As writers, we constantly face multiple challenges of various kinds. From writer’s block to looming deadlines, and from time-management issues to procrastination, a writer’s life is full of diverging paths requiring our attention.
However, those diverging paths are a problem in and of themselves.
If you’re someone that writes on a regular basis, you might have experienced frame switching, aka context switching. Frame switching is what happens when you quickly go from one task to another and lose momentum for the task that you were originally doing. As you can guess, losing momentum isn’t great news for productivity or the quality of your writing.
In this post I will show you how to avoid frame switching using a productivity technique called preplanning. Preplanning will help you to make sure that you finish your articles within your desired time frames, and improve the overall quality of your writing.
Before we see what preplanning is and how it can help you, it would be fruitful to take a closer look at the dynamics of frame switching.
Let’s say you were writing a 1500-word article for a client, but after your intro and first paragraph, you have to stop and think about what you’re going to write for the rest of the article. Instead of just being focused on writing your article, now you have to stop and go from writing it to planning it out, and then eventually back to writing it again.
Constant stoppages are seldom a good thing. When you get into a state of flow, where you’re writing hundreds of words in 10 minutes, you want to stay in that mode so that you can get your articles written as quickly as possible.
Any time you have a context switch and go from writing to brainstorming ideas, you break your momentum. Studies show that it takes up to 25 minutes following an interruption to resume a task.
Constant interruptions can have detrimental effects on your productivity, and we can see the negative impact with a simple example.
As professional writers, we often have an idea of what we want to make per hour. Let’s say we have a client that pays us $100 per 500 words. To make $100 per hour, we need to spend a maximum of 1 hour writing 500 words (including proofreading).
Multiple 25-minute breaks can completely mess up your rhythm and add more time to your work. More time means you will be making less per hour than originally intended.
So, how do we avoid these interruptions?
As we saw, one of the most common reasons that writers end up interrupting their writing flow is that they have to stop and think about what they want to say. When we have to stop and think about anything, it gives our mind a chance to wander. These pauses can lead to prolonged delays, which make completing the article take much longer than needed.
Preplanning is the technique of planning out exactly what you are going to do and how you are going to do it before you sit down to work.
Let’s look at a few simple tips for using preplanning when writing articles.
This step is probably the most obvious thing for preplanning. Even if your client doesn’t require an outline during a pitch, it’s good for you to make an outline for your article before you write it.
It doesn’t need to be very detailed, but you should write down your article’s main points. This way, when it’s time to write your article you can spend all of your time actually writing instead of trying to figure out what you want to write about. You should have a few points for each section of your article, outlining the key things you want to talk about in each section.
Although you can’t anticipate some distractions—for instance, some disturbance in the neighborhood while you’re writing—others you can. It’s crucial, then, to preplan for those distractions and avoid them.
For example, if you know you will need some specific social media texts for your article, fetch them in advance—perhaps copy/pasting the text as a separate file. Don’t visit the page while writing, because social media websites are designed to distract you. Before you know it, you’ve abandoned writing your article and you’re browsing for cat photos instead.
Or, if you’re someone who likes to write while listening to music, it’s a good idea that you create a playlist before you start writing. One of the biggest traps that I’ve personally fallen into is switching songs while I’m writing.
This little action can take you out of your flow and it also opens the door for you to get distracted and start browsing the web or social media. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to YouTube to change a song, started looking through for a song that I like, and ended up getting distracted from my work. You want to eliminate anything that will take you away from writing your article.
Another important tip is to plan out when you are going to take breaks and how long those breaks will be. If you don’t plan ahead, you could end up taking random breaks that end up prolonging the process of writing one article. You want to have a strict schedule, so that you can be sure to finish your articles in a reasonable amount of time and avoid procrastination.
One method I like to use for planning my breaks is the pomodoro technique, a time-management strategy where you break up your work into small repeatable intervals (usually about 25 minutes each) with small breaks in between. The idea is that you make your work into a series of short sprints, rather than a marathon.
By taking breaks at regular, predetermined intervals, you ensure that your mind remains fresh and you avoid losing focus. Most of us have experienced a situation where we sat down to work but our mind just kept wondering. Inability to focus is usually a sign that we need to take a break.
Alternatively, you may find it better to plan your breaks around when you complete certain parts of your articles. For example, you may decide to take a break after your intro and every subsequent paragraph rather than using a time interval.
Last but not least, pick a location with little or no distractions. Make sure you’re in an environment where you can work uninterrupted. If you’re at home and there are people around or background noise, it’s very easy to get distracted.
If possible, go somewhere quiet, like a library, so that you can focus. Being able to focus completely on your writing will make you much more effective.
If leaving home isn’t possible, you can always try to find a quiet room in your house or plan it so that you are working when you know there aren’t going to be many people home. This way you can avoid as many situations as you can where you will be taken out of your focus.
Preplanning is all about planning out what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it in advance. When you preplan your work, you can focus solely on your writing and avoid frame switching.
The results of frame switching (or context switching) are truly detrimental. When you constantly jump from one task to another, your efficiency is significantly less compared to when focusing on one task. Considering that it takes about 25 minutes following an interruption to restart the original task you were doing, your productivity can take a massive hit.
As a professional writer paid based on the amount of words you write, adding multiple interruptions can cut your hourly rate in half if you aren’t careful. That’s why it’s important to preplan what you’re going to do so that you can get your writing done with minimal interruptions. Preplanning requires some simple but efficient steps that can help you get the highest hourly rate possible for your work.
Shimon Brathwaite is a cybersecurity professional, Consultant, and Author at securitymadesimple. In addition to cybersecurity he is a freelance writer that writes on technology, fitness, social issues and many other topics of interest.