habits for yourself that not only will get you clients, but keep you productive and content in your position.

Now may be as good a time as any to see if this can work for you. Even though most people are out of a physical job, the gig economy could present opportunities for people to stay afloat during these hard times.

More Tips on Staying Productive

Featured photo credit: Paige Cody via unsplash.com

Reference

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