6 Tricks for Copywriters to Minimize Interruptions
A copywriting colleague used to keep a folder he called, “The Graveyard of Good Ideas.” He filled it with half-thoughts, messy-concepts and opening lines he’d been in the middle of when he suddenly had to take an important phone call. Or respond to an email. Or stop because the boss stuck his head in the door and needed something urgently.
Every writer knows how maddening it is to be speeding along on an Acela train of thought, with ideas going off like firecrackers in your brain and it’s all your fingers can do to keep up, when — phhhhttt — the phone rings, an email pops up, somebody interrupts you with something that’s urgent for them, but, for you, is a bucket of cold water splashed on your blazing fire of creativity.
It’s not just annoying — it’s actually bad for you. According to the Harvard Business Review, most workers are interrupted as many as 50 to 60 times a day. Even worse, about 80% of the interruptions are not very important. “As a result, people are spending little time in what psychologists call 'the flow state,' a space where people are up to five times more productive.”
The Harvard Business Review also said that after this “task switching,” it can take as much as 23 minutes to get back into the flow state, which can add up to a 40% loss of productivity over the course of a day.
All these interruptions also increase workplace stress because they make workers feel that their jobs have “a high degree of demand with little control,” according to the American Institute of Stress.
So how do you shut out the 101 distractions that intrude on your concentration every day? Sadly, in the real world, no system can be foolproof. But here are a few tricks you can try to minimize interruptions so the world will, as James Thurber put it, “Let your mind alone.”
1. Turn Off the Internet
If you need to research something for your project, do it before you start the actual writing. If the need for a new fact comes while you’re writing, make a note of it and go back online after the first draft is done.
2. Turn on Some Music
Music can help you get in “the zone” by boosting your serotonin and dopamine levels and by drowning out ambient office sounds. Just make sure it’s music that can serve as white noise for you and not yet another distraction. Whether that’s crashing death metal or soft binaural beats is up to you. (If you want to try something different, try some tongue drum music. It works great for me.)
3. Try Noise-Canceling Headphones
The models with the active canceling feature create their own white noise that can block out a range of sound levels. Just be sure they don’t cancel noises that might be important. Like fire alarms.
4. Go Outside
There’s research that shows greenery can boost creativity, so unleash your inner Thoreau by working from a park bench, a rock by the river or your kid’s tree house. Remember, you don’t need the Internet when you’re writing!
5. Put the Word Out
Hang a “do not disturb” sign on your door, turn on your out-of-office notification, or set a specific writing schedule and notify your colleagues that they interrupt you at their peril during those hours. You might even try making a general announcement at your next staff meeting, if you work with understanding team members.
6. 'Batch Check' Your Messages on a Schedule
While your emails, texts, social media and other notifications are turned off, make sure you don’t miss important messages by setting a timer to review all your incoming messages every half-hour or so. And check them all at once instead of sporadically checking them individually and driving yourself crazy.
If distractions are an ongoing challenge in your workplace, chances are you’re not alone. You may want to address this as a larger issue with the leaders of your group. It could benefit everyone. As this final quote from the Harvard Business Review notes, “Organizations that build a culture around minimizing distractions will enjoy the compounding benefit of a focused workforce and will leave their people feeling less stressed and ultimately more fulfilled.”
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.