Do you want to get more writing done? If so, let me share a secret with you that I just recently discovered.
Recently I attended a Tim Grahl webinar on being a productive writer. In it, he challenged us to make a list of everything we do in a typical week. Next, we were to circle anything unnecessary. For instance, eating, going to the bathroom, and taking your child to school are necessary. If you have a day job, going to work is essential. If you’re a writer or want to be a writer, writing is a must.
The next step is to cross out everything you didn’t circle. That would include things such as time on Facebook (unless that’s part of your job), watching TV or YouTube, chatting or going out with friends, and even good things such as exercise or reading. If you don’t HAVE to do it, cross it out.
Next, commit to doing only the items you circled for five days. That’s right. No dinners out. No TV or movies. No coffee with friends. Write during all the spare time you have.
Why Getting More Writing Done Wasn’t the Only Lesson
I went into the challenge with a preconceived idea of what I’d “get” out of it – the realization that I have ample time to write. I suspected that the goal of the exercise was to deal a death blow to the excuse that many would-be writers make, “I don’t have time to write.” I would know, once and for all that there is no excuse for not writing more because there is plenty of time for writing when you eliminate unnecessary things.
That indeed happened, but the real lesson for me was something deeper, more profound. My life has too much noise, which keeps me from reaching my full potential as a writer.
Here are some examples of the noise that crowds out the space I need to create.
- Chats with friends
- Online courses
The bottom line is that the absence (or reduction) of noise heightens creativity.
Another considerable benefit of cutting out unnecessary noise from your life is that noise is often confused with work. As an example, watching a webinar or taking a course about writing can make you think you got something done when perhaps the reality is that you substituted noise for work. By the way, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take courses or attend webinars, but as I’ll explain in a bit, you may want to take a learning sabbatical.
How to Turn Off the Noise and Get More Writing Done
Now let’s get into some tips for turning off noise, so that you can increase your writing productivity.
#1: Stop Talking About Your Goals
Do you love sharing your goals with others? Maybe you have accountability partners, or writing friends with whom you share your writing goals. Stop telling people what you’re going to do and just write. This video by Derek Sivers explains the drawbacks of sharing your goals with others.
Your mind mistakes talking for doing – Derek Sivers
#2: Take Out the Earbuds
Are you addicted to noise? For instance, when you drive, do you turn on the radio or listen to a podcast? Many people love podcasts because they can listen to them while doing other things, such as exercising, driving, or doing housework. Podcasts have value, but the next time you’re tempted to pop in your earbuds, choose to embrace silence instead. You’ll be surprised by how much more insight and clarity you gain when you give your mind space to process all of the ideas and information you’ve already crammed into your brain.
One significant benefit that I had with doing the Tim Grahl experiment is that I had a lot of empty time when I needed a mental break, but couldn’t watch a YouTube video or chat with friends on Facebook. During those times, I closed my eyes and rested, sometimes with soft music.
I ended up working longer hours because I wasn’t even watching TV or YouTube in the evenings. Through silence, I felt more rested and relaxed in spite of longer work hours. I took the time to rest whenever I needed a mental break.
#4: Don’t Talk for a Day
If you’ve ever had laryngitis and been told not to talk, you’ve likely experienced the stark reality of how much you talk every single day. Granted, some talking is necessary. It’s hard to make a phone call, record a video or podcast, or order a meal without talking. But you can choose not to do even those things for a single day.
The question is, why? Talking is another form of noise. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “walk the talk,” which simply means to back up your words with actions. Again, it’s easy to talk about what you’re going to do and somehow trick your mind into thinking you accomplished something of value.
By the way, during your day of silence, I recommend expanding your silence beyond spoken words. Don’t chat on Facebook or in texts and don’t write any non-urgent emails.
I do make a few exceptions to this:
- Prayer. Talking to God is never a waste, and I never recommend skipping a day.
- Journaling. Writing often brings clarity, so by all means, spend time journaling during your day of silence.
- Speaking with family members as necessary. Depending on your family situation, it may be near impossible not to talk for an entire day. I recommend letting the family know about your silence goal and speaking as little as possible. However, don’t get frustrated by family members that need to talk with you, especially if you have young children.
#5: Go on a Course and Webinar Sabbatical
For a period of time, take a break from taking writing-related courses and webinars. Let me make it clear. As I mentioned earlier, there is a place for webinars and courses. I watch webinars and participate in (and even create) courses. I’m a big fan of taking online courses that help you grow as a writer. Having said that, if you spend more time learning about writing than you do writing, all that learning may be nothing more than noise that keeps you from creating.
Focus more on being a content creator than a content consumer.
During your break from courses or webinars, dig up your notes from past training. Then focus on applying what you’ve already learned. You may have taken in enough information in the past that you don’t need to take in more for a very long time.
Also, practice “just in time learning.” For example, let’s say that you plan to add videos to your content marketing mix, “someday.” Until someday comes, there is no need to learn how to shoot and edit videos. Put off that training until you’re ready to implement what you learn.
#6: Reset Expectations
Sometimes we create our own problems when it comes to too much noise in our lives. We alone are to blame when it comes to things like listening to podcasts, watching videos, or watching mindless TV programs. Other times people bring a lot of noise into our lives.
When my kids were little, I had one friend that called me every day. Those conversations often lasted an hour or longer. In today’s world, online noise is often a bigger problem. People expect us to interact on social media, in private texts (or Facebook Messenger), and via email. While it may be tempting to blame that noise on others, it’s important to take responsibility for your part. Many times, this is as simple as letting your friends and colleagues know that you’re spending less time chatting. If email is an issue, check email just once a day. Set up an automated response to let people know you got their message and when they can expect to hear back from you.
Regardless of how you do it, if you currently spend a lot of time chatting with others, let them know you plan to put more time into writing and won’t be as available for chatting as you have been in the past.
#7: Stop Planning and Start Writing
I love to plan. I plan, and then I change my plans, sure that my updated plans are better than the original plans. The good news is, if you reduce the noise in your life, you’ll be less likely to get distracted by shiny objects. For instance, you’ll stick with your current writing plan instead of chasing some new strategy.
If you still find yourself wanting to create new plans even when you’ve reduced noise pollution, acknowledge that your planning tendencies may be a form of avoidance. Planning is often easier than doing the “boring” daily work of writing.
I recommend setting up boundaries for creating new plans. For example, if you created a blogging plan or a plan to write a book, don’t allow yourself to deviate from the plan for a specified time period. You may decide that you can’t plan something new until you’ve completed your current book. You can also set time limits for creating new plans. An example of this is to develop big-picture plans for 90 days, and don’t deviate from that plan until the 90 days are complete. At that point, feel free to evaluate your plan and tweak it if necessary. The main thing is to stay focused and plod along on your plan for the long haul. I wrote about this in detail in my post, How to Create a Sustainable Writing Plan.
Create Your Personal Plan for Reducing Noise So You Can Get More Writing Done
Your life is different from mine. It’s also likely different from other writing friends or your writing coach. Therefore, no one else can tell you every bit of noise you need to eliminate from your day to get more writing done. I recommend reviewing the information in this post and as you do, jot down any noise that comes to mind that takes away time and mental space to write. In addition to what I shared, you may have unique distractions I haven’t listed.
Going cold turkey – and eliminating all of them all at once – may work for you. Conversely, such a change may be too extreme for you. Again, only you can decide what’s best for you.
At the very least I recommend eliminating one type of noise for 30 days, and using that time to write or to be still. At the end of 30 days, reduce another source of noise. As you continue this process, and as you replace noise with writing, you’ll find that you get more writing done without feeling rushed or stressed.