Tips For Writers Be Productive By Laura Tong We’ve all been there. You’re trying to cast off procrastination, start writing and have a gloriously productive hour, day or weekend. But before you’ve managed to get one good paragraph down, the Productivity Pirates sneak alongside and sink their hooks into you. Requests, demands and impositions come flying your way. You curse and try to defend your most precious asset – your writing time. But their grappling hooks are already in deep and before you can say ‘Jack Sparrow’ your gloriously productive writing day has sunk before it ever set sail. And if you don’t stop them plundering your time over and again, you’ll lose so much more: If you’re an author you’ll lose the time to produce that great work you have inside you. If you’re a freelancer, you’ll be robbed of income. Because if you lose productive time, you lose contracts and clients. If you are a blogger you lose time to create great content or great marketing. Your readers will drift off and eventually your blog will sink to the bottom of the sea, along with your dreams. What a crime! Your precious time stolen up by someone else’s demands. Your creative spark burning less and less bright with each lost writing opportunity. But what defense is there against these modern day pirates? Because the reality is, they are as cunning as their high seas counterparts. Sure, they aren’t heartless cutthroats but they are on a set course to get what they’ve set out for. And what they’ve set out to steal is treasure. Your treasure. Because work time, writing time, creative time is pure gold but infinitely more valuable. Your words can change lives… IF they get the chance to be written. But be aware! You may be half the problem. Just as the Pirates of old were encouraged in their piracy by easy pickings such as poorly armed ships, so you may be encouraging modern day Time Bandits. After all, in those distant times would you have set sail on pirate-infested seas with little or no defense? Of course not! You’d have set sail in as heavily armed a frigate as you could lay your trembling hands on. You need to make sure that you’re properly prepared to defend your creative time. You need the right tools to counter this modern day threat to your most valuable writing asset. And the biggest cannon you can use to repel all such attacks on your precious time is the simple act of saying no! But having the right tool for the job won’t help if you can’t use it effectively. A weak broadside will bounce harmlessly off a seasoned Time Bandit. And they won’t even notice a weak-assed ‘no’. So you need a manual to show you how to use your time-defense tool effectively. The following extracts are from just such a manual : The Life-Changing Power of NO! – How To Stop Trying To Please Everyone, Stand Up For Yourself And Say No Without Guilt Or Conflict (Even To Difficult People) The good news is, once you know how to say ‘no’ effectively, you can fire off your ‘nos’ and be sure they hit the target. Not only hit the target, but do so effectively every time. You probably have to mix with these pirates at work, or socially, so I will show you how to say ‘no’ without guilt or offending anyone. So let’s heave to, me hearties and get to it… 6 Steps to defeat Productivity Pirates Sadly, there’s no snazzy but slightly irritating acronym to help you remember these steps. No matter, it’s simple, and luckily you’re smart: 1. Thank them (acknowledge their request) 2. Compliment them 3. Actually say ‘no’ 4. Offer a reason (if it’s appropriate) 5. Offer an alternative (if it’s appropriate) 6. Thank them again Job done. Let’s break this 6 point system down… 1. Thank them. OK, it doesn’t really matter if you believe the request is self-centered, pirate or no pirate. Thanking someone is communication 101. Why? Because if you thank them, you’ve got their attention. Remember, their ears are waggling with anticipation of hearing the word they’re hoping for – ‘yes’. You need to grab those ears and get them to hear what you want them to hear…‘no’. And the best way isn’t to put a cutlass to their throat. Rather helpfully, a ‘thank you’ is almost as attention grabbing. More, a ‘thank you’ makes the other person feel good. It lets them know you’ve heard what they said. It says ‘That request it worth my time considering’. Now hopefully that ‘thank you’ is genuinely felt, but hey, neither of us live in fairy town and getting them to listen is essential to them hearing your ‘no’. For our purposes, thanking someone is best done by acknowledging their request. After all… Your mother probably does miss you if you aren’t there for the holidays. That sales guy whose call just interrupted you writing, probably believes in the product he’s trying to sell you. And your boss probably is worried about that project being completed on time, which is why he keeps giving you extra work that keeps you there late. Acknowledging this creates empathy, which is like a spoon full of sugar to help the coming ‘no’ go down. 2. Compliment them. A genuine compliment will carry far more weight than a false one. And very often, if you can get beyond your frustration or resentment, you can usually find something to compliment. For instance: If your mother is piling on the guilt about you missing Sunday lunch say, “Hey Mom, I really enjoy Sunday lunch over at yours, you always put so much effort in.” If that sales guy is bending your ear you could say, “I don’t doubt how much you believe in this product and you’re doing a great job trying to sell me its benefits.” If your boss is on your back to do some overtime you could say, ‘‘Hey, I really appreciate how much effort you’ve personally put into this project”. 3. Actually say no. The important point is obviously to say ‘no’ in all of this 🙂 . And this can flow beautifully well from your compliment above : “Hey Mom, I really enjoy Sunday lunch over at yours, you always put so much effort in, it’s a shame I need to say ‘no’ this time.” “I don’t doubt how much you believe in this product and you’re doing a great job trying to sell me its benefits, but I’m just not interested.” “Hey, I really appreciate how much effort you’ve personally put into this project, but unfortunately this time I just can’t stay late.” Getting your ‘no’ out there first up is the best way in almost every situation. Remember to be straightforward and keep your response short and sweet. Saying ‘no’ early on is also a great life preserver against your ‘no’ drowning in an ocean of over-explaining. 