How I Cut My Writing Time From 2 Days to 4 Hours

writingAs I was brainstorming ideas for my last post on the Buffer blog, I started reflecting on what I’ve personally learned during my time at Buffer.

My writing process is considerably different today than it was when I joined Buffer nine months ago, so hopefully you can find some nuggets in the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned that might help you as well.

Slow beginnings

When I first joined Buffer, Leo had been running the Buffer blog pretty much on his own: he wrote or sourced the content, published it and promoted it all. Leo and I approached blogging from almost exact opposite ends of the spectrum; Leo is great at getting something up quickly and tweaking it to fit, whereas I was prone to spend a long time on my “first draft,” which was more like a fourth draft by the time I eventually sent it over for Leo to look at.

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How We Research: A Look Inside the Buffer Blog Process

research-microscope

I often get asked about my research process for the Buffer blog. For my science and life hacking posts in particular, I rely heavily on scientific research to back up my points, so there’s a lot of research to be done.

Unfortunately there’s no secret sauce or magic bullet when it comes to this process. It’s mostly just a matter of time and practice. I do have a few tips to share about where and how I find the sources for my research, though, so hopefully you’ll find these useful.

Finding the research you need

The first thing I do when I start a research-heavy post is start digging into the topic to learn everything I can. Here are a few ways I find studies and research papers for my posts.

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Sleep Your Way to Creativity And 9 More Surefire Methods For More Ideas

creative brainWe’ve written about creativity a few times on the Buffer blog, but it’s hard to keep track of everything we learn about it. One day I’m adjusting the temperature in my workspace, and the next I’m trying to put off creative work until I’m tired.

If you’re in the same boat, and you find it’s difficult to remember what will improve your creativity and when you should do your most creative work, hopefully this list will help you get it all straight.

1. Your brain does better creative work when you’re tired

Unlike solving an analytic problem, creative insights come from letting our minds wander along tangents and into seemingly unrelated areas. Though many of us identify as morning larks or night owls, peaking in our problem-solving skills and focus at particular times of the day, creative thinking actually works better at non-optimal times. So, if you’re a morning lark, your brain will be better at finding creative insights at night, when you’re tired.

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Remember More of What You Read and Hear: 6 Research-Tested Ways to Improve Your Memory

rememberWe’ve looked at a few different strategies to help remember the names of people you meet on the Buffer blog before, but there’s lots to say about memory.

It turns out that science is continually finding new connections between simple things we can do every day and an improvement in our general memory capacity.

Memory is a complicated process that’s made up of a few different brain activities. Here’s a simplified version to help us understand how the process takes place:

1. Creating a memory

Our brain sends signals in a particular pattern associated with the event we’re experiencing and creates connections between our neurons, called synapses.

2. Consolidating the memory

If we didn’t do anything further, that memory would fall right out of our heads again. Consolidation is the process of committing it to long-term memory so we can recall it later. A lot of this process happens while we’re sleeping, as our brains recreate that same pattern of brain activity to strengthen the synapses we created earlier.

3. Recalling the memory

This is what most of us think of when we talk about memory, or especially memory loss. Recalling the memory is easier if it’s been strengthened over time, and each time we do so, we run through that same pattern of brain activity again, making it a little stronger.

Memory loss is a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take action to slow it down a little. Let’s take a look at some of the ways research has found to keep our memories around as long as possible.

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3 Psychological Theories To Help You Communicate Better With Anyone

brainPsychological theories often feel a bit too complicated for me (I’m sure there’s a theory that explains why that is) but I’ve come across a few that are simple enough to understand and that I think of often, particularly when dealing with other people.

I thought it might be fun to take a brief look at a few psychological theories that are especially relevant for business, marketing, leadership and overall communication skills. Keep in mind I’m no professional psychologist, so if you’re keen to find out more about these, definitely dig deeper into the research about each one.

Dunbar’s Number

Professor Robin Dunbar is an evolutionary psychologist who developed a model for predicting social factors about primates, based on brain size. Working from the brain expansion over time in primates (including humans), Dunbar was able to match brain size to social behaviors:

Robin Dunbar used the volume of the neocortex – the ‘thinking’ part of the brain – as his measure of brain size, because this accounts for most of the brain’s expansion within primates.

