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Freewriting for Better Focus

7 January 2020

Janie read Turn Your Face: How to Be Heard and Get What You Want Most of the Time by Barbara Linney and realized that freewriting might be a good solution for accomplishing more of her goals. 

Tags: freewriting, janie read, time management and prioritization, turn your face

I always start the new year with a few goals that I’d like to focus on. This year, one of my work goals is to do a better job of staying on top of long-term projects while also staying focused on my day-to-day tasks. I often find it easier to focus on the day-to-day tasks, which means that long-term projects can linger longer than they should. This year, I want to establish better systems to help me focus on both types of work, so long-term projects don’t sit for so long.

Over the Christmas break I re-read Turn Your Face: How to Be Heard and Get What You Want Most of the Time by Barbara Linney. I first read Turn Your Face many years ago, before I started working for Allison Partners, and found a lot of practical tips, but at the time I was focused on other things and didn’t do much to implement any of the suggestions I read. I picked the book back up on a whim one morning over break and found myself really drawn to the concept of freewriting. Barbara said, “Freewriting is not regular writing ­­­­– it is writing without worrying…pick up a pen, grab some paper, and write whatever thoughts pop into your head.” I’ve heard Barbara describe this as kicking the English teacher off your shoulder and not worrying about grammar, punctuation, or complete sentences. When I allow myself to engage in more of this stream of consciousness writing, I’m also able to start getting control of the other worries swirling in my head. I spend a lot of time thinking and planning about what I need to do next, and sometimes my thinking leads to worrying about different ways that something might go. Once my brain goes down that rabbit hole of worry, it can be difficult to pull it back out. I try to focus on something else, but my mind often wanders back to the thing I was worried about (sometimes at night when I should be sleeping).

Other than a cursory attempt at freewriting many years ago, I’ve never used writing as a tool for sorting through anything. I’ve always told myself I don’t like writing, but I’ve realized that I need to try something new if I want to accomplish more of my goals.

I’m experimenting with starting my morning at home with ten minutes of freewriting about whatever is weighing on my mind. Sometimes that might be something I need to accomplish at work, sometimes it might be something that I need to sort through at home. I write about whatever is on my mind for ten minutes and then I go about the rest of my morning routine. This is a practice that I’ve only been doing for a few days, but so far, I’ve found that it helps me sort through my thoughts and feelings and then I’m better able to focus on what I need to do next. I’ve found that once I write something down, I’m not spending time thinking about it again later. I think freewriting could be a good solution for making better progress on my goals because it will force me to focus on what is bothering me, and then I can move on to the next thing instead of continuing to worry.

I’ve decided to commit to freewriting every morning for three months. I have a feeling I’m going to decide that it’s a helpful addition to my life and stick with it after the three months are over, but I’ve found that I do a better job of sticking with something if I tell myself it’s a short-term experiment. If you’d like to learn more about freewriting, Allison wrote more about the process, and why she finds it helpful here. If you’re interested in trying this three-month freewriting experiment with me, please share in the comments. I’d love to have an accountability partner doing this with me.  

Finally, while I think freewriting is going to help me with my tendency to worry, I’m also going to practice what Barbara recommends in Chapter 7: Control What You Think. If you’re curious, she wrote a wonderful post that summarizes the affirmations she uses to help her overcome fear and anxiety.


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