10 Tips For Writing Well When Your Attention is Split 100 Ways

Guest Post By Leslie O’Flahavan, E-WRITE

Your heart is in the right place. You intend to focus on the important writing tasks on your to-do list: that detailed response to an angry customer’s email, that project proposal you promised to send your boss last Friday, that letter of commendation for the star employee. But people. Just. Keep. Interrupting you. Between Zoom, Slack, Outlook, SMS, and the good old phone, how will you ever get these writing tasks done no less writing well?

In an ideal world, your workday would allow you to focus on your writing. You’d have time, peace, and quiet to focus on your document’s message, organization, and sentence structure. You’d even have a few minutes to gaze out the window, searching for a synonym, while tapping your sharpened No. 2 pencil against the table. In the real world, however, time-starved writers must make do with only 5 or 10 minutes of writing time between interruptions.

Even if you are interrupted all the time, you can still write useful, meaningful emails and documents if you make the most of every small block of writing time your calendar allows. Here are tips and tools for making the most of the little bits of writing time you have.

Use your readers’ questions about your topic to create a quickie outline.

Let’s say you’re writing your manager an email in which you request additional funds to hire three interns next summer instead of the two your department has traditionally hired. In three minutes of writing time, you can list your manager’s questions about this topic:

  • Why do we need an additional intern?
  • How much money are you asking for?
  • Who will supervise this additional intern?
  • What will the third intern do?
  • Is the third intern really worth the expense and time?

This list of reader questions serves as an ad hoc outline of your email. With this list in hand, and another three minutes of writing time, you can write any one of these sections. You don’t have to worry about being interrupted because you don’t have to finish this email in one sitting. You won’t lose your train of thought; you recorded it in the list of reader questions. And the best benefit of all? By recording your reader’s questions, you’ll keep yourself from straying off topic and wasting time (time you don’t have because everyone keeps interrupting you!).

Write short paragraphs.

There’s no “correct” length for a paragraph, but if you write shortish two-to-four-sentence paragraphs instead of longish five-to-seven-sentence paragraphs, you’ll be more able to deal with frequent interruptions. You’ll write those short ‘n sweet paragraphs more quickly, and you’ll be able to reorganize your draft paragraphs more easily. Short paragraphs are more portable than long ones.

Answer this question: “What do I want my reader to do or know after reading this?”

Answer this question before you begin drafting your document or email. Answer it in your head or write your answer on a wrinkled sticky note, but be sure to answer this question! Writing without a clear goal in mind is a time-waster in itself. When you have a crystal clear sense of what your writing should accomplish, you’re better able to cope with interruptions because you always know what you’re writing toward, what the outcome of your writing should be.

Work on your writing when you’re away from your keyboard.

Use non-writing time like the time you spend commuting, taking a walk, or even doing the dishes to think about your writing project. Grapple with writing issues, such as how to phrase a difficult request, while you aren’t writing. Have your phone or a scrap of paper and a pencil nearby, so you can capture what you come up with. Warning: Many of us do our best writing-thinking in the shower! Plan accordingly.

Use grammar checker software.

If you use your software’s built-in grammar checker or an app like Grammarly or the Hemingway app, you’ll spend less time proofreading your work. The app will give you better results than your own eye can achieve. The grammar checker can take some of the proofreading responsibility off your shoulders, so you’ll find those interruptions less bothersome, and your writing will contain fewer embarrassing typos.

Use dictation software.

You might be more efficient with those little five-minute scraps of time if you speak your writing instead of writing your writing. Try Microsoft 365’s Speech Recognition to dictate to your Windows PC or review TechRadar’s list, “Best Dictation Software of 2021,” to learn about other software options. If you like to talk more than you like to write, using dictation software will probably make you a faster—and a happier—writer.

Create a template for anything you write frequently.

How frequently, you ask? I’d say twice per month. If you send the same type of email to your team twice a month, create a template for it. If you give the same type of presentation twice a month, create a template. The effort you put into creating the template will pay off quickly even if you don’t use the template every day.

Plagiarize yourself.

