How to write when you're tired

Technical writing is difficult enough when you are fully rested. When you're tired it can be downright tedious. How can you spot an outdated GUI reference, write a coherent procedure, or judge whether a help topic is indexed properly when you can hardly stay awake?

Here are a few tips to help you stay focused when you're feeling drowzy.

Save heavily conceptual work for another day - Some tasks, such as categorizing content, making decisions with far-reaching implications, and writing procedures from scratch require a lot of brain power. You simply have to be coherent to do these things. To make your technical writing job easier when you feel tired, flag these conceptual tasks as To Do items for another day.

Focus on simple and clearly defined tasks - Many technical writing tasks, such as spell-checking documents, validating HTML topics, and incorporating straight-forward comments from reviewers can be done on autopilot. Try to stick to such tasks when you are tired. That way you can feel productive without running the risk of making mistakes you'll regret later.

Watch what you consume - Eat a small lunch, and don't drink too much coffee. Carbohydrates and caffeine can cause serious fluctuations in your energy level.

Ask for a peer review - If you must do heavy duty technical writing when you're feeling drowzy, ask another technical writer to peer review your work. A second set of eyes can only make your documentation better.

Take frequent walks - Technical writing isn't exactly a high-impact sport. Get up and take a walk now and then to get your blood flowing and clear your head.

Put on your headphones - Most technical writing jobs require a quiet environment, but the silence can put you to sleep if you are already short on energy. Put on some headphones and blast an obnoxious tune now and then. Like rolling the windows down when driving for long periods, the music can jolt your brain back into an alert state for a precious few minutes.

Chat with a coworker - A good conversation now and then will help reset your brain to an alert state. It also helps you stay connected and in the loop. Chat about a project that you are working on, or just talk about your weekend. Either way, you'll be building positive relationships with your team.

Find a fun project - Some technical writing tasks are tedious by nature, but others can be a lot of fun. By focusing on the more exciting tasks and changing your routine, you'll find you are able to muster more energy and attention. Skip editing the copyright page of your manual until you are more alert. Instead, work on the tutorial you are developing using the latest multimedia tools.

Take some time off - Maybe your body is trying to tell you something. Technical writing is hard and stressful work, and it can really tax the brain and burn you out. Take a vacation and give your mind a rest. You'll feel much more alert after a week of soaking up the sun on a sandy beach.

Take a long lunch - If you can't take a vacation, just take a long lunch. Go to the golf course, take a bike ride, or go shopping. An extended lunch break will help get you through a long day.

If all else fails, just pay a coworker to stop by and give you a good shake now and then.

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