In his book Hypnotic Writing, copywriter and author Joe Vitale offers a clever trick for overcoming writer’s block. Vitale suggests you start your document — no matter what type of document — as a letter to a friend.
This is simply brilliant.
You’ve probably noticed that you’re funnier, more articulate and more insightful when you’re around good friends or relatives. When you’re with people who make you feel comfortable, you’re able to relax — and tap your creative side.
You might also have noticed that when you write an email (even at work to a colleague), if you’re close and comfortable with the person you’re writing to, you seem to come up with great points and insights almost without effort; they just flow through your fingers.
That’s Vitale’s insight. Writing an email or letter to a friend is when you’re likely to do your best writing.
So if you just can’t figure out how to start a status report, department memo, newsletter article, trip report — whatever — a surefire way to get going is to pretend it’s a letter or email to a close friend or colleague. Think of an actual person, address the top of the document — “Hey Damian” — and start writing to your friend Damian. Then watch the insights flow.
Thanks, Mr. Vitale.
Syndicated radio host Dennis Prager offers this insight: Writing is the mirror of the mind.
While many of us have trouble articulating our feelings on a given subject, when we sit down and write them out, we are often able to get our feelings across much more clearly. In fact, we sometimes find thoughts and feelings emerging from our writing that we didn’t even realize we had.
Prager advises arguing couples, for example, to each write their feelings out in an email, so that each person can read the other’s message straight through, without interruption (as often happens in verbal arguments), and without the heightened emotions of having the other person standing there, which can distract from the real issues.
I believe Prager’s insight can also help you in your professional life. The more you write, the more you learn. Looking for ways to streamline a time-consuming task at work? Write out your current process for completing the task — in as much detail as possible. You’ll find steps that you could shorten or eliminate altogether.
Looking at the entire process on paper might also spur ideas on how to change the process to improve it. You might even discover as you look at your documented process that you’ve created an effective template for getting things done, which you can then apply to other tasks you do regularly and for which you don’t have a good working process.
(By the way, if you try to write down each step in your current process and realize you can’t remember them all, that’s also useful information. It means that each time you undertake that task, you’re spending more time than necessary trying to figure out your next step.)
Write a summary of your workweek, even if your supervisor doesn’t require it and you don’t plan to show it to anyone. Just do it for yourself. Writing up a detailed account of what you’ve accomplished each week can be a great tool for gauging your own productivity and effectiveness on the job (not to mention a great written record of your accomplishments come performance-review time).
You will also have a better sense of how you are spending your time and on what parts of your job you might be spending too much or not enough.
Another benefit of this tactic is that if you know you’re going to spend, say, a half-hour each week documenting what you’ve accomplished, you’re holding yourself accountable and you are more likely to get more done (which can also translate into results come raise and promotion time).
Writing more can also help you improve your professional reputation with your colleagues and supervisors. After a staff meeting that featured a lot of substantive ideas and tasks, take the initiative to draft a clear and organized summary of the major points.
If you’ve documented one of your processes as I described above, and you believe your process could help colleagues, send it around. We’re all looking for ideas to improve our job performance (or make our work easier or more enjoyable). Your team will appreciate your effort and generosity.
If your team is taking on a new project, offer to be the designated scribe for the group, the person who will document ideas, write periodic status reports, etc. This has several benefits for you.
First, the more you write, the more clearly you’ll understand what’s happening — the big picture — and the more likely you are to discover creative solutions and find ways to add value to the project.
Second, most people dislike or fear writing — and you might as well — so by offering to take on this often dreaded task you are establishing yourself as a valuable member of the group.
Plus, the more you write, the better at it you’ll become, and improved writing skills will always serve you well in your career.
Wow! That’s an expensive used truck.
… you check your iPhone while you’re talking face-to-face.
Comedian Steven Wright jokes that once, right in the middle of a job interview, he took out a book and started reading. When he asked his interviewer a question from the book, and the interviewer didn’t know the answer, Wright responded, “Forget it, then. I don’t want to work for you.”
The reason that’s a funny bit is that it points out an extreme example (reading a book while someone is interviewing you for a job) of a common and annoying trait many of us exhibit in conversation: failing to give the other person our undivided attention.
It’s simply not possible to have an outstanding and memorable conversation if all of the participants are not fully engaged. Your undivided attention is probably the most important gift you can bring to a conversation.
So then why, when we’re talking with colleagues, friends, spouses, children — even our supervisors — do we so often look down at our smartphones to check missed calls/voicemails/texts/emails/? It can derail your train of thought; it can keep you from hearing and fully comprehending what your fellow conversationalists are saying; and it signals to the other participants that they don’t have your undivided attention — which makes the conversation less fun and meaningful for them.
We all want to be known as engaging, interesting, insightful — great conversationalists. Here’s one very simple (not easy, I understand, but simple) step you can take to differentiate yourself from many of your colleagues and friends. When you’re engaged in a conversation, stay completely engaged. Don’t allow any electronic distractions.
When you prepare a report, PowerPoint presentation, spreadsheet, or just about any work-related document, chances are it will include details you’ve found on the web or in other documents, answers you’ve received from colleagues, and data you’ve tracked down from other outside sources.
Suggestion: Create a separate folder for each document you prepare that includes all outside research you’ve gathered. The folder should include the document file itself, plus all research-material files — PDFs, white papers, even emails from colleagues who supplied you with answers to your research questions.
You should also create a “links” document, in which you can place the links to all web pages where you found information you used in your document. You might also want to include below each link on this page a short summary of the data/stat/quote/whatever you pulled from the website, so you know at a glance what the link provided and you won’t need to open up the web page again to remind yourself.
There’s always the possibility that you will need to refer to those original sources later — for an update to your PowerPoint presentation, for example, or because a co-worker asks you where you found a specific statistic. If you’ve captured it all at the time you created the document and placed it in your document’s folder, you won’t have to hunt it down later.
When writing an email message, make filling in the ‘To’ and ‘CC’ fields your final step. That way, you’ll always have a chance to proofread and edit the message without any chance of accidentally sending it out before it’s ready.
Most email programs automatically drop the cursor into the ‘To’ field when you open a new message. As a result, we’ve been trained to start by filling out the email addresses of our recipients before we even type the subject line, let alone the actual body of the message. If I were designing email software, I’d set the default so the cursor dropped into the body of the message first.
But until that happens, my advice is that when you open a new message, your first step should be to get your cursor out of the ‘To’ line, drop it into the message body, and start writing.