This is a guest contribution from Ellen Jackson of Potential Psychology.
Are you ready to rock a brilliant blog post? Do you want to write faster, think more creatively, just do it all better?
Writing is a thinking task. It requires creativity and problem solving. We need to process information, retrieve things from memory, read, develop ideas, research, plan and review. We’re considering the next word as we’re writing this one, and we’re managing our own thoughts and feelings about the process and results as we go. On top of all of this we’re typing or handwriting and probably flicking back and forth in different browsers and applications. Your brain is working hard here, people.
To get into the writing zone in which the ideas come easily, you’re not distracted by every little thing and the brilliance flows from brain to fingertips, it helps to provide your mind with the right setup. You need to give it the time, space and environment to work at its best.
Here are five tips from psychology to get you in the blogging zone.
1. Keep things quiet, but not too quiet.
Different people cope better with different levels of noise but we know from studies that if you want to get creative you need just the right amount of background sound.
If the ambient noise in your work space creeps up above about 85 decibels (about the sound of a large truck passing close by) your brain is too busy and distracted for fresh ideas and ‘a-ha’ moments. You can’t think creatively with that kind of sound.
If it’s too quiet though your brain doesn’t make it into the creativity zone. We need some sound to kick the brain into gear and get those ideas flowing. Too quiet and we tend to be distracted by our own thoughts.
The ideal ambient noise for creativity is around 70 decibels. That’s the sound of the shower running, the dishwasher humming or maybe a lawn mower out in the yard. A bit of background sound without it getting in your ear.
Different people will find different types of sound distracting. I’m writing this in a busy café surrounded by plenty of chatter and background noise. It’s perfect for me. My mind feels cocooned by the ambient noise and I can focus fully on my ideas.
Others might find the content of close conversation distracting and be better off with white noise like distant traffic, bird song or kids playing (as long as they’re not yours and on their way to disturb you).
Tip: If you’re trying to find the right noise type and level for you, play around with it. Think about when and where you’re at your creative best. What type of noise surrounds you? Turn the music up. Turn it down. Change rooms. Change locations. Try a white noise app. Experiment and find what works for you.
2. Get the timing right.
Every one of us operates on an internal body schedule known as circadian rhythm. These rhythms roughly follow a 24 hour cycle and they respond primarily to light and dark in our environment. Some of us function better in the morning and others work at our best in the evening and at night. (Not sure whether you’re a morning or night person? Try this questionnaire).
There’s some research that suggests that morning is the best time for creativity for everyone, regardless of whether you’re an early bird or a night owl. Your willpower is stronger in the morning (it’s a finite resource and may not stick with you all the way til an evening writing session) and the creative connections in the brain fire more readily in the early hours of the day, just after sleep.
If you want to get analytical, however – the type of thought required for editing – you can leave that til later in the day when those neurons have settled down and are ready for more methodical, structured thought.
Tip: Keep a journal of when your best ideas come to you (waterproof notepads do exist for the shower creatives). Do this for a week or more and look for patterns. Find ways to capture the ideas when they land. According to some research, morning people might get their best ideas at night and night owls in the morning. It’s something to do with the brain being better at creativity when it’s a little fuzzy.
Take note of your best times for editing and other blog tasks too. If you can plan your day around when your mind works best for each type of task you’ll improve your efficiency.
3. Engage in rituals.
Legend has it that Victor Hugo, to avoid procrastination and get down to writing, would strip off and instruct his valet to hide his clothes so that he couldn’t leave the house. This may or may not work for you depending on the availability of a valet but you may have other rituals that get you into the writing frame of mind.
Maybe you always use a particular pen and notebook, or you like to be seated by a window with a view of the street. You might work best after exercising or in your PJs. I get my writing mojo in my favourite café after a yoga class.
Rituals are important because they serve as ‘cognitive cues’, signals to the mind that a particular activity is about to take place and it needs to get into the zone. It creates an association between the steps you take as part of your ritual and a preparedness to knuckle down and get stuff done.
Tip: The key to creating a successful blogging ritual is consistency. You need to enact and repeat the same steps over and over to make it work. Some of you might write every day. Others will only write in a certain location. Your task is to create your writing ritual, put it into practice and repeat it again and again.
4. Ditch the phone.
As any practised procrastinator will tell you, distraction is the enemy of productivity. When you’re sitting at your desk ready to write there is no end to tiny tasks that loom up and demand your instant attention. Junk mail is fascinating. Desk items require rearranging. You may even be tempted to work on your taxes.
To write a brilliant blog post you need focus and attention. You need to train that brain on the task at hand and resist the urge to be distracted by the many little items tempting you, particularly the technology that goes ding and beep, calling you with a message, notification or email.
