Great writing requires clear thinking. Just ask Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. “There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking,” he has said. Writing, even though you’re most likely a long way removed from your college essay days, remains a key skill for success.
Which is what makes new research out of George Mason University relevant to you. Something that you are probably doing every day is making you a much worse writer than you otherwise would be, the findings revealed.
What is this simple activity that severely dips your writing skill? Simple, everyday interruptions.
Good Writing Requires Concentration
The series of studies conducted by PhD candidate Cyrus Foroughi looked at the impact of short interruptions on writing quality by asking a group of student volunteers to plan and write an SAT-like essay. Some were left in total seclusion while they completed their composition, while others were given non-taxing puzzles and other simple tasks every several minutes during the planning phase. A third group completed the same tasks while they were actually writing.
If you’ve done any reading recently on the mental effects of multitasking, the results probably won’t come as a complete surprise. Those who were allowed unbroken concentration wrote better essays than those who were interrupted during the planning phase. Those who were interrupted while writing did the worst.
“People don’t realise how disruptive interruptions can be,” Foroughi said.
The study results follow a raft of research that shows interruptions can be deadly for performance in a range of environments, from medical schools (where they can literally be deadly) to your average office. The serious impact of small tasks that demand your attention may be bad news for busy business owners, but there is a quite serious upside to these findings. You can easily act on them to improve your writing.
You might not be a Jane Austen or a Herman Melville even at the best of times, but if you want to be a much better writer, you need to limit distractions. “Try to reduce external interruptions as best you can,” Foroughi told New Republic. “Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your Twitter and email notifications. You can live without them for an hour or two.”
So next time you sit down to write anything over a line or two, you might want to go tabless and close everything but your word processor on your computer.
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