Understand your writing process to keep the words flowing

I was recently asked questions about how I write – what to do and not to do. Basically the style and content of a blog is very personal, but I find that understanding the process is key in order to keep the posts coming. When I write I go through three different stages, and what causes me to get stuck in the process or limits me from writing is when I mix up the different stages.

These are the three stages I go through:

1. Be inspired: getting the idea
In this stage I hardly ever sit by the computer with a word document open. I can of course consciously try to generate ideas by brainstorming with pen and paper. However generating ideas often occurs more organically for me. It happens while I’m out for a walk, after a conversation with a friend, during workout, while watching a movie, listening to a podcast, driving my scooter, reading a book, dancing, cooking etc. I always carry a notebook and pen so when I get an idea, I can note it down as soon as possible; and maybe even outline a couple points about the main content.

2. Open the tap: writing uncritically
A famous Danish children’s book writer Louis Jensen once told me about his writing process saying that the initial stage was like ‘vomiting onto the paper’, and as unappealing it might sound, this is more or less what happens when I start writing the rough draft. I write everything that comes to my mind, and sometimes it almost feels nauseating because it comes out in fragments, I jump back and forth between thoughts and new ideas spring forth. At the back of my head I often hear this voice criticizing whatever I am typing, but I try to ignore that voice. The key is to stay light and open and let the words flow uncritically. Some of what I write will be bad, will sound weird or need to be re-written, but the less I focus on the end outcome, the easier I can bring forth the desired content in a free flowing way.

3. Hatch away: editing fiercely
In this stage I put on my critical glasses, restructure the post and remove unnecessary content. I try to narrow down the main point(s) I want to make and delete the parts where I am just repeating the same point. This is the biggest challenge. Sometimes I really like the way I’ve formulated something and a part of me feels like keeping it in, even though it doesn’t bring anything new to the post. I ask myself is it concise, coherent and relevant?

Why I never mix these stages 
What works best for me is to go through each stage on different days. If I have set myself a tight deadline I can combine 1 and 2 on one day, but doing 2 and 3 never works on the same day. This is because it requires very different modes of thinking. When I write the draft and put the text away for a day or two, I can then look at it with fresh eyes, which makes the editing much more effective.

Have you noticed what works for you in your writing process?

How running away from work solved my problem

Solutions to a problem or answers hardly ever come to me when sitting in front of the screen. However I tend to forget that over and over again.

The other day I found myself starring into my laptop while trying to come up with an idea for a project I have been wanting to develop for some time. I got more and more frustrated and somewhat discouraged. After spending too much time not really getting anywhere, I closed my laptop and decided to go for a run on the beach.

As I walked barefoot down the stairs, I sensed how my scope of thinking started widening, and I noticed how narrow my perspective had become in front of the screen. My brain was still going super fast, and I could feel restlessness in my body, but just by walking I already felt the tension in my forehead loosen slightly.

My feet touched the sand; I started running and sped up as fast as I could. I kept running, my heart started pounding, and my lungs were gripping for air, I stopped thinking completely, I only felt my body being pushed to its limit; the feet moving as if by themselves on the soft sand. After some time I slowed down and shifted to walking, slowly my heartbeat and breath returned to normal. It felt like I had been cleaned on the inside, and even though my mind started being active again, it now felt expanded and open. I kept walking for some time and without any effort several ideas popped into my mind.

I paused and did some Qi Gong exercises involving deep breathing and focus. It cooled me down, and I was then completely grounded in my body.

As I walked back more ideas came to me, and by the time I was home I had a solution for the problem I had been trying to solve. I even had a whole bunch of other ideas.

If you – like me – tend to forget how effective it can be to take breaks and move in between work, then I highly recommend scheduling breaks with movement throughout your day, to keep the spirit high, clear the mind, and stay grounded. 

Here are three ways I incorporate movement into my day:

Walking: I try to walk from one place to another when relocating between office spaces (home/ coffeeshop /co-working space).

Run: I go for a short run just outside the workspace – doesn’t have to be more than 10 minutes.

Dance: When taking a short break I put on my favorite dance tune and dance like no one is watching!

In the comments I would love to hear how you make sure to move throughout the day.

Reconnecting with myself

Nothing beats going into nature when it comes to reconnecting with myself. After a week full of social gatherings, lovely lunches and dinners with friends, working with clients, teaching and learning, I needed a time out to come back to myself, to process and recharge. So today I went on a hike to a beautiful temple on the mountainside not far from where I live.

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Nature has amazing cleansing, healing and soothing properties. I sense it immediately when I step on to the trail and start walking on the small path. Slowly – one step at a time – my brain starts processing all the inputs I’ve gotten throughout the week. I breathe in the fresh air, absorb the beauty with my eyes, and listen to the sounds of birds chirping and the dry leaves crunching under my feet. All my senses come alive. The combination of being in nature and moving the body is ideal alone time for me.

