1. Develop a Clear Goal
Before beginning any project, sit down and think about what you want to accomplish. If you’re an undergraduate, think about what grade you want to receive and what you need to do to achieve it. If you’re a researcher, establish your problem and design your research questions before anything else. If you’re a novelist, think about why you’re writing your book, who your audience is, and what you have to do to make them happy. A goal helps focus you and your work. Too many people start projects before accurately identifying their goals, and this leads them to waste too much time on ideas and writing things that aren’t relevant.
Once you have a clear picture of your goal—and before beginning the project—you should always brainstorm (i.e., use free association to generate new ideas). There are a few ways you can do this. The classic way is to write interconnecting thought bubbles on a large piece of paper. Others like to make lists. If you’re in a group, bouncing ideas off on one another is an excellent method. The key is that brainstorming helps you think up ideas that you might not have otherwise. It stimulates creativity and gives you more information to work with when assembling your piece and ultimately speeds up the process.
Some people don’t like to outline their work. Some people also don’t like writing quickly and efficiently. If you’re on a tight deadline or you just want to improve your productivity, I highly recommend outlining your work. Creating an outline, first of all, helps you see the big picture of your work, but, more important—as with setting goals—it helps you to see the wrong paths so you don’t waste time on them. With a good outline, you can save hours in rewriting text that just doesn’t help you do what you need to do.
4. Break Up Your Work into Smaller, Easier Steps
A 5,000-word essay on bonobo mating habits may seem daunting at first, even impossible. But if you break it down into sections and work at them one and a time, it seems much more doable. A 500-word introduction isn’t so bad. Neither is a 2,000-word literature review. You can even break sections down further. Maybe just tell yourself you must do 500 words on bonobo monogamy or 500 words on conflict resolution. Having clear, easy-to-achieve objectives also helps you stay motivated.
Log out of Facebook. Unplug the Internet. Turn off your phone. Lock your door, and shutter the window. Basically, remove all distractions. With the Internet, we live in a limitlessly entertaining world, and unless you’re strict with yourself, it can be hard to tune it out and focus on what you have to do. If you simply can’t resist the call of the new Daredevil episode, try setting strict time limits with yourself. Tell yourself you won’t get to that next episode until you finish a solid hour of work. Studies show that people are only good at concentrating for ninety minutes at a time on any one task before their productivity wanes. So give yourself these ninety-minute windows. Then, if you’re successful, treat yourself to one of those delicious distractions.
6. Don’t Let Writer’s Block Slow You Down
If you’re stuck on something, try working on another portion of your work instead. If you’re writing a novel and get stuck on chapter 2, try writing something in chapter 3, or even the ending if you’ve already properly outlined it. If you’re working on a thesis and you can’t wrap your head around the Method section, start on the Discussion instead. This way, you aren’t trapped staring at that blinking cursor for hours (and thus wasting time). You’ll also find, more often than not, that when you eventually come back to what you were stuck on, it’ll come easier now that you have a better picture of what comes next.
We will get your free sample back in six hours!