I’m quite keen on reading posts on productivity, even though I rarely come across anything startlingly new. The principles seem timeless, it’s their disciplined implementation that’s hard, or at least very challenging.
One such post, recently seen in the The Chronicle of Higher Education lists ‘The Habits of Highly Productive Writers’. One point did however grab me:
“They leave off at a point where it will be easy to start again. Some writers quit a session in the middle of a sentence; it’s always easier to continue than to begin. If you know where you’re headed the next time you sit down, you’ll get there faster. There’s an activation-energy cost to get things brewing. Lower it however you can.”
I realised that when I write I usually split items into tasks and aim to finish them off, one after another. Consequently I start each one from scratch, which usually means there is an obligatory period of procrastination or prevarication before I get into the flow (especially when tasks span days).
Bearing the above advice in mind, once I’ve finished a task (say, reviewed and published a blog post), I’ll now try sketching out the main aspects of the next one or two so that when I approach them I’m not starting cold i.e. I’ll be changing my stopping-off point. Alternatively I might even go so far as to write the first few sentences.
It’ll be interesting to see if this becomes overall a better process. The approach is not limited to just writing of course, it can apply to nearly any task.
On the same day as reading the above article, I read a couple of related ones (although very different in slant) but which also discuss overcoming barriers to writing and publishing (or most things actually).
One, by James Clear, discusses the clash between Goals and Systems. It’s a good read and here’s an extract:
“As an example, I just added up the total word count for the articles I’ve written this year. (You can see them all here.) In the last 12 months, I’ve written over 115,000 words. The typical book is about 50,000 to 60,000 words, so I have written enough to fill two books this year.
All of this is such a surprise because I never set a goal for my writing. I didn’t measure my progress in relation to some benchmark. I never set a word count goal for any particular article. I never said, “I want to write two books this year.”
What I did focus on was writing one article every Monday and Thursday. And after sticking to that schedule for 11 months, the result was 115,000 words. I focused on my system and the process of doing the work. In the end, I enjoyed the same (or perhaps better) results.
Let’s talk about three more reasons why you should focus on systems instead of goals.”
The other, which sounded a bit too detailed for me personally, but which had some good points to think about was the software product Vitamin-R (Mac only, but there should be lots of Windows alternatives). This emphasises the habit of time-slicing and monitoring tasks, something I’ve often found quite effective in the past.
You can read about the philosophy behind the product (which is the important part anyway) in the User Manual, which is a free download. You can then try to adapt it to any system you use, or else you can trial or buy the software directly if you prefer (a recent review of it is here).
See also: Start The Day With An Unfinished Sentence.