At the moment I am reading the book ‘Being Genuine’ by Thomas D’Ansembourg about Nonviolent Communication as a tool for improving relationships: with a partner, friends, colleagues and yourself. In the section, I was reading today he pointed out, how it doesn’t make sense that “relationships, whether with ourselves or with other people are expected to operate unassisted, without any fuel, with scarcely any maintenance!” I couldn’t agree more, and I especially find that we often neglect investing in the relationship with ourselves. This happens for many reasons; we might not be aware of the actual need, or we don’t think it is important, there is a lack of time or it might even be because of fear of what might come up, if we take time to tune in and listen to ourselves.


Life for me has always been as much about the people I share it with, than any of the activities I engage in. But to be able to connect with other people in a meaningful way, I need these pockets of time just spent with myself – to help me understand my own needs, values, priorities, emotions, thoughts and relations. By nurturing the relationship with myself, I create a solid foundation for connecting and engaging with others in an enriching and expansive way.

I can only recommend to go for a solo walk and spend some time in nature; be it a park, your garden, a mountain, the sea side or somewhere else.

The Art of Eliminating Distractions

I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to staying focused. On bad days it’s like I almost invite every possible form of distraction to come my way. I purposely go on facebook every other moment, I counter attack my rational mind that tells me not to press on that link and get back to the task on my list. And as my day passes I get more and more dissatisfied with myself and my lack of self-discipline.

Being self-employed and having chosen a lifestyle, where I don’t wish or need to work fulltime, I potentially have time for many other activities than my work. However, if I let myself get distracted constantly then my work hours are stretched, and I end up sitting the whole day in front of my laptop instead of just the hours that I am actually working. It is utterly dissatisfying, and I really don’t have anyone to blame but myself.

Recently I have tried to work consciously to change these patterns of self-sabotage and the main thing I have worked on is my own approach and mindset:

I found that the core thing is to consciously make a decision to stick with the schedule that I set up for my day – to really commit to stay away from distractions (easier said than done!). I need to tap into a deeper level of awareness so that whenever I see myself being pulled by an impulse or urge to look something up, text a friend, watch that youtube clip someone sent me etc., I don’t follow that urge. Instead I notice it and write it down on a piece of paper (if it’s something I actually want to do later), and then the impulse slowly fades away since I don’t act upon it. Cultivating such discipline and self-awareness is really the key element to staying focused and not letting just any kind of desire lead you.

In the practice of eliminating distractions and cultivating focus I found four things that helped me as well:

Putting the phone on airplane mode
My main distractions come from the internet – and especially from my smartphone, since I don’t get email notifications, messages or alerts on my laptop. By putting the phone on airplane mode I can to limit the noise that interrupts me while working.

Setting the timer
I set the timer to 25 minutes and commit to work on my tasks for that amount of time. It is much easier to commit for a short time like that than to set yourself up to not getting distracted for – say – 4 hours.

Making clear distinctions between work-mode and break-mode
The brain needs breaks to be able to work well. On bad days my breaks just consist on reading something random on the internet. I make an effort to intentionally do something completely different in even a 5-minute break. I play a song aloud and sing along, I go out on the balcony and breathe deeply, I shake my body or go for a short walk around the house enjoying the air and sounds of the world.

Breaking the day into shorter slots
If I have a long work day ahead, and I haven’t scheduled in any other activities, the outlook of almost unlimited time makes me more prone to invite distractions into the day. If I make sure to change locations during the day, go out for lunch, schedule an appointment or skype meeting in the middle of the day, then I am more motivated to stay focused.

How do you practice the challenging art of eliminating distractions?

5 ways to work with the flow

I was supposed to sit on an airplane right now and spend the whole day travelling. I don’t. They cancelled my flight and instead I’m on the balcony in my house. Nobody knows yet. I will fly all night instead so it feels like I have been given an extra day in life.

I could have been upset about the fact that I had to change my connecting flight, that I was arriving a day later, that I had to write my clients about a sudden change in work availability. It wouldn’t have made any difference about the actual situation, but somehow we often get stuck in negative and unfruitful reactions to things that happen to us, and spend a lot of energy on something we can’t change anyway. Once you realize that it really doesn’t change anything, it seems like such a waste of time.

The situation got me thinking about how working with the flow of things helps me keep a more balanced state of mind in everything I do – but especially when it comes to my professional work.

Working with clients – and with people in general – demands you to let go of control. This could potentially stress me out a lot. When I was younger I would often create a huge amount of mental stress by obsessing about the outcome of my efforts. So much that I would often feel paralyzed in my actions because I was too afraid of something going wrong or things not working out exactly as I envisioned them. I have become much more aware of these obsessive patterns and how they don’t serve me, but sometimes they still show up.

waterfallThe other day I went on a daytrip to a waterfall with a friend, I was mesmerized by how graceful the water moves. It always makes its way, but doesn’t try to penetrate or move the obstacles on its path. And that is exactly why it can be soft and still keep going with an innate power and drive.

My friend and I are both self employed and we talked about how to work with clients, be successful in what we do and enjoy our work. “I’ve heard the key is to work towards a goal without being too attached to the outcome” I told him. Sounds right, but how do you actually do that? We asked ourselves.

A big part of it is to let go of wanting to control everything.

