“Writers Block” and how to get passed it (in my own experience)
I remember being at university and having an important essay to write. I may or may not have left it to the last minute and justified the doing of so under the guise of "I work better under pressure! Looming deadlines are when I do my best work!"
I also remember setting out my stall, I had my laptop, I had my notes, I had various coloured highlighters, relevant articles to hand, a smorgasbord of snacks, a bottle of water for hydration and a fresh cup of coffee to kick-start the brilliant piece of work I was about to create.
I knew the topic (heck it was one of the modules I was genuinely interested in), I'd done the research, knew the structure and angle I was going to take and was excited to start!
8 hours later, I had a title, a contents page and a sugar and caffeine-induced sense of delirium. My work of art was nowhere to be seen.
This scenario occasionally translates to recruitment and I'd be highly surprised if it doesn't have a parallel in a variety of roles across a range of sectors. We've all been there, right? Except it's not a role you wanted to fill or a candidate you wanted to help - it's a project you needed to deliver, a proposal you needed to write or even just an innocuous task that needed to be completed, but you just couldn't seem to get it done (clearing out my inbox springs to mind).
Here are a few tips that I wanted to write down to remind myself how to move passed the grown-up/working equivalent of "writer's block". If they can help you too - well that's just great!
1. Set a clear goal and work backwards. What do you need to achieve? Now break it down into smaller pieces, now structure them in the order that they need to be done and understand the small steps you need to take to achieve each piece.
2. Structure your day and be strict with your time. Don't get tunnel vision and subconsciously allow yourself alllll day/ week to get this thing done. As a follow-on from number 1, divide your tasks into units of time. Block them out in your diary and keep an eye on the clock. It's amazing what you can achieve when you're against self-imposed time limits.
3. "Eat the Frog". Mark Twain famously / apparently said "If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Brian Tracey discusses this concept in depth in "Eat that Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time". Essentially, the bit of your task you've really been putting off / you reeeeeallly don't want to do. Do it first. Get it out of the way and move on!
4. Minimise distractions and see things through to completion. I have a very short attention span. I know this because I always have 35 tabs open and I’m a notorious link hopper. I start by typing a simple reply to an email, googling a recent news article on a relevant topic I want to refer to halfway through and before I know it, 20 minutes have passed and I've somehow ended up watching a 10 minute YouTube clip on Elon Musk and space travel. The email wanes in my drafts folder. Finish every task you start no matter how big or small and DONT DO ANYTHING ELSE. Even if that means turning off notifications or putting your phone on divert. Control yourself and external distractions.
5. Take regular breaks. A favourite of mums and blog posts everywhere. But it's true. Whether it's walking to get a glass of water, take that extra minute to stretch your legs before coming back. Don't rush your little breaks, you'll be more productive for it.
6. Following nicely, Stay hydrated. Your brain can't work properly if it's in a proverbial desert.
7. Get an outside opinion. If you can't see the woods for the trees, get a fresh pair of eyes. Or ears. Explaining your roadblocks out loud to another person can actually help you figure out ways past them yourself. And if it doesn't, two brains are better than one and your friends and colleagues may have some cracking, fresh ideas. Or they may simply state the blooming obvious you've so far managed to overlook.
8. If 1 through 7 are giving you no joy, call it. I'm not saying give up, I'm saying come back to it fresh. If all else fails, and your block is a stubborn one, put down what you're doing completely and do something else for a while. Or go home (if you're forcing yourself to stay late / stay up). Don't flog a dead horse* for 12 hours when you can admit temporary defeat, refuel, refresh and come back to it with a new exuberance.
9. Finally, don't be too hard on yourself. Stress adds bricks to the block and anxiety adds fuel to the flames. Don't beat yourself up - you'll just end up turning yourself into an unproductive shell of the kick-ass Recruiter / Project Manager / Author / Dancer / Rocket Scientist / CEO you really are. This isn't the first bout of writer's block you've ever had and it won't be the last, you got this!
Trust me, after all – I got that degree, in the end, didn’t I 😉
*No horses were harmed in the writing or this post.
10. Bonus step - set time aside to watch your fave inspirational movie. Socially acceptable personal example: Erin Brockovich. Truthful personal example: Legally Blonde.But that’s just me (and Phil Dunphy).