Write like you’re doing a meal plan

This doesn’t help if your main writing work today is a novel. But if you’re writing lots of smaller pieces, if you’re blogging, if you’re pitching stories out to people, if you are doing anything that is bitty, take a minute to do a meal plan.

For instance, this news site The Blank Screen will almost invariably have five new articles per day. If a lot happens, if something very big and relevant to you and I goes on, then it’s more. It’s rarely less because there is always enough going on and enough to read that I can help you postpone actually doing any work.

I don’t try to write five articles per day, though, I try to write six. It’s not always possible of course but when it is, when I can do it and when there is material to write about, then a sixth piece is a real help.

It can’t be something time-sensitive, it can’t be breaking news, but it can still be something useful and interesting – just something useful and interesting that I can hold to the next day. That means the next day begins with me already having one of the five started. If I then manage to write six new ones, I can hold two over for another day.

You could argue that this is like preparing today’s meal and then using leftovers tomorrow. I like that except it feels mildly insulting to whatever tomorrow’s articles are. Still, it’s true.

But there’s something else. It’s easier to write that sixth article than it is to write the first. It’s like you’re in the zone by then, you’ve got five pieces behind you, a sixth is not a massive stretch.

On Fridays, I also write The Blank Screen email newsletter (do sign up for your copy). Also on Fridays I write an entirely personal blog called Self Distract. Then on the first Monday of every month I write an email newsletter for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s West Midlands branch. Now, that Guild newsletter goes out on that first Monday in the month but I’ll write as much of it as I can the previous Friday. So that means on one Friday in a month I am writing two email newsletters, one personal blog and five or six news articles. Doing them all in one go, piece after piece in a row, is much easier and faster than picking up one piece a day and working on those.

As well as being in the zone both of writing and of researching new material for the newsletters, there is the practical element that they get written in the same places. I’ll compile the ideas in Evernote but both newsletters are sent using a service called Mailchimp and there are certain steps you go through. Go through those steps for The Blank Screen newsletter first means you whack through them all a second time for the Writers’ Guild much faster.

Everything you write – I mean you, specifically you – has three parts to it. There’s the getting ready to write, there’s the writing, there’s the finishing up. If you can do more writing in the middle then you save the time getting ready and you save the time wrapping up the details.

I see that very much like planning out the meals for the week and knowing that if I do a slow cooker thing on Tuesday that it will last me Wednesday and Thursday too.

One thing. The Blank Screen newsletter always includes a section called What I’m Writing. Ostensibly this is to show you that I am doing some bleedin’ work, I’m not just after telling you to do some. It does also definitely mean I will write something in the week so that I don’t have to confess laziness to you.


It also very specifically means I will always include a reference and a live link to the new personal Self Distract blog.

Which means I have to write and publish Self Distract first.

By making this choice, I set a sequence for myself and that means I never have to think about it. I’m sitting down now to write Self Distract and that is the only thing I can do, it is the right thing to do, I can concentrate on it fully.

Maybe I just need tricks like this to get me through the week but I bet you do too.

You can be Siri-ous

Hand on heart, I love Siri. I use it continually for setting timers when I’m cooking, for scheduling or rearranging meetings, for sending text messages and always, forever, constantly for adding tasks to OmniFocus.

Hand on heart 2, though, it is as if Siri has good days and bad days. There are times it just won’t work for me and they are exasperating. So far the days it has worked well have outnumbered the problem ones and the new discovery of something else Siri can do has kept me using it a huge amount.

I use it so much that there isn’t anything in Re/code’s top ten Siri tips that I haven’t used but still it’s a fine list and if you’re only ever aggravated by Siri, take a look at their full article for ideas big and small.

And as much of a Siri fan as I am, I can’t resist this:

Do a test run on online banking transfers

Cheques are a pain but online banking can go wrong with a typo. Perhaps this is another reason to use services like TextExpander or 1Password, to have the correct sort code and account numbers to hand. But when you’ve been given a new account to pay into, check it first.

Transfer a single penny.

If the recipient gets that, you’re good to go: you know for certain that it works.

There is the chance that someone else is sending a penny – why does that sound rude? – on the same day but yours will arrive with your reference.

It’s an idea nicked from PayPal which checks out your bank details by doing something similar: it deposits some random, if very small, amount and you have to confirm what that amount is. But that’s done as much to confirm that you are you as it is to check that the bank details have been entered correctly so I’d keep it simple.

This does depend on who you’re paying. If it’s a firm you don’t know, you may find it hard to learn whether they got the payment or not. But then if then phone up demanding to know where your big cash transfer is coming you get to say well, duh, if you’d check your accounts more often you’d be paid now.

It’s not who you know, it’s how they trick you

Earlier this week I was advising some schoolkids on their pitch to a TV company. Last weekend I was directing a group of kids for a show. And in both places, I had the same advice for them:

You are on until it is done

In the case of the show I directed, the group of kids had to act as if they were on stage from the moment the first of their parents arrived. Perfect behaviour, everybody with a job to do, the show has already started. They did it and they were ace.

With the pitching, each group had up to six people all contributing and it’s so hard: once you’ve said your bit and the next person has taken over, you automatically feel relieved that it’s all done. But it isn’t. It is on from the moment you step onto the stage and it is on until the moment you reach the bar. (An age-appropriate bar, obviously.)

I treat interviews the same way. And this week learn the following that makes me glad I do:

When David Cancel interviews potential candidates for engineering jobs at HubSpot, he brings a cup of water into the interview with him. At the end of the meeting, the chief product officer leaves the cup on the table and waits to see what the interviewee does with the garbage. If the person picks up the trash, he is probably a good fit for the job. If he doesn’t, that signals he probably wouldn’t work well on the team.

It might sound like an unfair trick or gimmick, but Cancel insists that it works. “I’ve tested it over 100 times at this point, and it has always turned out to be pretty accurate for me,” Cancel told Fast Company. “The people who didn’t go and reach to take the cup were always the people who weren’t a great cultural fit.” Since starting at HubSpot in 2011 when HubSpot acquired his startup Performable, he has hired more than 100 of the company’s almost 700 employees.

HubSpot Reveals the Mind Tricks It Uses to See if You’re Right for a Job – Rebecca Greenfield, Fast Company (15 May 2014)

That is the only trick this fella reveals but others in this company-I’ve-never-heard-of-before use and you will quickly glance at the ceiling at some of them. But you’ll also readily understand why they do it and what benefit it gives them. Read the whole piece.