The business report. It burns.
February 10, 2010 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Writing business reports is a lot more stressful for me than it should be. Please help me get the words out the door.

I hate writing business reports. I will go to almost any length to avoid doing so. I typically procrastinate, fret, get distracted, mope about woeful typography, and find ten million less-important things to do instead. I lose sleep over these reports, and become grouchy. Folks around me know when I've got a report due, and generally do their best to avoid me.

Thing is, the end result is usually pretty decent. Well received, often complemented on the reasearch and brevity; usually just a good few days after it's really needed.

I also used to be a very profuse writer. A couple of decades back I could witter out thousands of words of computer magazine copy in short order and get paid decently for it. Now, the words. just. don't. come.

I'm on a very locked-down work PC, so software de-distractors aren't an option. I've read through a bunch of the writer's block queries, and they're not quite what I'm looking for.
posted by scruss to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry, I can't apply styles. Our house document format is 12pt Times New Roman, 1" margins; nothing else is accepted. The reports also tend to be very different, so I can't really template them.
posted by scruss at 11:34 AM on February 10, 2010

What helps me get started is writing a crappy report. Writing a good one is what's difficult. I write sloppy language full of slang, lots of TODO markers, just bang out whatever is in my head even if it makes no sense. Once I've got anything at all, it's easier to refine it progressively to something readable.
posted by emilyw at 11:37 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would also rebel if I was forced to be constrained to 12pt Times New Roman and 1" margins. At least it appears to me that rebelling is what it you are doing.

However, you get the job done, and quite well, as it seems you are able to gurgitate (ok, I guess I just coined a word) the required reports at the last minute in a professional manner.

I operate in a similar fashion, although I'm not faced with the manuscript limitations. It drives anyone involved in the same project crazy, as I seemingly am doing nothing until right before the deadline - and then it all comes together in a seeming rush, but it works for me. Since I'm the boss, they have to adjust to my style, and my recommendation to you is that you keep putting out those reports at the last minute and don't loose any more sleep, as long as you are already getting "the words out the door" when you need to.
posted by walleeguy at 11:56 AM on February 10, 2010

What are you asking for - sympathy? a kick in the butt? You don't need writing-quality tips, you can't use software tips, and the only thing to be done about writing-quantity is to sit down and do it. Any advice I could give you about that borders on middle-school inanity. Look at your schedule. Set deadlines for yourself and stick to them. Make an outline by X day, poop out a draft by Y day. Final revisions and it's done by Z day. Other than that, what's to say? Arrange external deadlines? Bribe yourself with mocha lattes? Hire a 14-year-old to stand in your office and mock you when you do anything other than write?
posted by aimedwander at 12:08 PM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: Don't fret, your problem is surprisingly common. Some tried and tested tips:

1) Segment your workflow into six phases: research, brain dump, writing, deeper research, writing, finessing
- Research: define your scope, research your topics, prioritise the tasks that are both most important and most likely to suffer delays beyond your control (i.e. info you're getting from somewhere else)
- Brain dump: commit both structure and initial content to paper; don't worry about quality or coherence at this point; it's about getting something down that you can critique and reorganise
- Writing: reorganise, trim, refine and write up your research. This should get 50-60% of what you need down
- Deeper research: this is your added value research - it should deal with weak spots and areas where you know some extra work will make the difference
- Writing: this is an additional 30-35% of the work, and should get the report to a state where it is basically done
- Finessing: topping and tailing - summaries, re-edits, rework from external comments etc

2) Deadlines - reconcile yourself to the fact that you're not going to produce the very last word on whatever you're writing. Keep your scope tight, but during your writing phase make sure that you're hitting your word counts, especially in the early stages. The single most common reason people procrastinate is that they can't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

3) Bookends - bookend your work: try and work in 2hr block. Much more and your mind will wander. Less and the ratio of breaks to work will take too long.

4) The hard stop - time is money, either for you or your employer: have a fixed date in mind and monitor your time spend against a plan. Don't kid yourself. You know whether you're on track or not. If you don't buy into your deadline then ask yourself why.

5) Reward - it's a grind: don't start the next one straight after the one you've done. Give yourself one day at least where you have a bit of you time; personal development, fun, whatever. If time's a little tight, bring your hard stop forward by a day.

Hope this helps: amongst other things, I've been coaching business report writers for the past 10 years. If you need more detail I'm happy to answer in more detail.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:19 PM on February 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

You need to create or find some good templates and boilerplate text. That will make it go a lot faster. Then instead of "writing," you're mostly filling in blanks.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:38 PM on February 10, 2010

I'm with emilyw on this one - I write a crap draft first to nail the structure. Sometimes I'll even show that draft to people (ones who understand my process, anyway) so I don't go haring off down unsuitable paths. It's usually freaking hideous writing, but I find I edit much more fluidly than I write, so the key is getting myself something to edit.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:52 PM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: Two thoughts:
1) Work on it for 10 minutes out of every hour. Small chunks of time are more palatable.
2) Forget about business reports being boring. Unless you have a pointy-haired boss, a creative report would probably be welcomed. We used to have a guy in our department who wrote outrageously funny business memos, and people loved getting them and reading them.
posted by LauraJ at 3:14 PM on February 10, 2010

I am a terrible procrastinator.

I find that my worst bouts tend to occur either in the wake of an incident where I've lost my temper or controlled it only with the greatest difficulty, or when I have something like a rash on my leg so itchy I will wake myself up scratching it-- and I am an extremely heavy sleeper.

I interpret this as a sign that my brain copes with impulses to undesirable behavior by raising the threshold for any kind of action to such high levels that procrastination is a kind of inevitable side effect.
posted by jamjam at 4:17 PM on February 10, 2010

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