In particular, he looked at the size of social groups, and the number of more intimate grooming partners for different primate species:

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5 More Unexpected Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder

to-do listI wrote a post recently about ways that you can work smarter, not harder. As I worked through the list of techniques I’d collected, the post became so long that I had to split it in half. Here are even more suggestions to help you make your day more productive without putting in extra hours.

1. Limit your to-do list

I’ve written about the history of the to-do list before, and how to write a great one. One of the most counterintuitive but effective methods I’ve found for increasing my productivity is to limit how many items I add to my to-do list.

One way to do this is by choosing 1–3 Most Important Tasks (MITs). These are the big, tough tasks for your day that you really need to get done. The ones that will keep you in the office past finishing time or working after dinner if you don’t get through them. Leo Babauta advocates doing these before you move on to other tasks:

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The Science of Failure: Why Highly Successful People Crave Mistakes

race

“I’m delighted to admit that I’ve failed at more challenges than anyone I know.” — Scott Adams

A friend told me recently about a colleague who is entirely open to feedback. When she’s told that she did something wrong, my friend said, she just starts over. She doesn’t take feedback personally, and she doesn’t feel upset about getting anything wrong.

When I heard that story, I thought to myself, “I wish I took feedback that well.” I can’t imagine anything better than an attitude like that, especially when I’m trying to learn new things.

I’m not at that point yet, but I know a lot of successful people are. I love to learn from the advice of others, so I thought I’d take a look at what some successful people say about failure and why they seek it out.

The science of failure: We can’t admit we’re wrong

It always helps to add some context about the subconscious biases we have in our heads before exploring a topic, I think. I looked into some of the research on success and failure, and how we react to them to see what I could learn. These are three of the most interesting points I discovered (they are all, of course, subconscious – so we do them all the time without realizing):

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How to Measure Progress in Your Personal Goals: Daily, Weekly and Monthly

basketball netAlthough there are some people who advocate for dropping all your goals or focusing on systems instead of goals, I’ve never managed to fully give up on setting goals for myself.

In fact, I just finished my monthly review today, where I looked at how well I did on the goals I set for myself last month and set some new ones for the month ahead. As I was doing this, I started to wonder whether I was doing myself any favors by reviewing my progress monthly.

I had a look into the science of measuring progress towards your personal goals and how it affects your well-being, as well as some examples of ways to track your own progress.

The science of measuring progress towards personal goals

Firstly, I found a couple of studies that found that improvements in well-being, satisfaction and happiness can come from making progress towards your personal goals.

The caveat here is that your goals need to be in line with your inner needs and motives. If you’re committed to a goal for external reasons such as pleasing your boss or your parents, you won’t see the same emotional improvements when you make progress.

I think we can take this as general guidance when it comes to setting goals: even if we don’t set goals specifically to achieve those emotional improvements, we can still try to focus on the goals that we’re motivated to achieve intrinsically, rather than what we think others expect of us.

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Lifehack Your Lunch: 8 Scientifically Proven Ways to Maximize Your Mid-Day Break

5169342665_3da84e78f7I’ve noticed that the way I spend my lunch break affects how productive I am for the rest of the day: how quickly I get started once I get back to my desk, how effective I am in the first hour after lunch, and how I feel throughout the afternoon.

Luckily, we’ve been writing about ways to improve your day for a while now: from tips on making your environment more conducive to creativity to pushing through writer’s block.

Why shouldn’t the humble lunch break get the same treatment? I gathered the most interesting research on how we can improve our afternoon productivity by making careful use of that oh-so-important lunch hour. Here are 8 ways to maximize your lunch break, proven by science.

1. Eat! (The right foods for better brain function)

OK, this one might seem obvious. But even if you’re trying to lose weight or run errands on your lunch break, don’t skip on eating a midday meal – or at least a snack. Your nutrition – particularly your glucose intake – will decide your productivity for the rest of the day.

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The Psychology of Limitations: How and Why Constraints Can Make You More Creative

boxConstraints can seem like the last thing you’d want for a creative project, but they’re actually beneficial when it comes to doing good work. If you’ve ever faced the common writer’s hurdle of the blank page, you’ll know what it’s like to be paralyzed by innumerable opportunities. What restrictions do is take away some of the choices available to us, and with them, the paralysis of choice that stops us from getting started.

We love trying things that seem counterintuitive at Buffer, but we especially love examples of how counterintuitive approaches can produce great results.

Check out a few examples of the amazing work that can come from creative constraints, and then find out how you can begin to use constraints to aid your own creativity and productivity.

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