Business Writing Tip #135—Are You Still Putting Off Writing?

pomodoroIn my last post I promised you another tip to help you overcome procrastination.

Sometimes it helps to think again about why we might be putting off starting something that we have to write. It could be that the task is quite large and its very size makes it difficult to face.

Does this sound familiar?

“I have to write that report, but it’s going to take me a few hours, and I just don’t have the time to spend on it now. I need to make sure I have enough time to get it done, and I’ve got meetings today, and my boss wants those figures this afternoon. The report will have to wait.”

I’ve often had words like these running around in my head. The idea of the report is so huge that I can’t face it, and the result of this thinking is that I end up doing it under pressure and not doing it as well as I would like.

What to Do

I’m going to refer to Barbara Oakley again and her book A Mind for Numbers. She suggest that rather than focusing on the product (the report), we focus on the process. Sure we might not have time right now to spend 6 to 8 uninterrupted hours writing and finalising the report. But we might have 20 minutes. What can we do with 20 minutes? Well, we can start. Oakley refers to a time and workload management technique known as the ‘pomodoro’ (it gets its name from red, tomato shaped timers). You can find out more about the technique here.  In brief, the technique involves setting aside a block of time, removing all distractions (yes, that includes your email and your phone), and focusing on the task for that period of time. Oakley suggests 25 minutes. You can focus on something for 25 minutes, can’t you? And it’s much easier to say I’m going to work on this for 25 minutes than to say I’m going to work on the report indefinitely. Twenty-five minutes is manageable. It doesn’t terrify us.

What Do You Do After 25 Minutes?

After you’ve completed your ‘pomodoro’ (25 minutes of timed, focused work on a task), give yourself a reward. It might be that you grab a cup of coffee, check your personal emails, take a 5 minute stretching break—whatever makes you feel good. You can then work on something else, knowing you’ve made a start on the report, or you can do another ‘pomodoro’ straight away.

Try it next time you’re putting off an important writing task (or any other time you’re putting off doing something). Let me know if it works for you.

 Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #134—Eat Your Frogs First

Do you procrastinate?

Of course you do. It’s human nature to put things off, especially if they are things that we feel are going to be difficult or unpleasant. Sometimes we even put off doing things we enjoy doing.eastern-gray-tree-frog-Photo-Gary-Yankech-Creative-Commons-license

When it comes to business writing, we are not all naturally good writers. For some of us writing is a chore. We really don’t want to do it. We have much more interesting activities to spend our time on. So we put it off, and put it off, and we wait until the last minute. Then we find we’re up against a deadline. When this happens we don’t have time to think about our writing carefully; sometimes we don’t even have time to give it a cursory edit. The resulting piece of writing might do the job, but with time and planning it could have been so much better.

What can we do about procrastination? How can we create a mindset that gets us tackling the writing we are avoiding?

We procrastinate about things that we’re not comfortable with. We may not like writing in general. We may feel that we’re not good at it. In her book A Mind for Numbers Barbara Oakley explains how scanning the brains of mathphobes using medical imaging techniques has shown us that “the pain centres of their brains light up when they contemplate working on math.” Interestingly she then informs us that this discomfort comes from anticipation of the thing that we don’t like, and that when we stop delaying and get on with the task the pain disappears.

So probably one of the best techniques to use when you are procrastinating is to take a lesson from Nike and “just do it”.

The second thing to remember is to face the things that you find most difficult, most unpleasant, first. This is what writing coach Daphne Gray-Grant means when she uses the expression I’ve used as the title of this post: eat your frogs first. Once you’ve started doing the unpleasant things, the pain of anticipation diminishes and life isn’t so bad after all.

In my next post I will give you another practical tip to help you overcome procrastination.

Image: Eastern gray tree frog (Photo: Gary Yankech, Creative Commons license)

Business Writing Tip #133—A Few Expressions to Avoid

Sometimes we fall into the trap of using standard expressions and clichés when we write. Don’t get me wrong—some standard expressions are useful. The problem comes when the expressions are outdated, or use too many words to communicate their meaning.

Think about cutting these from your writing.

Thanking you in advance/thanking you in anticipation

These two suggest to the writer that you don’t want to bother to write to them again. Why not just write your request politely (for example, “Will you please …), and then, later if it’s appropriate, write a letter, note or email, of acknowledgement.

The foreseeable future

How’s your crystal ball? Mine doesn’t work, and very little of the future is foreseeable. This is a cliché that is virtually meaningless. Unless you are absolutely sure that you can foresee events, dump it.crystal ball

At this point in time This is a favourite of politicians the world over. Or so it seems. There is a simple, elegant, short word that conveys the meaning beautifully—now.

If you don’t agree with me, and you think that all language has its place, take a look at this strategy jargon generator, and have a laugh.

Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #132—Structure Matters

I’ve talked about structure before but I thought it would be a useful topic to revisit. Structure matters. Structure helps your reader find their way through your document. It also helps you make sure you have covered everything you need to cover. Take a look at the email structure in the graphic. Include all these items and you will have email structure canva graphican effective business email. For example:

Something old Re your phone call yesterday about the annual report input …

Something new I’ve discussed it with the team and we will have the consolidated input ready for you by Thursday.

What to do Please let me know if you need any further information from my team.

I love you Kind regards

Simple, isn’t it? When it comes to a report you might include the following components:

  • Title
  • Introduction
  • Analysis of current situation
  • Analysis of options
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
  • Conclusion and recommendation

Of course, your report might look different. Include the sections that you need. Just remember, by planning it first and deciding on a structure, you are giving yourself a useful checklist to make sure everything’s included. And by using the section names as headings, you are providing useful signposts for your reader. Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip #131—Some and Any

In this post we’ll look more closely at two of the determiners—some and any. These two words, which can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns, express an indefinite quantity or number.some any on screen

When do we use them?

We use them when:

  • We don’t know an exact quantity or number
  • It’s not important to say how many/how much we mean
  • When it’s not easy or necessary to say how many/how much we mean.

We usually use some in positive sentences:

  • I’ve invited some people from XYZ Company to the meeting.
  • We did some brainstorming and then drafted the policy.

Any is for negative sentences:

  • We didn’t take any notes at the meeting and now we can’t remember what we decided.
  • We don’t have any money for a new photocopier.

More Examples

Some + Countable nouns (some means a few)

There are some books on the desk.

There are some representatives from XYZ company coming to the meeting.

There are some mistakes in this report.

Some + Uncountable nouns

There is some dust in the keyboard which is causing it to jam.

There is still some money owing from our major client, which should come through any day now.

Any + Countable nouns (often used with negatives)

There aren’t any empty chairs at the table.

There aren’t any seats available on that flight.

Are there any seats available on that flight?

Yes, there are some.

No, there aren’t any.

Any + Uncountable nouns

There isn’t any money left in the budget for training this year.

Is there any money left in the budget for training this year?

No, there isn’t any.

Yes, there is some, but not much.

Happy writing.