Most of us reuse our emails, documents, or paragraphs only after we’ve been struggling for a while and the thought occurs to us, “Hey, didn’t I basically write this once before?!” Then we head out to our hard drive, outbox, or the cloud, hunting for a paragraph we know we’ve already written. To efficiently plagiarize yourself, you’ll need to need to make reusable content findable. At the very least, consider creating a folder titled “Stuff I’ll Probably Reuse.”

Stop splitting your own attention.

Distraction feeds on itself. If you’re trying to work on a writing project, but a colleague keeps distracting you with Teams messages, don’t add to the distraction by checking email after replying to each Teams message. Deal with the distraction and get right back to your own writing project. Don’t let one break in your attention justify another.

Use encouraging self-talk.

Hype yourself up. Don’t run this negative loop in your head: “I’ll never get this writing project finished unless everyone leaves me alone this afternoon. I need nothing less than two solid hours of peace and quiet to focus! I hate writing already, and I hate it even more with all these people interrupting me.” Try this refrain instead: “I’m going to break this writing project down into pieces, and I’m going to Lego-brick it, one piece at a time, until I am all done. All these interruptions aren’t ideal, but I’ve written well in little bursts of time before, and I can do it again.”

Writing well is hard, and writing something meaningful in small blocks of time crammed in between other responsibilities is difficult indeed. If you get desperate for some uninterrupted time, block out your Tuesday afternoons for a meeting with a “communications professional.” (That would be you!)

Top 6 FAQs for Marketing Collateral

Guest Post by Julie Young, Young Design

Have questions about online or print marketing collateral? Here are the 6 most common questions small business owners ask.

Q1. How important is social media to my website? Should I have a Twitter or Instagram feed, or just linked social icons?

A: If your company is tweeting and posting daily or weekly, we recommend a feed, which makes your site look continually updated. But if your latest post is older than even a month, a feed is a turnoff to users. Otherwise, just have your social media icons link to your accounts.

Q2. We love our current website, but someone just told us our website looks old. Should we have it redesigned? 

A: If your site is more than five years old, we usually recommend a redesign. In five years, web design trends will have changed, perhaps dramatically, and your site will start to look dated compared to others. Your company’s site should show you’re on the ball and competing with the best. Sometimes a refresh is all it takes; other times, a complete overhaul. Take advantage of the opportunity to refresh your content and marketing, and to implement the latest technical advances for a smoother user experience.

Q3. What’s wrong with buying email lists for our online campaign? 

A: What’s NOT wrong with it? Spam (emailing recipients without first obtaining permission to do so) is illegal. Email campaign apps like MailChimp and Constant Contact won’t allow you to use purchased lists (they do a scan and can tell). Grow your mail lists organically – by networking online and IRL to make bona fide connections who are more likely to respond to your campaign.

Q4. We’ve got boxes and boxes of our latest brochure sitting in an office corner. How can we prevent having so many leftovers? 

A: As part of fulfillment, the brochures and other print marketing collateral should be mailed directly from the printer to your mailing list. Maybe you were overly optimistic about your list size, or lulled by the fact that a larger press run is cheaper per piece. But it’s a waste if you won’t soon be distributing your print collateral to a viable mail list, or handing them out by the hundreds at a conference. Don’t count on someday magically having enough list numbers to receive the leftovers. Grow that list!

Q5. Help! Our site is down and we don’t know why.

A: Ironically, we’ve found the most common reason is your lack of payment to your web host. Has your credit card on file with them expired? Have you been ignoring their emails? Most hosts send alerts well ahead of your account’s expiration date. Also, to avoid the hassle of renewing each year, sign up for multiple years. (Bonus: Most hosts offer a discount when you sign up for more than one year).

A second likely reason is a glitch with your host’s server. Open a customer service chat with the host; it’s probably a temporary outage that is affecting many sites on a particular server experiencing problems, and is usually resolved quickly. But let them know ASAP.

Q6, We don’t have a budget for images; why can’t we use a screenshot taken off the web, including Google images? 

Creative and editorial images are not free; someone worked to create the image and owns it legally by default. It is illegal to download or capture screenshots of copyrighted images. The majority of images are sold for a one-time use and copyrighted (every use is protected by the creator). If the creator want to re-sell it, then you purchase the rights for a particular period of time. We recommend using sites with low fees for copyrighted images. There are also sites that offer copyright-free images.

