Four Writing Mantras to Help you Prioritize, Focus, and Finish

Ever wanted to get things done but because something keeps holding you back — lack of time, perfectionism, distractions, etc. — you’re not able to get going? I certainly have. There are a few creative endeavors in my life, including writing, that make me feel this way.

However, over time I’ve learned a few tactics for how to overcome this perpetuating procrastination & perfectionism routine! One of them is remembering the below four writing mantras to help me prioritize, focus, and feel optimistic that even smallest of steps forward will help me reach my end goal (which also happens to be a TRM core value).

1. “Less is more”

Whether it’s a simple email subject line, a short but heartfelt card or a few words of encouragement in the moment, remember that “less is more”. Even if I feel like my writing is still missing many details, or I am having trouble connecting the pieces in my writing, thinking “less is more” reminds me that I don’t have to explicitly write out every single detail to get my meaning across to the reader.

Do I have to fill in some of those gaps later? Sure! But adopting this mental attitude helps me not dwell on making the early parts of my essay, book, blog post (even this one) packed with all the research I’ve gathered and details I want to include. What goes unsaid can be just as telling as what is said… and the more details you offer in your writing, the more chance there are inconsistencies.

Interestingly, another way to think about this has been coined the theory of omission. Ernest Hemingway was known for this style of writing defined as “Focusing on surface elements without explicitly discussing underlying themes.” So when you’re world-building, fact-sharing, dialogue-creating and character-developing, omitting some of the details may actually heighten the pleasure of the reader because s/he gets to fill in some of the gaps.

2. “Done is better than perfect”

I’ve written about pushing past procrastination before, but this is a new mantra that I’ve found myself really encouraged by (and encouraging others with as well.)  This can go hand in hand with remembering that “less is more” because both of these mantras encourage a conscious stepping away from perfectionism… which is pretty freeing. Whether you’re writing a thesis, work in a startup, are finishing a project presentation or putting together an art installation, circumstances are always going to change. Do what you can, let that round of work go, and trust that you’ll be able to improve next time.

3. “Which 20% of the effort will get me 80% of the results?”

The 80/20 rule is one of my favorite ways to think about focus and prioritization. To get the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to planning out my writing sessions, I try to start each session thinking about how the top 20% of my time can be focused on what will create the most results; whatever time I have left allocates to the (potentially less productive) 80%.

How to use the 80/20 rule:

  1. Pick a step of your writing process where you feel there is an imbalance of time spent (e.g. researching, refining the outline, finding outside sources, reading how-tos.)
  2. Try to identify the key ways you’re spending time that are creating most your results. Maybe the first 30% of your writing session when you’re consolidating and editing what you wrote before, or the middle 10% during which you are free-writing, that makes the most impact.
  3. Value and focus on those key ways. Spend more time in those activities. For example, if the first 30% of your recent writing sessions (when you’re consolidating and editing previous work) have created the most returns, then when you only have a small amount of time to spare, focus the whole time on consolidating and editing so you’re ready to go in your next session. Or if the time you spend free-writing these days has been releasing a lot of creative juices, then free-writing itself could be thought of as a really big step forward.
  4. Downplay the time spent on the rest. Consequent to #3, devalue the activities that don’t have a high payoff for you right now. Stop spending as much time on research if you find it eats up half your writing session without much result afterward. Stop rewriting the same part of your script if the rewriting time is blocking you from building momentum in the unwritten parts of your work.

4. “What’s the one thing I want to get done today?”

In multiple productivity and to-do list articles (like this Forbes one) I’ve read that people are generally not able to get more than 2-5 important to-dos done per day (because, well, life happens) and that having a long running list for each day sets an unrealistic expectation of what you can get done. Instead, a better way to tackle a day (and by extension, tackle writing) is to pick one plan, one goal, or one idea. And think about what the smallest first step could be, and then do it, and know you did well in doing that one step. 🙂

So go forth and write!

I hope at least one of these writing mantras resonates with you! While they all apply to writing quite well, I think they can apply to pretty much any creative endeavor as well, especially “done is better than perfect”. I had to keep repeating that to myself even as I was writing this conclusion actually–and hey, now it’s done! 🙂

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1 Comment

  1. I love this post – there’s so much power on focusing on the “one thing to do today” — it gives you the strength to get through very large projects.

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