This is a guest contribution from ProBlogger Expert Ellen Jackson of Potential Psychology.
Running a business is a time-suck of epic proportion. Planning, administration, product development, sales, delivery, email, bookkeeping, social media, marketing. It takes time. Throw in a family and you flit from demand to crisis without a moment to reheat that cup of tea you made three hours ago.
Your blog post – that important but not urgent task – is often the victim of the go-go-go life. You know it’s important for but there it is, languishing at the bottom of the ‘to do’ list day after day after day.
‘I must write that blog post.’
‘I really should write a blog post.’
‘Today I will write a blog post.’
‘Tomorrow I will write that blog post…’
Not batching, slogging.
I am in awe of bloggers and business owners who casually comment, ‘I write a blog post in 15 to 20 minutes and I batch them. I just sit and write six or seven in a row.’
Blog posts take me hours. Not minutes. Hours. Write one and I’m creatively spent. I need to lie down, take a walk or faff about on Facebook for 30 minutes to recover. By then a crisis has flared up. Forget batching.
I’m not so hot on the ‘stream of consciousness’ approach either. It’s great for therapy but no-one wants to read my therapy. Not even me.
Despite this I write regularly and professionally. I get it done and I’m getting faster with practice. I’ve also picked up a tip or five from my occupation, psychology.
So here’s what works to write blog posts faster – and why.
1. Have a plan
I used to procrastinate until the day before my publish date (or even the day of) then wait for inspiration to hit and the words to flow. It doesn’t work. It’s slow and frustrating. To get faster I need to know what I’m going to write. Better yet I need some bullet points and links to research I’ll need.
Why it works: In psychology task planning is called an ‘implementation intention’. Its complex and uses the front part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex. Implementation intentions reduce procrastination. Without a plan your brain says, ‘Oops, too hard’ when faced with a big, vague task like writing a blog post. It wanders off to find somewhere else to focus its attention. With a plan you ease its path to your goal, making resistance – and procrastination – less likely.
2. Make planning a separate exercise
Planning then writing in one period is brain overload. Break it into two separate tasks and you increase your efficiency and produce a better result. I like to brainstorm and plan over a coffee at a favourite café. I’ll write later in my office at my laptop.
Why it works: Cues in our environment trigger our habits. Keep looking at the same four walls and you’ll keep thinking in the same old way. To break through a creative block, arrive at fresh ideas and then get writing, mix it up and work in different environments. Large spaces with good natural light and fresh air are great for prompting new thoughts and ideas.
3. Write for 15 minutes a day
Fellow ProBlogger contributor Kelly Exeter put me on to this. Once I’ve got my plan I sit at the laptop, take note of the time, put away distractions and write for 15 minutes. It doesn’t matter what you write. In fact Kelly suggests that if you’re stuck, just keep writing ‘I don’t know what to write here’ until an idea arrives. Try it, it works. What’s more, once you start and find your flow you may find that you just keep going until it’s done.
Why it works: Getting started is often the hardest part of any task, particularly one that feels difficult. The good news is that once we’ve started we’re likely to push on until the job is complete. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect. Your brain doesn’t like starting a task and then stopping part way through. It will linger on your unfinished business, making you anxious until the task is done. Get started and your mind will kick in with the motivation you need to keep going.
4. Set a deadline
A joy of being the boss is the flex in your deadlines. Don’t feel like writing today? Do something else instead. There’s plenty of work to do. Except that’s how the important but not urgent blog post is set adrift.
Sitting, thinking and writing is hard work for your brain. It rewards you by prioritizing that task last, letting you off the hook. It’s a short term gain however. The blog post still isn’t written.
I set myself deadlines for every blog post to trick my brain into getting it done. The shorter the deadline, the more focused you are.
Why it works: Motivation is complex, psychologically, but we know for sure that as a deadline approaches our stress levels rise. When our stress levels rise our brain and body is primed for action. We get started and we work hard to get the task done. This is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law. No deadline? Not enough stress to get you moving. If you’re a conscientious type like me self imposed deadlines will work. If you’re not, find a way to get others to set deadlines for you.
5. Focus on the end result
The anticipation of a holiday is often the best part, right? Imagine yourself lying by the pool, cocktail in hand, responsibility-free. It motivates you to pack and get out of the door.
This works for getting blog posts written too. Generating ideas and writing might feel difficult but don’t focus on that part. Focus on the reward. For me that’s hitting the publish button or sending a finished piece to an editor. Even better is positive feedback.
Work out where your motivation lies. What’s the reward you get from writing that blog post? Where’s the thrill? Focus on that to get it done.
Why it works: There are two types of goals. Avoidance goals are things to avoid- like losing our audience because we haven’t written a blog post in a month or more. Then there are approach goals. These are the goals that compel us to move forward. Your pool and cocktail vision is an approach goal. The feeling of satisfaction on hitting the publish button is an approach goal. Anything can be an approach goal if you think about it in the right way. Don’t focus on what you’re avoiding. Focus on the good things that come once your task is done.
Ellen Jackson from Potential Psychology is a psychologist who does things differently. She writes about people and why we do what we do. She coaches, she teaches and she helps workplaces to do the people part better.