Did you know there’s a near full-proof way to improve your writing…hang on a sec. Just got a text.
Anyway, you can start right now and it doesn’t require…excuse me, I think I just got the email I’ve been waiting for all morning.
OK, I’m back. There’s no grammar involved and…oh, major client calling. Gotta take this.
By now you’ve likely guessed the button you can push to become a better writer almost instantly. It’s the button that silences the electronic device that’s distracting you. The text ting. The email notice. The buzz from that incoming call.
Create the conditions that are conducive to good writing and your work-related communications are much more likely to hit their mark.
The most important pre-writing step you can take is to eliminate distractions.
You’ve heard this a million times before: there’s no such thing as efficient multi-tasking. Go ahead and roll your eyes. I’ve got some science on my side.
First, what’s your motivation to even bother with this whole “no distractions” thing? Poor writing might cost you the job of your dreams.
Your employer wants you to write well because it costs a pretty penny when you can’t. A survey of Business Roundtable members–the executives of America’s leading corporations–reveals they spend some $3 billion a year on remedial writing training. Almost all of that investment goes to train current employees, not new hires.
To nip the problem before it starts, 80% of surveyed companies work to identify weak writers during the hiring process. Fifty percent also take writing into account when they make promotions.
Bottom line: good writing can take you places.
Now on to the science that shows why you should tame your technology to become a better writer.
Distractions drain your intellectual mojo.
Not all distractions, mind you. Minimal harm is done if you’re interrupted in the middle of a task by another short, low-demand activity, according to research by Gloria Mark, professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine.
If your colleague pops in to confirm that you’re on for lunch, you can slip back into the groove of writing that report. Mark finds this is also true if an interruption deals with the same topic–say, pausing to look up a statistic for your report.
But if you have to switch your cognitive resources to a completely different topic, it takes an average of 23 minutes to bring your full attention back to the task. Mark finds that people switch between unrelated small tasks an average of every three minutes and five seconds. Workers jump between entire projects every 10 and a half minutes.
Do the math. That’s a major chunk of the work day spent on just refocusing.
Along the same lines, a group of management experts studied the psychic costs when workers switch between tasks that require different mindsets. To change your mindset, you must shift to a different perspective or way of thinking to perform a new activity.
Results show that frequent mindset shifts throughout the day have a negative impact on workers’ persistence, focus, and patience. The management gurus recommend workday schedules that group together activities that require the same mindset.
If fighting off distractions seems like an epic slog, you don’t have to go it alone. Software and techniques abound to help you ignore your worst electronic distractions…or at least organize them to work in your favor.
Your new-found freedom and focus will make you a better writer. And good writing is one way you’ll make your mark at work.