What do you do when you have a big brief due? Procrastinate until the last minute? Work on it off-and-on through the week? Find out why you may want to set time aside and give yourself a mini-retreat to get that writing project done faster and better.
I recently returned from a writing retreat in beautiful rural Vermont. For 5 days, there was nothing to do but eat (really good food), walk, and write. With 6 writers in the house, there were people to bounce ideas off of, receive criticism, and inspire one another to keep writing. It was a beautiful departure from the everyday grind. It was also immensely productive. During those 5 days, I wrote over 12,000 words. That’s 22 pages toward a long-form novel I’ve been working on for the better part of a year.
Work at your law firm probably doesn’t allow you to fly to Vermont every time you have a big brief due or need to write a law journal article. But the lessons I learned at that retreat can help you get focused and produce your best work product.
Block Out Time to Write
The bigger your writing project, the more time you know it is going to take to get it done. We have all trusted that we will “get to it” only to find it’s Friday afternoon and we have had dozens of other things come up instead. We end up working on those big projects when we are tired and just want to get home.
The writing retreat was great for getting around to a project that never seemed to take priority. Because it was out-of-state, it forced me to dedicate time to it, and to set aside other tasks – or get them done in advance – so they couldn’t interfere with my writing.
You probably won’t be able to set aside 5 days for your project, nor will you likely need to. But giving yourself a mini-retreat means blocking out time to write on your calendar so it takes priority over other issues that could arise. Estimate how long your project will take, then pull out your calendar and schedule it. Consider when you write best, and other demands on your attention and your schedule to find a time you can truly dig in.
This should be as serious a commitment as a board meeting or client consultation. Just because it is a meeting with yourself, don’t reschedule on yourself unless it is an absolute emergency. Even if that happens, reschedule right away, rather than leaving the timing to chance.
Remove Distractions to Find Your Writing Flow
Running a law firm can often be consumed with responding to client emergencies and putting out fires. But when it comes time to write a big brief or article, all those distractions promise to interrupt your train of thought. Research suggests that it can take a long time – sometimes even a half hour – to recover from an interruption and get back into your writing flow.
The writing retreat reduced distractions to a minimum. There were no client calls, no walk-ins. Even emails were limited by the spotty Internet connection. Without interruptions, I was able to focus on my work, finding and staying in my writing flow.
Even if you can’t get away, you can create a mini-retreat feeling by isolating yourself from distractions. Set your phone to Do Not Disturb. Close your email, and your social media accounts. Tell your secretary or co-workers you aren’t available – and stick to it. By eliminating distractions, you will be able to make the most of your time and get things done more quickly.
Find a New Space to Write
I don’t know about you, but when I try to write in my office I am constantly distracted by my to-do list. Even when my other work is put away or out of sight, I will still think about that filing that needs to be picked up, or the client consultation that is scheduled later that afternoon.
On retreat, I was removed from my office with all its client distractions, and from the cafe where I usually write blogs. The change of scenery signaled that it was time to focus on something different and enabled me to truly focus on the project at hand.
You don’t have to change states to clear your mind. But if you can, get out of the office entirely. Find a cafe, or check yourself into a local library. By taking yourself away from your normal work space, you can signal your brain that you will be focusing on one task now: the writing at hand.
You don’t have to take a 5-day retreat to make the most of your writing, but you do need to make it a priority in your week. By scheduling your work, removing distractions, and finding a new space to write, you will signal to yourself and your coworkers that it is time to focus. You’ll write faster, and better, without the distractions of everyday office life. And your work-product will improve with your focus.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She provides outsourced brief writing services to solos and small law firms. If you need help getting that big brief done well, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.