A good text is never written between two doors. I already mentioned that here.
But where do you take the time when you’re busy?
In this post, I share a solution on how you can write a good text without losing time.
With a good text, I obviously don’t mean a book or other long type of document. I mean a relatively short but important text, like a press release, a text where every word counts: you want people to read it and you want them to remember.
Don’t write at any moment
The danger with writing is that you can spend hours without progress. I am sure you know the feeling of staring at a blank paper and the creative juices just won’t flow?
The good news is that you can avoid that. Because, when it happens, you are writing at the wrong moment, a moment when you don’t have the right energy.
How do you avoid it? By reserving a better moment in advance.
The trick isn’t new. Management guru Peter Drucker gave this advice to executives back in the 1960s: if you want to get an important job done, you have to reserve continued and uninterrupted time for it.
He built his advice on two insights.
First, he knew that busy people aren’t masters of their agenda. Their days are quickly filled with urgent matters. And that doesn’t leave time for those things that are not urgent, but important.
Writing is a typical example: the text may be important but you don’t have to write it by tomorrow. You want to start but you don’t —because urgent meetings and obligations come your way.
And what happens? You keep delaying…until the text itself gets urgent. That’s when you end up writing at a moment when the thoughts don’t flow.
Creativity takes time
Which leads to Drucker’s second insight: important tasks need your creativity. But you cannot be creative if you only have ten minutes. Ideas take time to unfold and this is certainly true for writing: you have to think yourself into the text.
That’s why it is so important to reserve a good moment in advance. You need a meeting with yourself.
How long should the meeting be?
The answer is 90 minutes. Two times 90 minutes, to be exact.
90 minutes is not a random choice. Nor is it my idea. I got it from Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project. He argues, and this is well backed up by science, that our body lives in rhythms: after a phase of concentration it needs a moment of rest. That moment, for all of us, is after 70, latest 90 minutes.
Test it on yourself.
Having focussed for an hour and a half, your concentration dips. A clear sign is when your thoughts start wandering off. It also gets harder and harder to redirect them to the text.
At this stage, it’s not a matter of discipline: your body is telling you that it needs a break. It’s time to stop.
And you can stop with a good conscience. Because you made headway. The good thing about working in 90 minute bursts is that you will advance. You gave yourself time to get into the right frame of mind and to develop your thoughts.
You now have a basis.
The first session of 90 minutes normally won’t give you a fully developed text. You’ll have an idea for the argument but the narrative isn’t fully there yet. That’s what the second 90 minutes are there for: to give flow to the argument, to kick out bad ideas and to refine the good ones.
A new day
It makes a big difference for me when I hold the second session on another day. My head keeps thinking about the text in my free time and even in my sleep. This is the magic part of the creative process: it is not all conscious. The next day I wake up with a clearer picture and new ideas.
When you start the second session after a day or two, take the full 90 minutes again. They give you the peace of mind to get back into the flow.
The final touch is fun
In all likelihood, the second session will leave you with a rounded text. You may still want to edit a little. But now, and that makes all the difference, you don’t need fixed time slots any longer.
You can improve the document whenever you have a minute, making tweaks, cutting words, replacing others. At this stage, there’s no more resistance to overcome. Giving the final touch is fun.
I, for my part, have become much more productive since I write in bursts of 90 minutes. It is also a very liberating experience because I don’t need to fear: I reserved the right moment, I know that ideas will come.
I also know that I’ll start and that frees my mind. If I didn’t get started, I’d constantly worry about not having started and that get’s in the way of other things.
That is why this method doesn’t just help me write. It helps me focus on other things when I don’t write.
I suggest you give it a try. And if you do, please let me know how it works for you.