About the Author

Julie Young is a print and web designer at Young Design. For over 20 years, she has been creating quality branding, websites, print collateral and email marketing to help companies communicate with their customers in order to raise profiles and profits.

7 Keyword Mistakes to Avoid

At the center of your search engine marketing effort are keywords. How you identify and approach the search terms you target is the secret to successful SEO. Here are common mistakes to avoid.

Mistake 1: Guessing Rather than Researching

Most business owners have a sense of the words and phrases that people use when talking about their business. These keyword guesses are a great start, but they are not a substitute for keyword research.

Skipping or guessing at your keyword research means you create content without a single idea of what your potential users are actually looking for. One of the biggest keyword mistakes you can make is thinking that you just instinctively know what your audience wants. Keyword research gives you insight into the language of your audience. Which words do they use? What terms do they search for? Which terms are competitive and which less so? The result of your keyword research should be an extensive list of keywords you would like to rank for.

And, this is not a one and done activity. You will need to update your keyword list regularly. Your audience interest and needs may change, as could your business focus. Keywords change over time.

Mistake 2: Using Keywords with No Value

This keyword mistake happens a lot when you make the mistake of guessing at keywords rather than evaluating: you work at ranking for keywords that no one actually searches for. I find this is especially common when the industry has an insider lingo that is not the same language used by the client or customer.

It is not helpful to optimize for words that potential visitors or customers don’t use. Two things can happen: either you do offer something people are looking for, but these potential visitors simply use different keywords and therefore won’t find you. Or, your keywords are too long tail and don’t get any traffic.

The keywords you aim to rank for should be the same words your customers use. Always try to use the language of your audience.

 

Mistake 3: Competing for Olympic Level Keywords

Just as you can’t start a sport today and compete in the Olympics tomorrow, you need to be realistic when selecting the keywords to compete for. Make sure you aim for realistic keywords. Some niches are very competitive. Ranking in competitive niches is hard, especially if you’re just starting your website or business.

Focus on long tail keywords. These are specific searches rather than wide category searches. They are easier to rank for and because they are very specific they have a higher chance to convert to a click.

Long tail keywords are a great way to start your keyword strategy. These words attract less traffic, but you’ll have a higher chance to convert your visitors into buyers or returning visitors. People that use specific terms, to search for exactly that thing you’re writing about, are a very good match.

Mistake 4: Ignoring Search Intent

Not every search that uses keywords related to your business is actually looking for your content. People could be looking for information (informational intent), a specific website (navigational intent), or they might want to buy something (commercial or transactional intent). If your content doesn’t match searcher’s intent, it probably won’t make it to the top of the search results page, no matter how great and well-optimized it is.

Evaluate whether the content you plan to publish for a certain keyword is in line with what people are looking for. You can do that by looking at the current search results. Do the types of intent match? What answers do people want? Is your content in the right form?

Mistake 5: Unnatural Use of Keywords

Don’t focus your content on one exact keyphrase. Related terms can help the flow of your content as well as your search rank. Keep in mind that users need to value your content for it to earn clicks and rank well. So, pay attention to writing content that is easy to understand and offers value above all. If the content looks like an awkward attempt to use keywords that aren’t naturally part of the content, it won’t rank well.

Mistake 6: Working Against Your Own Rankings

Keyword cannibalization happens when you optimize multiple pages for the same search term. This works against the success you want to achieve. Search engines can’t tell which of your pages to show users.

Be sure to optimize each page of content for distinct keywords. If more than one content item is focused on the same keyword, look for long tail keywords that are specific to each. Or, consider combining the content to make one, terrific item of content for the keyword.

Mistake 7: Assuming All Is Well

Selecting keywords and optimizing for them does not guarantee success. Take time to monitor your rankings. Adjustments will be needed, because keywords have changed, your selections weren’t realistic, or other factors.

Evaluate regularly if people actually find your articles. One way to do that is Googling your selected keywords. Be aware that your search results may be biased because Google has personalized search. Another resource is Google Search Console, which will tell you what searches you appeared for in a given time period, as well as your average rank.

Whatever method you use, the key is to evaluate and adjust so you can keep up with the moving target of good SEO.