One very important lesson I have learned in life and in my over 15 years of writing and editing is that once time is gone, you cannot get it back. Energy, on the other hand, is a renewable resource. When I work with my energy supply instead of against it, I make the most of my time.
With over 15 years experience as both a writer and editor in the digital publishing world, I’ve seen my share of both good and bad work. While it sometimes boils down to not having enough time or not having enough knowledge about a subject matter, the majority of the time, sloppy work is a product of one’s personal and creative energies being mismanaged. For instance, I can write or edit nearly 40% more with a full load of energy than I can when it is depleted. By writing more in the time I have scheduled to write, I am not only being more productive, but protecting the time I have designated for other important things.
My goal in writing is to fully engage in the process and connect with my audience. I know that the following steps are important for me to follow and might be useful to you as well.
Follow your natural energy cycle.
In order to work with your energy, it is important to understand your energy cycle. Your biology determines much of this. Do you feel more alert in the morning, afternoon, or middle of the night?
As a night owl, I know that I can produce my best work at night. Some people perform better first thing in the morning, and others after they have been up for a few hours. Acknowledge your natural energy cycle and work with it. Schedule your writing at your most alert time of day for the best results.
Care for your physical environment.
Even your most energetic times can be drained if not protected. Your mind might be fully alert until you walk to your desk or even your place of employment. This is because our physical environment plays a large psychological role. Clutter can certainly drain energy, so if your office or desk is cluttered, spend some time getting it in good shape.
If the walls of your office are a dark color, consider repainting them. Green is a great color for concentration. Colors such as orange and yellow produce creativity while blues and dark colors can have a much more calming effect. You should also surround yourself with things that make you feel encouraged and full of purpose. These might be awards, pictures of your family, your favorite pet––there is no rule other than that it needs to create positive thoughts. Anything that gives you negative feelings needs to go..
Work with your personality.
You should also pay attention to your personality. Are you a social butterfly or do you prefer solitude?
Some people thrive around others and some thrive in solitude. If being around others energizes you, consider scheduling your writing for times you will be surrounded by other people. If being around others depletes your energy, that of course would be counterproductive. Care for yourself.
Just as important as caring for your environment is caring for yourself. If the body is broken and empty, creating energy is more of an illusion.
Getting the proper amount of sleep, eating well, and exercising at least 3-4 times per week can make a world of difference in your energy levels. Intense, full body workouts, a run, some laps in the pool, or even walking your dog can help.
Use your creativity only for creative tasks.
Beware the things you focus on, too. It is so easy to spend your creative energy on things that do not deserve it. We are bombarded with decisions to make every day, including simple things such as what to eat and what to wear. Though eating and getting dressed are important, they should not require too much mental acuity.
A great way to save your creative brain power for your creative tasks is simple preparation. Once a week, make a meal plan and hang it where you can see it daily. Do any shopping you need for the week, so everything is ready. Before bed every night, check the weather for the next day. Then lay out your outfit, including shoes and accessories. Have your coffee maker programmed to start on its own. Also, have everything you need for the next day, i.e. laptop and library books, in one spot ready to go.
When you wake up the next day, coffee is ready, you know what to put on, what to pack for lunch, what to lay out for dinner, and what you need to take with you. These tasks now require no creative power whatsoever. Steps like these can be taken for all daily and routine tasks.
It is also important to acknowledge that the theory that multitasking equals productive is a myth. I am a very good multi-tasker, but energy spent horizontally will evaporate faster than energy spent vertically. Instead of multitasking, try time blocking or using the Pomodoro Technique. With time blocking, you simply set aside separate blocks of time for different tasks. For instance, you might save 2 pm to 4 pm for your writing. During that time, you turn off distractions and focus solely on your writing. When your time is up, you can switch your focus.
The Pomodoro Technique is like time blocking, but it tends to be more effective for those with shorter attention spans or who work well under pressure. Pick a task and set a timer. Most people suggest 25 minutes, but you might find you can focus for 30 minutes or an hour. While the timer is running, you focus on nothing but the task at hand- whether it is writing a blog post or cleaning out your closet. When the timer goes off, take a short break. On the next cycle, you can continue working on the same task or choose another. Both techniques are much more effective than multitasking.
Give yourself breaks.
Lastly, you must remember not to push yourself too hard. It is great to dream, but be aware of your limitations, too. Do not overschedule yourself and be sure to take time for yourself to replenish. When you are writing and suddenly have trouble focusing, take a break. Even when a deadline is hanging over your head, it is better to go for a run, take a nap, or do some yoga. When you come back to your project, you will feel refreshed and ready to begin again.
Though I had to learn much of this the hard way, I am glad I did. When I take care of myself, work with my biological makeup, create an energizing space, and mind my schedule, I am much more productive than when I do not. If you have struggled in your writing, follow these tips to see if they make a difference. It may take a little time to find your personal stride, but once you do, you will find the work well worth it.