Get the feeling you’re working more hours but seem to be getting less done? Some of us are doing more work, especially those also trying to homeschool alongside their usual daily routine. For others it’s a struggle to structure a day. Shunted into doing a day job from home, dealing with new clients who work to a different schedule or having lost work is an opportunity to re-think our daily structure. However, trying to create anything new when the mornings and evenings are still dark, outdoors is damp, spring still feels a long way off and the ongoing lockdown encourages feelings of hiberation rather than the energy to focus. Working from home might give an illusion of more control, however, it also means being available for contact from colleagues during regular working hours.
Creative projects, such as writing, require uninterrupted time in an environment where a writer can develop their skills, concentrate and draw on cognitive capabilities. Some may call this “being in the zone” or “in a state of flow”. It’s space to be fully immersive in the poem or story being worked on. It’s not necessarily about writing/typing but chance to think, plot or plan. Getting there isn’t like diving in at the deep end of a swimming pool, more like padding up from the shallow end.
An interruption, such as a phone call, email or message via social media, firstly takes the writer out of their flow and secondly creates a delay in paddling back up to the deep end. Frequent interruptions are not just irritating, but prevent creative work. When you know you’re going to be interrupted, you can leave a scene part-way through or even leave mid-sentence so you know that at the start of your next creative session, you have to finish that scene/sentence and you can get back in the flow fairly quickly. However, unplanned interruptions don’t happen at convenient points.
Unfortunately, asking others not to interrupt is rarely successful. They have to be trained not to, especially children who tend to be trained not to interrupt dad when he’s working but tend not to extend this courtesy to mum. This requires discipline from the writer (although obviously not to the extent of neglecting dependents: your latest masterpiece is not an excuse to ignore everyone else completely).
- Figure out when is the best time for you to write and when it’s not so critical for you to be interrupted. You might want to write from early morning to the start of working from home but be available in the afternoon. If your best time is in the evening, be available in the morning.
- Don’t allow asynchronous communication to become synchronous: messages via email, social media, tools such as Slack, don’t require an immediate response. A message won’t fade because you’ve not responded within five minutes of it being sent. If closing these tools isn’t possible, turn notifications off, make use of ‘out of office’ autoresponses and train others to expect a response when you’re ready.
- Ask whether you actually need to be at a meeting. Often, it’s easy to invite everyone to a meeting, especially when no travel is involved, rather than consider what each individual has to contribute, what each needs to know whether they need to be there. Meetings don’t just take up the time of the duration of the meeting but also preparation and the time taken to get back in the zone afterwards. If it’s a need-to-know situation, might it be better for you just to have the minutes afterwards? If you need to convey information, is that better done via a report circulated beforehand rather than a presentation with questions during the meeting?
- Keep a channel for messages that require quick responses, e.g. a chat tool or phone. If someone needs a quick response, they use this channel. If it can wait, use other channels. You’ll also need to define what will require a quick response.
- Practice not being at others’ beck and call. Anyone who knows me doesn’t phone me. Therefore I know when my phone rings it won’t be urgent so, unless someone has scheduled a call, I will ignore the phone. Clients in different time zones will send messages at their convenience, not yours so the onus is on you to park their message until you are in work mode. Utilise email folders so you can sort messages into ‘urgent’, ‘respond later today’, ‘respond within a week’ and ‘response not needed’.
- Respect your writing time. Occasionally compromise is necessary, but if you let others interrupt with trivial matters, you send the message that your time isn’t important and invite further interruptions.
- Remember each interruption comes with a cost, not just the loss of time taken to deal with it but also the time taken to get back into the rhythm of writing.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.