4. Offer a reason. According to Cialdini, author of the famous book Influence, a well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do. Likewise if you’re refusing someone, then you will be more successful in not offending that person if you have a reason. Strangely the validity of the reason itself doesn’t make that much difference to how most people, Productivity Pirates included, react. So don’t feel pressured into going into details if you don’t want to. It works well to tell them just enough to show you have a legitimate reason for not being free. Give a reason that you’re comfortable giving – it will come out as genuine and valid: “Hey Mom, I really enjoy Sunday lunch over at yours, you always put so much effort in, it’s a shame I need to say ‘no’ this time. I promised I’d be somewhere.” “I don’t doubt how much you believe in this product and you’re doing a great job trying to sell me its benefits but the answer’s ‘no’. It’s not for me.” “Hey, I really appreciate how much effort you’ve personally put into this project, but unfortunately this time I just can’t stay late. I’ve got a prior booking I can’t cancel.” And of course on occasions, people won’t take your ‘no’ straight away. The conversation may go more like this, (I’ll use a fresh example): Them: “Can Fido spend Tuesday evening having a doggie sleepover with your little scamp, Rex”? You: “Tuesday won’t work, sorry, I need to finish an article I’m working on.” Them: “Well, Fido’s no trouble, you’ve said so several times. I’ll bring his bed round and some treats. The dogs will keep themselves busy.” You: “Sorry, as I said Tuesday won’t work. I really need to concentrate, the article has to be finished by the weekend. It’s best Fido stays home.” Them: “I know, I’ll make sure he’s had a good walk and will be tired. They’ll settle down just fine and let you get on. Let’s say 6 O’clock, Tuesday”. Aggh! All you need to remember is this is your life, your creative time – heck, your writing dream and/or income is on the line. Life’s for you to get on with and enjoy, not for leaving yourself always available so other people can get on and enjoy theirs. You need to restore some balance. And any Time Bandit that doesn’t respect that, doesn’t deserve your time anyway. Remember, each time you fail to say ‘no’, you’re making your writing dream walk the plank another step… 5. Offer an alternative. Kind, compassionate, considerate – these are how you want to be thought of. Well, there is a great way to be assured that you embody all three of those positive qualities when you say ‘no’. Simply, offer an alternative. By taking the time to think of a genuinely helpful alternative, you’re saying ‘Hey, I can see you need help. I’m not the right person this time, but let’s find a solution for you.’ Because we all appreciate help when we’ve got a problem. Michael Roberto, a professor at Bryant University and the author of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer calls it ‘Extending them an olive branch.’ And an alternative is exactly that. A helping hand and an acknowledgement that their request is important to them. There’s another major plus in offering an alternative. It softens the blow of your ‘no’ enormously. Instead of leaving them standing awkwardly in front of you, not knowing what to say next, they can latch straight onto your suggestion… “That’s a great idea. I hadn’t considered that.” “I hadn’t thought of asking Michael. I’ll go ask him now.” “It’s really kind of you to suggest that, thank you.” And the good news is, offering your alternative isn’t complicated. It runs along the exact same principles as the other elements of saying ‘no’ that we’ve already looked at. Keep it short and sweet and be as honest and straightforward as possible. In fact, offering a one-line alternative if you can is often sufficient. And you won’t be afflicted by run-away tongue syndrome. In practice your ‘olive branch’ could be suggesting someone or something else that might be able to help. Or leaving the door open for them to ask again later. Or even, proposing another way that doesn’t need so much assistance from you. Think of it as an exchange. You aren’t going to do whatever it is you’re saying ‘no’ to but you are offering something in its place. And don’t be concerned that what you’re offering is going to feel like a compromise to them. It may well, but that’s fine. You still both win. 6. Thank them again. People remember the last thing you said. The feelings you both walk away with are the ones that will be associated with the whole encounter. So finish on a positive note. And yes, you may be thinking this sounds a little like a Disney script where everything ends a bit too make believe happy. Sure sometimes as I said before, things can get a little more complicated than that. But everyone’s an adult here (unless of course you’re saying ‘no’ to your kids) and everyone chooses their own response. You can choose to walk away happy that you did everything you could to ensure you didn’t cause offense or upset. That you went out of your way to make the other person feel good while still saying that ‘no’ and protecting your most precious writing asset. And they can choose to walk away thinking the same. Or maybe they might see it differently. Remember, you are NOT responsible for other people’s reactions. Just do your part and leave it at that. Protect your most important writing asset. Don’t let those modern day bandits sink their hooks into your precious time. Rebuff their requests, demands and impositions with the 6 step formula above. It’s easy to use, but just as easy not to. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. Arm yourself and protect your most valuable writing asset. And keep your gloriously productive day intact.