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Overcoming writer's block

When deadlines loom, take a break. This isn't as unhelpful as it sounds.

Lack of sleep and tiredness can lead to brain fog which in turn can lead to 'writer's block' and when one is in the business of writing, that’s a bit inconvenient. However, all industries have their moments where anything from a minor nuisance to a crisis can just happen, and business owners through to huge corporates need to have at the very minimum a backup plan, and at the upper end a crisis communication and business continuity plan, with a versatile and skilled team capable of swinging into action.

Some events are hefty and can set off a chain of disruption, for example, the mechanical fault at the bag check at Auckland Airport at Christmas, which led to thousands of grumpy and stressed travellers congested in the terminals and multiple flights delayed.  Other disruptions pale by comparison; for example, when the local gelato shop runs out of double chocolate, although double chocolate gelato lovers might disagree with my categorisation of this as an extremely low-level, low-risk emergency.

The obvious solution for writer’s block would be to work on insomnia, but in my case this has been a lifelong problem that becomes even more supercharged by hot and humid summer nights. Solutions for the aforementioned bag drop scenario might be that business continuity, communications and risk management personnel ensure bag handling systems are fixed, communication is on-point and a robust crisis plan is in place. And the gelato shop might like to review its inventory and ordering processes so that chocolate gelato is always available. 

But this blog isn’t about crisis management or chocolate gelato; at least one of these things will keep for another day. This is about sleepiness or mental disorderliness in the workplace, so here are some of my issues and the tried and true remedies I use when unfocused and up against a deadline.

1. Even Tough Guys and Tough Gals need breaks

Here's the issue ...

You are nodding off. If you've been trying to Tough-Guy-Tough-Gal it through the day without taking any breaks, there will be consequences! Likewise, maybe you've been working on the same piece of work all day or perhaps your workplace is hot and you start to feel sluggish. If this sounds like you then stop doing what you are doing … NOW!  Show your brain and body that you appreciate them and that you value their support.

And the remedy...

Take. A. Break! I cannot stress this enough. Go for a brisk walk around the block or do a bit of admin (pay bills, update your diary, catch up on the news). Our brains are not programmed to do the same thing all day long without a break and therefore they will eventually call “Time” and tell you in both tangible and subliminal ways that you need to change it up a bit and do something else. Only then, when you have had said break, will you be able to get back to business.

2. You are just plain tired

Here's the issue ... 

You worked late last night (perhaps till well after midnight) and started the next morning before the sun came up, or you’ve eaten a pasta and bread lunch that lands you in a carb-coma right on 3:00pm but for some unfathomable reason wouldn't even get a yawn out of you when it's 3:00am and you're desperate for sleep.

So now you’re at your desk doing the head-bounce… you all know the one! You feel your head drop then it wakes you on the upwards trajectory and within a split second you turn into a crazy over-animated person trying to pretend you were anything but asleep. You scratch your head, you complain about something as if you’ve just read an affronting email, you doodle something onto a pad and tell yourself and everyone who can hear you that you must remember to stop off for green beans on the way home.  You might as well delete that strategy from your arsenal. Everyone knows you’ve been snoozing, so let’s just move on to the remedy, shall we?

And the remedy...

At these times, nothing can help me but a short burst of super sleep. A 12-minute power nap is the only thing that will do the trick. This won’t be an option at all workplaces but thankfully all the spaces I work out of including the Meraki Workspace when I’m in Cambridge have little quiet zones conducive to resting.  I set my alarm, head for the sofa, and 12 minutes later I’m ready to go back to work.

3. Procrastination and chaotic thoughts

Here's the issue ... 

Your thoughts just won’t settle. You’re meant to be working and deadlines await, but you’ve got monkey mind. What will you cook for dinner? Should you go to the gym after work or is it too hot? You forgot to book your car in for a service and it’s way overdue. You're feeling stressed about the presentation you have to give  .. tomorrow. You get the picture?

And the remedy...

You need to get on top of those thoughts. Huffy puffy exercise like a brisk walk around the block can actually burn off stress hormones and help you to focus better.

Likewise you could opt for something less strenuous but no less effective such as 10 minutes of meditation, deep breathing or mindfulness. One of my clients, Rachel from Sparkhouse, leads workshops on mindfulness including Workplace workshops. Rachel says the most valuable productivity tool we have is our ability to pay attention or focus, and mindful awareness enhances productivity and output by reducing distractions, interruptions and multi-tasking.

Final words ...  

These are just some of the issues and remedies in my world, but being aware of the symptom (writer’s block), the cause and the appropriate remedy is a huge help when it comes to meeting a deadline when you can't think clearly. So, with all this in mind, I’m now going to employ one more remedy that I didn’t mention earlier and it’s one that many of us can relate to  …. a cup of coffee and a biscuit, or maybe even two biscuits. Sometimes you just won't feel like smashing out a walk or having a nap or doing a bit of meditation - and that’s okay too. Perfectionism is boring.

(Let me know what you do to recharge and get your productivity back on track. I'd love to hear your thoughts.)

Bye for now,
Maria