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.