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7 Focus management strategies for more productive writing

Magnifying Glass To FocusIn order to be a more productive writer while juggling many other duties in his career, William Weare, Access Services Team Leader at the University Library at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, developed strategies that help him hone his focus management skills. Following are seven strategies Weare employs that have resulted in a more productive writing practice.

1. Set goals and make them public.

Determine what you want to accomplish in your career and then decide what needs to be done to achieve those goals. Weare recommends writing these goals down—and writing them in the present tense to have a more powerful impact—and then making them public. For example, Weare lists tasks related to his goals on a whiteboard in his office. By revealing his plans to his colleagues, it gives him a sense of accountability. “Telling other people creates some obligation because they’ll ask, ‘How’s that article coming along?’ And I hate to be embarrassed, so I want to be making progress,” Weare said.

2. Track and prioritize your time.

In order to more productively use your working time, Weare recommends taking a time inventory. He suggests tracking your time during a typical day, detailing every task you do, including unpacking when you arrive at the office, checking the weather online, and even coffee or restroom breaks. Then compile this information into a time inventory. Reviewing how you spend your time may help you realize that you actually can make time to write every day, and it can help you prioritize and focus your daily activities based on which ones are actually helping you achieve your goals: “I have plenty of time,” Weare said after examining his own time inventory. “Not having time is really not my problem; it really is how I use it.”

3. Make lists.

To make large tasks seem less daunting, Weare breaks his projects down into smaller parts that he can complete in the time he has available. He then routinely creates two lists for himself: a daily to-do list and a next-task list, which lists the next step that he will need to take on a particular project. The next-task list allows him to know exactly where to begin the next time he picks it up again, so there is no need to spend time getting reoriented within the project.

4. Schedule your writing time.

Weare contends that the only way to be a productive writer is to schedule writing time each day and then stick to that schedule. He blocks out writing time in his calendar and considers it an appointment, so that nothing else short of his boss’s intervention can interfere with that scheduled writing time. “I need to allot time for writing, not find time for writing,” Weare said. “Teaching is scheduled, meetings are scheduled, office hours are scheduled; we need to schedule our research projects, writing projects, and presentation projects too.”

5. Time your writing sessions.

In order to write each and every day, Weare uses a timer and works on his writing projects in 25-minute sessions. In terms of maintaining focus and writing productively, Weare considers 25 minutes to be ideal because he stops himself before he loses momentum. “I’m really easily distracted,” Weare said. “But can I turn off my email for 25 minutes and work on just one thing? Yes, I can get through that.”

Since he usually has multiple projects going on at any given time, and he aims to focus 25 minutes a day on each of them, his system can result in a few hours of solid work over the course of a day without his motivation lagging.

6. Track and report your progress.

To keep himself accountable, Weare tracks his daily progress and reports to his accountability partners once a week regarding his goals for the week and what he actually accomplished, explains why any goals remain unmet, and shares his plan for the coming week.

7. Learn to let go.

Finally, Weare accepts the fact that some days will be more productive than others and that there will often be more to do than he can get done in a day: “I need to focus on the things that are important to me and know that I’m not going to get everything done.” While it has not been easy, he explained that he has learned to forgive himself for not getting to everything on his daily to-do list, an accomplishment that has had a positive effect on his morale and helps him be more productive when he starts each new day.

Weare presented a session at TAA’s 2013 conference entitled “It’s Focus Management, Not Time Management—Strategies and Habits That Lead to Productive Writing”. Listen to his presentation. Free for members.

What focus management strategies do you employ to make your writing more productive? Share them in the comments section below.