Little-and-often: The secret of beating writer’s block, procrastination, etc etc and so on
Posted May 4, 2010on:
Sleeping, resting or procrastinating before a big task
Have you ever noticed that minute you have to sit down to do a big task, such as write a paper, or get up to do a big task, like hoover the house, you want to go to sleep? You dither, you fuss, you try to talk yourself out of it. And you waste hours getting cross with yourself but doing nothing?
Procrastination is sane
Well you are in good company. Sane company. Your body is resisting being enveloped in one distracting task. It knows better. It knows everything else goes to wrack and ruin while you attend to this one big thing. At best, it wants a good rest before your start.
So how do you get round your dilly-dallying? Fussing and cursing certainly doesn’t help. It just wastes time.
The secret is in little-and-often. Yup, little-and-often.
Folks, 15 minutes is a long time for our alert, sociable, curious human brains. Go much beyond 15 minutes, and you body will protest (in advance). You might need an enveloping time slot of an hour to do that 15 minutes of work. In reality, you are only going to do 5 or 10 minutes, but you will need a buffer zone to remember what you were doing, get out your tools, do the work, and put it away.
What work can be done little-and-often?
How can you do this, you cry?
Successful people work little-and-often. That is why they are successful.
Successful professors, by which I mean professors who publish 7x as much as the run-of-the-mill professor publishing at 1x, get up earlyish each day and put aside 1 to 1.5 hours to write something, anything.
They get up. They go to their desk. They look at what they were doing yesterday. And they do a bit more. And the next day rinse-and-repeat.
And they don’t break the chain. They work little-and-often daily. Because when they take a break, they’ve added the additional task of trying to remember what they were doing. And then the task gets too big.
They write daily. Adding something. If they have two productive slots of 15 minutes in 1.5 hours. Great! But they just get something done.
When they have a real break, like a long vacation, they start again. They get up. They go to their desk. And they start work. The first few days might be spent in remembering. But they don’t get stressed. That is the beginning point. Because they have good work habits, they know the work will get done.
But what should I work on little-and-often first thing in the morning?
The trick though, is knowing our priorities. What is the big task that we will attend to regularly and get finished as a landmark of achievement?
Professors have a simple (though remarkably bruising) work life. They publish. They teach. They do community/university service. But they are only promoted for what is written and published.
So their priorities are clear. The first and essential task everyday is to write – with a conference in journal in mind. Then they go to campus and teach and “do” research for the next paper – tasks that are so much easier because they are sociable. Their “day-job” is relaxed ,setting up a feed for the real job, that cocooned writing time first thing every morning.
Can we copy the little-and-often work routine of successful professors?
When we are procrastinating, we can be sure that we’ve left a task get too big for a series of 15 minute slots. Or, we have left it too late and we have to do it in one fell swoop. If nothing else, this is what university life teaches you. Work little and often. And begin. Begin before you are ready.
To get into a comfortable working rhythm, we need to
- Establish priorities (ONE, and two, three – no more)
- Do what we are judged on first, before the house gets noisy.
- Then do the feeder tasks during the day.
The solution is not reducing procrastination. The solution is knowing our career priorities. What are we judged on? If we are judged on published papers, then we need to go one step back – where do they come from – we write them. So writing is the main task.
How do we write? Well, while we are writing one article, we are preparing for the next. But without interfering with the main task. Which is done in small time slots, little and often, beginning immediately. The writing is the main task that must be protected.
The trick is understanding our priorities. But that is hard. A good mentor might spell out what we need to do. Until w have those 3 priorities clear in our mind, then we will be stressed and uncomfortable.
If we are in a readjustment phase, and not clear about our priorities, we might have to weather the discomfort for while, but we shouldn’t let that stop us moving towards that clarity. That is the hallmark of success and a comfortable, achieving life. Clear priorities.
What will I work on daily, little-and-often?