Cruelly, the part of your brain that you need most to focus your attention and do all of the complex thinking that writing entails (the pre-frontal cortex) is also the part of the brain that is most easily distracted. Your pre-frontal cortex loves a distraction, particularly if it’s offering something novel and entertaining. Cat videos come to mind.
Don’t think you can multi-task either. Every time you are distracted from your blogging task you lose focus and productivity. It takes longer and longer for the brain to switch back into work mode. Studies have shown that there is no such thing as muti-tasking as far as the brain is concerned. It can’t do two things at once. It can only switch quickly from one task to the other and this is inefficient and exhausting.
Tip: To increase your efficiency, remove as many distractions as you can from your work space. Switch the phone off or leave it in another room. Use only the apps or programs that you absolutely need to or set yourself up with a program like StayFocusd that locks you out of websites that you have nominated as time wasters.
To manage distracting thoughts or a busy brain trying paying attention to your attention. Acknowledge that your mind will wander and you will be distracted, particularly when your blogging task is challenging. When you notice yourself thinking about something other than the task at hand or looking around for distraction, remind yourself that it’s just a normal brain doing its thing and gently bring your attention back to where it’s meant to be. Now get back to work.
5. Find your flow.
There’s a psychological phenomenon called ‘flow.’ You might have heard of it. When you’re in flow (known also as ‘the zone’) you’re in an optimal state of consciousness for getting stuff done with the added bonus of feeling great. You’re not thinking, you’re just doing. Time disappears. Nothing distracts you and the quality of your output is unparalleled. When you’re in flow, you’re on fire.
The beauty of flow is that when we’re in it we lose self-consciousness and inhibition about what we’re doing. A segment of that pesky pre-frontal cortex deactivates and quietens our inner critic. We are free to be more creative, to think more expansively, to worry less about what we’re writing and whether it’s any good.
The experience of flow also causes of a whole avalanche of happy hormones and neurochemicals to release into the brain which further enhances our productivity and makes us feel good at the same time. It’s a great place to be.
Tip: To find your flow you need to get the balance of challenge and skill for the task just right. Challenging tasks increase the likelihood that you’ll drop into flow and stay there. If you’re not challenged, you get bored and boredom leads to distraction. If you’re too challenged and your skills aren’t up to the task, that’s when anxiety sets in and you can’t work effectively when you’re anxious.
Training your focus and attention when you’re blogging will also help. Avoiding those distractions and staying mindful and focused will improve your chances of getting into the flow state.
Finally, do what you love as much as you can. ‘Good work’ as it’s known by positive psychologists aligns our strengths, out interests, our values and our sense of meaning and purpose. It’s the kind of work that fully engages us. When you’re doing something you love you’re in the right zone for flow and you’ll be rocking those brilliant blog posts in no time.
3 is clever and 4 is dead on.
I just wrote my 100th eBook using the “no distraction” principle. Piece of cake….because I blocked out distraction by writing offline, in a quiet spot, and with nothing pulling my attention from writing. I’ve published 160 posts to my blog. The 160 posts and 100 eBooks were written in a year. These tips work, and they work well! I am also a bear on rituals, and I’d add, read like mad. Reading has increased my creativity tremendously…..note: I received some fab endorsements from NY Times best selling authors and top bloggers, so they are quality reads too ;)
Thanks for the inspired share!
Thanks Ryan. So glad these tips work for you too – and to great effect! I love to reading as well. I think we definitely need the input of others’ ideas and thoughts to trigger our creativity. I’m finding podcasts are doing the same for me. Do you have favourite podcasts? I’m really enjoying Scott Barry Kaufman’s The Psychology Podcast but I am a psychology-nerd. Thanks again for your feedback.
Hi Ellen, I agree with most points that you made above. However I am not too sure about humans following a strict Cicardian cycle. Research indicates that most people may be both owls and storks and manage their sleep cycles quite well be it either night or day.
Hi Joseph, thanks for reading. You’re right, many of us are neither early bird nor night owl but somewhere in between and we can train ourselves to be a little more one or the other by changing our environment. Interestingly almost every living thing operates on a roughly (not strictly) 24 hour cycle, including plants. We’re a lot more attuned to nature and its cycles than we often think we are.
Hi Ellen, thanks for the clarification. What do you think is better? Being a night person or a day person or does it not really matter too much?
I don’t think it matters Joseph. The key is probably figuring out which you are and then working with that. I’m an ‘intermediate’ so I’m at my best during business hours. Did you try the questionnaire?
Not yet but I am about to. Will let you know. But I guess I am an owl.
