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When you begin working as an immigration evaluation therapist, don’t be surprised if you spend many hours writing up immigration evaluation reports. Preparing immigration evaluation reports is, of course, a vital part of the job. Your face-to-face time with a client means little if you cannot convey the takeaways from your time together effectively in writing. It is therefore important to prioritize your writing time just as highly as your appointments.
To put this into practice, when I book clients in for appointments, I find it helpful to book in a corresponding time to write their evaluation while I’m at it. For example, if I plan to see a client on Monday morning, I may schedule that Thursday afternoon to write their evaluation. By doing this, I can ensure that I do not accidentally crowd out my report-writing time with too many appointments and am entirely focused during the scheduled period. This is just one strategy I’ve found useful to ensure I am preparing my evaluations efficiently.
When it comes time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), there are a range of other strategies you can use to maximize your efficiency. Here are a few I have found useful:
Set the mood
Consider taking some steps to create the ideal atmosphere before you begin writing.
Listen to music
Find or create a playlist that you can listen to while writing your evaluations. Usually, you’ll want to find music without lyrics. Otherwise, the words going into your ears will get confused with the ones on the page. Lo-fi R&B or classical music often works well. Once you’ve found a playlist that works for you, try to only listen to it when writing. That way, you’ll learn to mentally associate that music with writing evaluations, thereby priming your mind to focus at the appropriate time.
Some people simply cannot write while listening to music as they find it too distracting. That’s okay! Instead, try to find a quiet space where you can write in peace. If working around noise is unavoidable, consider investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones.
Put on comfy clothes
When you’re trying to write, a lack of circulation to your toes or pinching due to uncomfortable shoes or clothes may distract you. So, when you can, switch out the business attire for something more comfortable, such as a hoodie and yoga pants.
Pick a location
If you don’t enjoy writing at your desk, find a location that works for you when writing. If you write best with some background noise, try your local coffee shop. If you like to maximize your comfort, stretch out on your sofa or sit out on your deck.
There’s nothing worse than losing your train of thought mid-sentence, so be sure to minimize your chances of getting distracted when you write.
Silence your cell phone and notifications
Switch your phone to silent or ‘Do not disturb’ mode. If you find yourself tempted to check messages or scroll through social media, try putting your phone out of reach. Similarly, silence any desktop notifications, such as RSS feeds or applications.
Set up blockers
If the above steps aren’t enough, you may want to try a distraction-blocking app. These apps will block your access to pre-determined websites for a set amount of time to help you stay focused. My personal favorite is called SelfControl, and I use it to prevent me from accessing Facebook, Pinterest, CNN, and any other website that I find distracting.
Jot down your distracting thoughts
There’s nothing like sitting down to work on a report to remind you of all the other things you need to do. Instead of letting that forgotten email or grocery item rob you of your focus, jot it down on a notepad when you think of it and attend to it during your break or when you have finished writing.
Optimize both your writing time and your breaks
There are many strategies you can use to improve your efficiency when writing that apply to more than just immigration evaluations. Likewise, and as with most types of work, it is essential to take regular breaks to help keep your mind focused.
There are several methods for time-blocking, but the concept is always the same: Work for a set period and then take a short break. One popular method is known as the Pomodoro technique. This technique involves working for 25 minutes, then stopping for a five-minute break before starting your next block of time. However, you can adapt these intervals to suit whatever works best for you (for example, I prefer 45 minutes of work followed by a fifteen-minute break).
Forgive your first draft
First drafts aren’t supposed to be good. Yet, if you tend toward perfectionism, it can be easy to get carried away with the wording of a single sentence and end up losing track of time. To prevent this, try writing your first draft without editing. Focus on writing to increase your word count, rather than aiming for perfection. Once the key information is on the page, then go back to enhance clarity.
Take a better break
Just as valuable as your time at the keyboard is your time away from it. When it’s time for a break, be sure to stand up and walk around. If you feel any tension in your body, do a few stretches to avoid ergonomic strain. Get yourself a hot drink, and while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, rest your eyes by alternating between focusing your vision on near and far-away objects in the room. Practicing this can go a long way in preventing eye strain and headaches caused by staring at a screen.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you sit down to write and take note of which ones work for you. With practice, and as you develop a routine, you’ll find yourself becoming more efficient with each evaluation you prepare.
Ready to learn how to write immigration evaluations more effectively? Check out the free video series for the next steps.
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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