Here are five ways you can try to work with the flow and not against it:

Let go of what you can’t change
Use what is given to you
Work with great discipline but be flexible
Respond constructively to the situations that arise
Use the circumstances that inspire you to fuel your work

Everyday is Sunday or is it? – how I manage my work

Being self-employed comes with great freedom; I decide the hours I want to work, and since my work is online I can decide whether I want to work at home, or choose one of the many coffee shops in town – or even go for a nice walk while solving a problem. The backside is that I can work everyday and anytime which means in some ways I am never really off.

Learnt by trial and error I have four rules of thumb that help me manage my work.

1. Get things out of the head
An essential tool for me is to keep lists; to note down what would otherwise take up immense space in my mind. I keep a weekly schedule and daily to-do lists, these are dynamic and I revise them everyday; I update, cross things off and move things around. I use both an old school notebook and my iPhone when things come up; thoughts, emails I want to write, inspiration or to-do’s. I immediately note them down, this helps me keep track of task and ideas – and remain focused on what I am working on.

2. Prioritize
The list of ‘To-dos’, ‘Must-dos’, ‘Want-tos’ and ‘Would-be-nice-to-dos’ is endless when you are self-employed. So I have to prioritize. I look at my list and ask myself, what is most important to achieve at the moment. Which task will help me get there? I put these on the list. I look at what I have to do for my clients. I put these on the list. But the most important thing for me has been to make peace with the fact that I will never finish completely. There will always be more work to do. So it really comes down to focusing on what matters most.

3.Set boundaries
I have learnt that it is crucial to set boundaries: to stop checking emails at some point and to start the day without checking emails as the first thing in the morning. In some ways it is too easy to be online and available all the time, I find that I tend to prioritize work over everything even though I don’t want to. One way I’ve managed to balance my life is by setting hours for work but also to schedule time for exercise, self-care, play, quiet time and time with friends and family.

4. If it only takes five minutes do it now
I’ve experienced that I often feel more overwhelmed about the workload when I’m actually away from the laptop or not workbalanceing. I build up mental tension about all the things I have to do in the near future when I have days away from work  dedicated to my Qi Gong studies, photography or other activities. I realized that by spending 5-15 minutes revising my lists and sending off a couple of emails that are important, I can actually enjoy my time away from work much more.

Managing my time is a constant act of balance that I am (still) learning to master. These four rules of have helped me, I hope they will help you too.

Why music can be a good work companion

Writing this post I am sitting in a coffee shop at the airport, immersed in a cacophony of sounds; bossa nova music from the speakers and the almost rhythmic repetitive voice of the waitress saying hello and asking the customers what they would like. Some people are having conversations and the guy next to my table is playing on his iPhone creating the characteristic descant and bouncy gaming sound. On the other table a woman is watching a Chinese movie on her iPad with the volume out loud. There is the regular sound of coffee beans being grinded, the click clacking of the coffee dispenser and the loud noise from the espresso machine steaming milk. Wooden chairs are being moved back and forth as people come and go and as the waitress cleans the tables. Someone coughs, and someone else slurps the last sip of ice coffee through a straw.

It is very easy to get distracted by all the sounds.

Not a surprise if you ask sound consultant Julian Treasure who says, in his TED talk, that we are “one third as productive in open-plan offices as in quiet rooms”. He gives a basic rule of thumb: move away from unpleasant sounds and towards pleasant sounds. However, sometimes we can’t change the environment we have to work in. So his advice is to carry headphones, and whenever we have to work in spaces with lots of noise; like open plan offices or a noisy coffee shop like the one I’m sitting in, we should plug in the headphones and play soothing sounds such as birdsongs or ocean waves.

I like to listen to music while I work.

Reading on the topic I’ve found that there are different views on music and productivity and basically the effect of using music to increase productivity is still inconclusive. However my experience is that music can energize me; I like to start the day of with happy, upbeat music that helps spark my mood, and it’s a great companion to making to-do lists. I can’t listen to that kind of music for too long, because it takes up too much of my attention span. Instead of supporting the work I’m doing it will become a distraction. Listening to music is basically some form of multitasking, since the brain is aware of the music and is working on the task. For some tasks I prefer silence; if I have to come up with new solutions, when I brainstorming or during heavier tasks that require a larger amount of brain capacity.

Most times smooth and soothing music provide me with a nice backdrop of calm while writing or researching – the rhythm of the music helps me work in a steady and productive pace.

MusicTo pin it out, I find that music

  • is useful to drown out distracting background noises
  • has a positive effect on my mood
  • can help me get into a state of flow
  • is better when simple, not too complex or loud in its expression
  • without lyrics is better, when I have to write or do other word related tasks
  • has to be turned off once and a while

To make sure music doesn’t become a burden, you have to choose the right kind of music for the different modes of work.

These are my top 5 albums to listen to while working:

  • Sigur Ros “Takk”
  • Andrei Krylov “Sky Lake. Classical Guitar. Zen. Mediation Music”
  • Steve Reich “Music for 18 Musicians”
  • The Album Leaf “A Chorus of Storytellers”
  • Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”

What are yours?