I wanted to comment on the decibel levels noted. I am a machine design engineer – 85 Db is not the noise of a truck passing by, it is the level you need to stay under so your hearing is not impaired. If I design a machine that operates at a noise level over 85 Db, anyone operating that equipment is required to wear hearing protection. I feel your creative zone may require something a bit lower than that…
Hi Beth, thanks for your thoughts. I used this as my reference for the noise levels. http://www.industrialnoisecontrol.com/comparative-noise-examples.htm You’re absolutely right, 85 Db would be way too loud to concentrate and be creative. According to the research the ideal noise level for creativity is about 70 Db which I understand to be equivalent to background music in a living room.
Thank you so much for this Post. I am a new Blogger, trying to learn so much all a once. Some times its overwhelming. Trying to stay focused is sometimes hard. I work full time, and find that I wake up in the middle of the night with my mind going 100 miles/hr. That seems to be when I can write. I also find I am distracted by new emails I signed up for. Most of them are Blogging How To’s. I have so many interest I want to write about everything. I just have to stay focused, because you can’t become a great Blogger if you never write anything, right? So instead of reading I need to be writing. Thanks once again, and if you write anything on linking (which I don’t understand) let me know, I will take time out to read it. Donna
Thanks so much for your comment Donna. I started blogging about a year ago and I started just with one post. I didn’t know what else to write. I just started with the first one that came to me. Once I’d done that I started to think about the next one, learning a lot as I went along. It’s all about small steps. Best of luck with it. It’s a whole lot of fun.
I think you are right, it is one step at a time. This is something I needed to do a long time ago. But I also think God puts us where we need to be, and we do things in His time. So by waiting He gave me a lot to be thankful for, and also a lot to write about. It is a whole lot of fun, and it keeps the mind going. I will keep reading your Blog, and if you get a chance check out mine. I’m always open for suggestions. Thanks, Donna
As far as I am concerned, I’ve noted that my ideas are clearer in the morning. Therefore, I always write blog posts in the morning. When I try in the afternoon, I am more easily distracted and feel tired more quickly. I think that it is important to know your own rhythm in order to be more efficient et avoid loosing time.
I’d love to be a morning person Audrey but I find that my brain doesn’t work terribly well until after about 9am. There is some research into brain activity that suggests that a lot of people are at their creative best in the morning. Also your willpower is finite and if you’ve been working hard all day your ability to pay attention and not get distracted falls off as the day goes on. You’re absolutely right, it’s very helpful to be attuned to your own rhythms and to work with what works best for you.
Great tips on how to write better posts. I’m not good at writing articles and I was looking for an article that can teach me how to get into the minds of potential customers psychologically to improve conversion rates.
Thanks for the great article :)
Hi Usman. There’s a great article here on ProBlogger https://problogger.com/the-secret-motivations-that-drive-your-customers/ that looks at consumer psychology and blogging. Good luck and thanks for reading.
Great tips. I make sure I switch off all of my social media notifications AND my email – because the temptation to check them every time the phone pings with an announcement is just too much for me.
I really like the idea of engaging in rituals – I’m definitely not good enough at doing that.
It’s very easy to get distracted by social media isn’t it Heather. I’m guilty of that too. Turning off all notifications is a great idea. I tend to put my phone in another room too and disconnecting my computer from the wifi if I really need to focus on a task.
Rituals are wonderfully helpful. Good luck!
Great post! Such amazing visuals that keeps you engaged right till the very end. I must say, I am also a huge fan of the “Click to Tweets”! I can go on a click to tweet rampage when there are this many great quotes/clickables. This really makes the article so engaging.
The giveaway option is something I have just recently been focusing on more with my own posts. I actually find this to be a really fun part of blogging – it’s a chance to give the readers an amazing take-away plus it gives me the opportunity to showcase more of my non-blogging work, and what they could have access to when working with me one-on-one.
The part I am still very new at is continuing the conversation! Where are some of the best places to connect with other entrepreneurs/bloggers? What communities do you suggest for sharing content and really connecting with people who can share their advice and experience?
Thanks so much!
I concur with most focuses that you made above. On the other hand I am not very beyond any doubt about people taking after a strict Cicardian cycle. Examination demonstrates that the vast majority may be both owls and storks and deal with their rest cycles great be it either night or day.
Excellent post, thankyou.
I personally like to know that the world is there while writing which fits with your ideas about noise. As an extension of that idea
I remember talking to a Feng Shui expert who said that some people need to work in quite a messy environment in order to feel more creative generally. So best not to tidy up in order to write!
I never have a tidy desk Jean :-) I think your preference for neat or messy will depend on your personality so it’s whatever works best for you. Thanks for your thoughts.
Hi Ellen, very informative post. I dont have a specific ritual yet, I may need to create one soon. Thanks.
Glad you liked it Zu. Rituals certainly do help and they don’t need to be complicated. You might find that you do already have some but you’re not aware of them yet. Try noticing what you do when you work at your best. Does it differ every time or are there some similarities? Best of luck!
