Disclaimer: This article should in no way be associated with the great body of work offering factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on copywriting, either.
Between this paragraph and the closing CTA, I’ll wrestle the urge to stare out the window, fiddle with my ballpoint and visit sites that have nothing to do with writing or concentrating. Sure, we’ll reach the end eventually, but who knows how many Wikipedia warrens I’ll burrow down before we get there?
Staying focused on a single task for any length of time can be hard work, but it’s a non-negotiable skill for a writer. Drift into social media inertia or spend too long researching what to have for tea, and that to-do list will spiral — making it more difficult to get your best words down at a pace that suits you.
So, hoping to heed my own advice and not fall victim to irony, here we present a complete guide to staying focused while you write. These tips aren’t only useful for writers, they can help anyone in a creative line of work who needs to stay focused for any long stretch of time.
Declutter Your Mind — And Your Workspace
Forcing concentration is like trying to fall asleep: the more you want it, the less likely it is to happen. Add to that the distractions and diversions of life, and penning even the shortest of blog posts can seem, at times, futile.
And while we’d love to impart a special formula for concentration, sadly, we’re yet to find it ourselves. We do, however, have a few tricks for nurturing focus and decluttering the mind, helping to create the perfect environment for concentration should it rear its head.
Start by removing the obvious distractions. Obtrusive noises like talking can fetter concentration, making it harder to pull the right words from the proverbial grey matter. Finding a quiet space is best, hermit jibes or no.
Next, be ruthless with what you’re allowed to access online, even if that means turning IT teacher and blocking certain sites, at least temporarily. There are several apps out there that let you control access to focus-sapping sites (we’re looking at you, Tasty), so you can plough through a day’s work without being sidelined by the emergence of the latest Red Dead Redemption game. Our favourite of these is Freedom, which lets you block apps and sites across multiple devices for an allotted time.
And finally, keep a tidy house. Whether at home or in the office, a dishevelled workspace can add mental clutter, leaving you feeling distracted and restless.
Make Time to Take a Break
Any copywriter will attest to the mental saturation that comes with rattling out 4k+ words in a single day; that woozy drowsiness that leaves you longing for a swift Wednesday pint. When writing’s your breadwinner, you’ve got to know how to endure it for long stints at a time, and the best way to do that is to not be shy about taking breaks.
Whether it’s making a brew, pacing the corridor or stretching your legs in the fresh air; taking a break will replenish your focus, and help you avoid that nullifying sense of peak-word-count-capacity. As long as whatever you appease yourself with isn’t related to work, you should find your concentration restored when it comes time to dig into that bumper batch of landing pages once more.
I’d recommend taking a break every two hours, giving yourself 5-10 minutes away from your work. Try to avoid any work-related thoughts during this time, so your mind can shut down and restart — potentially with some fresh ideas in tow.
Don’t Edit As You Go
Unless you attended the Kerouac school of spontaneous free writing, few writers can resist the urge to perfect a sentence before moving on to the next. Editing in such an ad hoc way is a matter of perfectionism, and it can be both a blessing and a curse for the modern copywriter.
While it’s essential to write well on the first take, meddling with every sentence as you go can eat up lots of time, and can lead the piece into uncertain waters when you lose track of the original argument. What’s better is to get the bare bones down first, before revisiting each paragraph to flesh out and tart up. This will help you to stay focused on the act of writing, rather than crossing into editorial and proofing duties prematurely.
Alas, this is easier said than done, and old habits die hard. For the fledgling copywriter keen to impress, the need to perfect every word and phrase is natural. Just remember that writing quality is often subjective, and your middling efforts might read like perfection to someone else. And if you must edit as you go, at least try to get through a complete paragraph before you set about tinkering.
Set an Achievable Goal, and Meet It
Gazing down at a lengthy to-do list will do nothing but instil panic, making it even more difficult to get your finger out and focus. So, instead of seeing your workload as an undoable stack of dread, break the lot down into achievable segments that you can wrap up before deadline day.
By recognising what you can feasibly achieve in an hour, a day and a week, you can control expectation and give yourself enough time to work comfortably. It may be that you need to work on multiple tasks over the course of the day to stay focused, or else get one thing properly finished before moving on to the next; whatever works for you, provided it’s a target you can realistically achieve.
A great tip for writers is to set yourself personal deadlines, which you should try hard to meet. At the beginning of the day, I often aim to hit a specific word count by a certain time. This helps to focus the mind, and provides that nudge to sit down, concentrate and get things done.
Nothing focuses the mind like food. If you often find yourself daydreaming about your next meal, or else craving something sweet, why not use these urges to coax your brain into coughing up the goods? Like an obedient pooch, the brain can easily be cajoled with the prospect of an edible treat, helping you to perform at your best when it matters most.
By taking the personal deadline tip one step further, and rewarding yourself with food for a job well done, you’re providing the perfect motivator your mind needs to find focus. Just make sure the snacks you choose won’t hamper your concentration, otherwise you could find yourself facing the dreaded afternoon sugar slump.
If your business needs a team of focused (we promise) copywriters by its side, get in touch with the Banc Media team to find out how we can help you. You can do so at [email protected] or by calling 0345 459 0558.