Finding Your Zone (Again)

When it comes to increasing productivity, one of the most important things to recognize is when (and where) you work best. Of course since this is a writing blog, I’m talking primarily about writing, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it could be applied to other things, as well.

I’ve read a lot about finding that “sweet spot” of the day when the writing comes easier. They often talk about how it’s different for everyone—how one writer may pound out a few thousand words before  bed and another first thing in the morning. They talk about finding that place where you can just slip into your writing—be it a library, a cafĂ©, an office, outside on the deck, etc.

What they don’t usually talk about is how it can change.

You see, in my experience anyway, you have to be flexible when settling into you zone, because after a while it might not feel right anymore.

A few years ago, my sweet spot was in the early afternoon, between one and three. I worked best in at the kitchen table with a pair of headphones and iTunes running endlessly. For reasons I will never know, wearing a pair of headphones made it easier for me to shut everything else out (even when there was little noise distraction to worry about). I could write for hours like that.

But then it changed. It wasn’t drastic—I probably could’ve continued in that spot if I really pushed myself to, but it didn’t feel as easy. Everything felt too routine, and I had trouble focusing.

Then one morning, I woke up earlier than usual and couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I dragged myself to my computer and checked Twitter (because that’s what EVERYONE does right? Right? Ok, moving on). There was a #wordmongering session about to start in a few minutes and I figured, why not? and jumped in.

Then something happened.  The writing flowed. By noon I’d written well over my 1,500-word quota. I felt energized. I’d already completed my writing goal and I had an entire day ahead of me. I was proud of myself. I was happy.

I wanted to do it again.

So now I write in the morning. I still often use headphones (don’t ask why, I can’t explain it myself) and my writing goals haven’t changed, but the writing comes easier again. Not only that, but when I do reach my goal (and I don’t often stop until I do), I feel great for the rest of the day.

So, my fellow writers, moral of the story is sometimes, your zone changes. If your writing starts to feel stale during that “sweet spot” of the day, maybe you need to change things up a little. If you usually write in the morning, maybe you need to try after lunch. If you usually write at night and lately the words have been about as easy as pulling out your own teeth with only a tissue in hand, maybe you should give it a try earlier in the day.

When the routine stops working, try new things. You never know when you’ll find a zone that works even better for you than it did before.

When (and where) is your zone? Has it ever changed? 


Jennie Bennett said...

I totally have to use headphones as well. It's the only way I can completely dive into my world. I've had the same struggles, but I don't have much choice about where I write but I do change the time I write, as long as my kids are asleep.

One more thing, you got some awards on my blog!

Krista said...

I am limited to writing when and where I can. And I don't use head phones. I have this way of blocking everything out and focusing. It probably has something to do with being the second oldest of seven children. My husband likes to tesase me about it.

I have had to learn how to take any place and turn into my zone. I am not as productive as I would be with a set zone but it works well enough.

Gabe (Ava Jae) said...


Headphones are pretty brilliant. Mine have been huge lifesavers (so it's a shame I can't seem to find them now...hmm...)

Thanks for the awards! I'm honored!


Being able to move your zone at will sounds like a pretty good skill. It doesn't sound (to me at least) like it would negatively affect your productivity. Being flexible is good!

And wow. Second oldest of seven? No wonder you developed that ability. :D

Deri said...

My "sweet spot" used to be my favorite corner of the couch, late at night after my boyfriend went to bed and the activities of the day were done. Then, I moved just last week and I can't for the life of me find a sweet spot anywhere or anytime in my new place. I took for granted how comfortable I was in my old place. Even though my new place is much nicer physically, I feel completely unhinged here and I can't settle my mind at all. It's very distressing. I do hope I find my zone and quickly!

Stephanie Allen said...

I always use headphones. I mean, I might be listening to things like Lady GaGa or Ke$ha that one wouldn't think would be conducive to writing a fantasy novel, but for whatever reason having the headphones in helps me block out the background noise that, really, is way more distracting to me than trashy music is.

I usually just write whenever. I don't really have a single set time.

Laura Pauling said...

That's a cool story. I write mid morning until my goals are reached and sometimes at night before bed. I've been productive both times depending on how tired I am that night.

Lori Ann Stephens said...

Totally agree with you! I wrote about this, too.

Francesca Zappia said...

I used to be able to write for hours on end at the computer desk in my office, but a year or so ago I started paying attention to how closed off the room was, and how cramped I felt. Once I moved into my living room, where there's much more light and free space, I felt like I could think again.

I totally know what you're talking about--great post!

Alison Miller said...

Exactly! Writing 1500 words by noon is a heck of an accomplishment! And a reason I like to write in the morning too. That, and my brain refuses to work after nine.

Jacquelyn said...

I like the mornings too. I find if I don't get up early to get my writing in, I never get it done. I like the idea of working for myself first, no matter what else happens in the day.

Becca Puglisi said...

I think this is a really important lesson to learn. When I worked full time, I wrote at night and was very productive. Now a stay-at-home mom with toddlers, I can barely SPEAK in the evenings, much less write. My best time now is naptime, from 2-4 in the afternoon. Sometimes the sweet spot just changes, and sometimes life changes it for you. Flexibility is an important quality for writers in a lot of ways.

Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

Angela Ackerman said...

Every once in a while I wake up at 1 or 2 am and feel totally awake and want to write. When this happens, I go with it, even tho I know I'll have to caffeine it up the next day to function. When you find a sweet spot, you gotta roll with it. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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