Looks like we are talking about how to create a positive habit. A great book to read – Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin. It’s all about the nature of habits, how they are formed, how we can harness the process for our betterment, what type of habit formation works best for our style. Very good. How to create a strategically designed habit also sounds like something parents can teach their children. Good article here. To the point!
It’s absolutely about positive habits Diana. Gretchen Rubin’s stuff is great isn’t it? Glad you liked the article. Thanks for your thoughts.
I sometimes get up at 5am and have an hour or an hour and a half to work BEFORE anyone is else is up and before I have to do anything for anyone. I get the best flow at that time, it’s such a deep pleasure.
Hi Seana! I would so love to be a morning person and to rise with the birds to get work done before the kids get up and the day gets going. It always sounds glorious but my few attempts to create morning habits have failed pretty dismally. Turns out I’m a ‘business hours’ girl rather than an early bird or a night owl. Enjoy that wonderful early morning flow. I’m jealous!
Thanks Ellen for the great post.
One of the tools I use for ‘distraction free’ writing is a writing application called ‘Write Monkey’. It is very simple and doesn’t show your spelling mistakes, or grammer etc. You can just write without being told your errors.
You can check out the errors later, but I just love this tool. It has been a great boost to my productivity.
Thanks so much for the tip Barry. Sounds like a great tool. I’m very guilty of editing as I go, I suspect as a form of procrastination. I’ll try this out and I know it’s better for your creative flow to just write, write, write. Thanks for your input.
Don’t ever mess with the zone! Once you’re in it, strike while the iron is hot.
Absolutely Norm! Find it and stick there for as long as you can :-)
A very helpful guide Ellen,
Writing is one big task that lots of people usually find very difficult and if you must achieve any meaningful result from it, you must avoid distractions at all cost.
With all the shiny and disturbing things around us today, its usually very difficult to flow very well while writing but i think the first step towards ensuring a less distracting environment is getting rid of your cell phone once you’re ready to write also, do allow any sought of gadget to be close to you at that point until you’re done.
Finding your own flow and perfect timing is very advisable as this will really be helpful.
Thanks for sharing.
There are so many distractions around us aren’t there Theodore? And it’s so easy to let ourselves be distracted by them. I hope you find your flow and perfect timing. All the best, Ellen.
What a great post. I was reading and thinking yeah that’s what I do. I love my mornings for writing and I am no longer easily distracted because once the morning is over I can be and do whatever it is I like. When I get a little stuck on my subject matter I bring in the big guns. Classical music and I sniff on spearmint or peppermint oil, both give me clarity and I get lost in my writing and hit the flow you talk about.
I always wonder how I can continually achieve this state, however I also recognise that it is a gift and a blessing. When it comes I appreciate it otherwise I just go about my routine.
I really do think when your mind has a writing routine, it does not matter how you feel from one day to the next you do your writing in your set times and progress is made. Thanks for a wonderful post.
Sounds like you have fantastic writing rituals and routine in place Rachel. Great work! I love that you see the ‘flow’ experience as a gift too. It is like that isn’t it? Thanks for your thoughts on my post. Ellen.
Ellen, I’ve read countless posts like this one to “help increase productivity”, but none as beautifully put as yours. Your tips are spot-on and highly relatable. This is a kind of post I’d love to share across my social channels (personal & my company’s – I run a copywriting & content marketing agency) and email to my team. Thank you so much! Keep it up!
Thank you for such lovely and kind feedback Julia. You’ve made my day and inspired me to write more. I hope your connections enjoy the article too. With many thanks again, Ellen.
That engaging in rituals got me thinking for a while, until I read it all. Personally, I have come to realize my mobile phone is always a distraction when ever I want to write. What do I do, I simply give it to the kid next door to play games with. I love this post I must confess.
That’s a great idea to give your phone to the kid next door James. I love it! I’m so glad you liked the post. Best of luck with your writing. Ellen.
Great tips in this post. But sometimes I find I just have to (to quote Nike) force myself to “just do it”, regardless of whether it’s the right time of day or whether there’s distractions or not. Blogging regularly is a muscle that needs to be trained, so try to write every day.. and of course publish it. I’m certainly guilty of sitting on blog posts for months “perfecting” them, when really there’s no such thing as a perfect post.. and besides “perfect” leaves no room for conversation.
Wonderful tips you’ve shared with us. Thank you.
These are so accurate. I wish I had valet to hide my clothes though!
Brilliant post, tips to help with the anxiety of being a blogger. More please!
Glad you liked it Jenn. There are more coming!
Disappointing article. Title should be “How to Prepare For Writing Brilliant Blog Posts: 5 Tips from Psychology”. Difference between preparing for something and actually doing it.