This is a guest contribution from Pratik Dholakiya.
It’s Wednesday morning, you barely slept last night, missed your morning coffee because you were running late, and are now sat in front of your computer staring at a blank Word file wondering what on earth you’re going to write about. You know you should get on with the task but your hands don’t move and your brain refuses to boot up. You’re longing for Saturday already, but it’s only the middle of the week.
Yeah, the world is a cruel place.
Especially for writers who need to hammer out reams of authentic material every single day of the week.
The good news, however, is there are ways around even the worst of the situations. I should know, I write for a living. I must have written thousands of articles so far, many of which were produced on days I was struggling.
Along the way I have devised quite a few mind hacks to tackle the problem of focus and motivation. One of these always bails me out on the days focus is a scarce commodity.
Do Some Dumb Stuff
Well, you’re feeling dumb already, so this shouldn’t be a toughie!
Dumb isn’t always bad, especially if it’s the humorous kind of dumb. Humor is good. It cracks you up, brings you back into the moment, lightens the mood, and suddenly the morning doesn’t feel so bad anymore.
When you loosen up and connect to the moment, ideas aren’t so hard to come by.
The best part about this is that it helps you think out of the box.
So you have to write about synthetic carpets and you are bored as hell at the mere thought of it?
Your best bet is to let your imagination run wild. Think of everything one can do on carpets. Imagine a huge carpet flying up in the sky with Calvin and Hobbes sitting on it.
That’s your idea – best cartoon strips featuring carpets.
Listen to Chants or Any Music That Helps You Focus
Here’s one brilliant suggestion, which really melts the distractions for me.
Create a playlist for all moods. If you choose the right kind of music, you may find it easier to get your mind on the task.
Put on Earplugs
No, really. The kind that go in deep and drown out your surroundings. You will be surprised at how beautifully they work.
This is a tried and tested measure which goes back to my university days. Any time I feel scatter-brained and unable to focus, I get out my earplugs (have gotten into the habit of carrying them with me). It’s eerily quiet when your ears are plugged. You don’t go deaf, but all noise loses its edge. Even the sound of your colleague on steroids jabbing away at his keyboard feels like it’s streaming in from somewhere far away. You can hear yourself breathing. You can also listen to your thoughts and follow them without any effort. The writing that this frame of mind produces, regardless of whether you have slept the night before or not, is surprisingly sharp.
I don’t exactly know why this works, but here’s my guess – shutting down one of the senses makes the rest perform even better. With earplugs on, the noise around you does not register, which means you automatically listen to yourself loud and clear.
Unless you have tried this you will never guess just how much of our energy leaks to sounds and noisy distractions, even in seemingly quiet places. On days you are not feeling bright, this neat trick could make all the difference.
Watch a Stimulating TED Talk
One can feel distracted and foolish for a number of reasons. Sometimes it may have to do more with a lack of creativity than with your energy levels. If your enthusiasm for life is wavering or you need a dose of inspiration to fire up, a good TED talk may work better than coffee. For someone I know, watching old Seinfeld videos does the trick. It’s up to you to figure out what inspires you and refer to it when the need arises.
Create a Bank of Go-to Blogs
Reading some brilliant writing (especially that which is full of play on words) gets me in the mood each time. My phone is loaded with apps that bring to me the choicest of writing from a variety of sources. You can create your own database of inspirational blogs (not necessarily the most popular blogs) and watch the magic rub off on you.
Pick Topics That You Can Write on in First Person
If you have the choice to pick your subjects, pick up the ones that present a greater scope for personalization.
It’s always easier to write something based on your experience, or even narrate a fictional episode, if you already love writing. That kind of stuff just flows because it comes from your heart, not your mind (which you don’t think is working), and before you realize it you have already put a few hundred words on the doc file.
Leave the research-heavy stuff for days you have slept well and are actually having a bearable morning.
Lay out a Structure for Your Posts
If you don’t have the luxury to choose your topics, and calling in sick is not an option, use your limited energy wisely.
Spend some of it in creating a solid structure for your post, something you can rely on to guide you through till the end.
Let Things Come to You
Trying too hard is a recipe for failure. It’s worse on the days you are already suffering. Let go of laboring over ideas. Instead, take a 5-minute break to collect your thoughts. Just wait patiently, with a calm mind, no hurry at all. The ideas will come to you, and sooner than if you were to chase them. (If you make meditation a part of your life, it will prove priceless during such times.)
When the mind is stuck, moving your body can make it come unstuck. Go on a short walk and walk with a spring in your step. Tap dance in the bathroom for a couple of minutes. The mind-body connection is deep, and the rhythm of one rubs off on the other.
Create a Mind Map
Images come to rescue when words fail us. Take out a pen and paper, or your smartphone, and start drawing. For something related to home décor, draw a home, then a garden, the windows, and the like.
Alternatively, create a mind map with a pen or a stylus in your hand; I find this works better than doing so on the computer. Both these methods will very likely give you a few breakthroughs, which will make your assignment easier for you.
Finally, get a perspective.
If nothing works, it’s all right. You are allowed to have a bad day.
Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder & VP of Marketing of E2M, a digital marketing agency and OnlyDesign, a creative design firm. He’s passionate about start-up marketing, entrepreneurship & all things digital. You can find him on twitter @DholakiyaPratik to discuss on any of these topics.