Do it now

Listen, I don’t know what you’re working on – you could tell me, I’d so much like to know – but because it’s you, I can guess that you’re taking some chances here. You’re trying to write something you’re not quite sure about yet, you’re feeling your way, you’d exploring. And it’s a lot safer to not do any of those things. It’s a lot easier to just fire-fight the current job, the current problem. We all have current work problems and they are always urgent, nothing will change that. However.

Try that new thing and try it now. No waiting. Definitely no waiting for other people. You’re a writer, you’re a creator, go create, go write, go make. I’m all for being productive but there has to be a point: being productive just to get the cash in the door today is maybe enough for now, but you need more and unlike a giant number of people, you have the talent to get more. Hopefully to get more money: I’d like you to have enough that money isn’t a worry any more. But definitely to get more created, to grow in your field and in your heart.

That’s a bit arty-farty. Try this instead for harsh pragmatism: that thing you write is likely to be rubbish, that risk you take is likely to fail. If it is rubbish, if you do fail, you are still pretty close to infinitely further ahead than you were. You’re not still sitting there thinking next summer I’ll do this great thing, you’re standing there having done it. That’s even if it went wrong. Even then. Still ahead, still better, still taller.

Just fail fast so that you can get on to the next version or you get on to the new things you can only see from having gone through this process. Pixar got this “fail fast” rule for the same reason: they’re experimenting and they are rejecting. Samuel Beckett nailed it: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Mary Pickford nailed it better: “Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call “failure” is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

Stop waiting

There are limits here: if you want to quit your job then you should indeed wait until you can do it but what you shouldn’t is wait to begin. Start doing the thing that will get you out. Start now. Stop waiting.

Productive people sometimes confuse the difference between reasonable delay and true procrastination. The former can be useful (“I’ll respond to this email when I have more time to write it”). The latter is, by definition, self-defeating (“I should respond to this email right now, and I have time, and my fingers are on the keys, and the Internet connection is perfectly strong, and nobody is asking me to do anything else, but I just … don’t … feel like it.”).

When scientists have studied procrastination, they’ve typically focused on how people are miserable at weighing costs and benefits across time. For example, everybody recognizes, in the abstract, that it’s important to go to the dentist every few months. The pain is upfront and obvious—dental work is torture—and the rewards of cleaner teeth are often remote, so we allow the appointment to slip through our minds and off our calendars. Across several categories including dieting, saving money, and sending important emails, we constantly choose short and small rewards (whose benefits are dubious, but immediate) over longer and larger payouts (whose benefits are obvious, but distant).

In the last few years, however, scientists have begun to think that procrastination might have less to do with time than emotion. Procrastination “really has nothing to do with time-management,” Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, told Psychological Science. “To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

The Procrastination Doom Loop—and How to Break It – Derek Thompson, The Atlantic (26 August 2015)

Read the full piece. Via and Lifehacker.

Reclaim the day

It kills me that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Then I work all the hours in the day and that kills me. Here’s an idea for getting back some of the time that otherwise fritters away on, you know, like relaxing and socialising and stuff.

Take Back Afternoons: Productivity After the Post-Lunch Slump

When lunchtime breaks up my day, I’m terrible at getting back into a productive flow. I’m not unique in struggling to work through the afternoons, though. Most of us tend to have a dip in energy in the early afternoon, often known as the “post-lunch slump”. Research suggests that our bodies are designed to have a short sleep around this time to complement our nighttime sleep.

This regular slump in energy is obviously bad news for anyone, but it’s especially bad when you work remotely (as I do) and need to discipline yourself to complete tasks.

The best way I’ve found for kicking myself into gear is to have a deadline to push up against. If you remember ever writing furiously at 11:45 p.m. to finish a school essay and submit it by midnight, you’ll know exactly what I mean. There’s something about deadlines that help us overcome our worst procrastination habits.

So I took this self knowledge and used it to hack my routine in such a way that I’m now getting significantly more done with less last-minute scrambling.

Experiments with Time: How to Take Back Your Day from the Grip of Procrastination – Belle Cooper, Zapier (17 March 2015)

Read the full piece for what she does with the rest of the day. I sound flippant here, I think, but she has good points to make and the topic occupies my head a lot.

Embrace the suck

Not my words. But the idea strikes chords with me:

Embrace the suck.

Doing something hard sucks. It’s not easy, and often you’re confused about how to do it because you haven’t done it much before. So what? Hard things suck, but life isn’t always peaches with roses on top (and a sprinkle of cinnamon). It sucks sometimes, and that’s perfectly fine. Embrace all of life, thorns and pits and all. Life would be boring without the suck. So smile, embrace the suck, and get moving.

10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do – By Leo Babauta, zen habits (16 April 2014)

That’s number 5 in a series of 10 tips on how to make yourself do something you don’t want to. I’ve done better than last time, I’ve read beyond number 1, but for some reason I don’t want to read the rest. I wonder if number 6 tells me how to read numbers 7-10.

Read the full piece because you’re a better person than I am.

I know this because you wouldn’t have forgotten where you read this. I know it was on reddit but can I find the original link to say appropriate and correct thanks?

Sorry I’m late…

We’re all unavoidably late for many things – but if you find that you are always late for everything, maybe you need to be looking into it. If other people tend to delay events for you or they just start turning up late too, then maybe you need to seriously look into it.

Time magazine says that your problem could be “rooted in something psychological, like a fear of downtime”. It has nine descriptions of how punctual people manage to be punctual and thereby live happy, fulfilling lives as paragons of virtue, spit.

But the descriptions aren’t of good ideas, such as my favourite one that says punctual folk are “immune to ‘just one more’ thing syndrome”:

You’ll rarely hear a time-conscious person say they need to squeeze in “one more thing” before they leave. That impulse can lead you off track, and suddenly it’s not just one more email—it’s an entire 15 minutes worth of emails.

“Train yourself to recognize that impulse when it happens,” Morgenstern says. “Resist the impulse to do one more thing and just leave.”

9 Habits of People Who Are Always on Time – Samantha Zabell, Time (12 January 2015)

Read the full feature for the rest.

Send the Buggers Off

Poet Jo Bell has today written a blog about how to submit poems to journals. It’s very specifically about poetry but the principles and the techniques apply to all writing, I think, so I want to be sure you see it. Plus, it made me laugh. Primarily because of this:

What follows is the Jo Bell Method; the method of an immensely, award-winningly disorganised poet who nonetheless has managed to win awards. My vast and lofty experience teaches me that the key part of winning any prize or getting into a journal is this:


This is the only area of my life where such a streamlined system exists, but it has helped me to keep sending work out. It is Ever So Simple and it works for me. If you want to get into the habit of submitting to journals, it’s not too late to make this a New Year’s Resolution and start doing this in 2015.

Submitting to Journals: the Jo Bell Method – Jo Bell, The Bell Jar (8 January 2015)

Read the whole piece.



Turn your To Do tasks into an art project

There are principles here that I like very much but it’s also heavily paper- and sticker-based and I just can’t handle Post-It Notes and colouring in. So I won’t be following Kelly Maguire’s exact advice but it’s terribly interesting how she turned her life around with a felt-tip pen:

For the past few months I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat freaking out about things I forgot to take care of. A lot of it is little — like forgetting to schedule a hair appointment until after they’ve closed for the day. Some of it is bigger — like the Kickstarter I did a few years ago that fizzled out. And a few things are huge — like the fact that I completely bungled my corporate tax filings for the last three years.

With some nudging from my therapist and support from my husband, I finally managed to get on top of things. My to-do list has gone from “deal with three years of back taxes” to more mundane stuff like “clean up the dried paint in the bathroom.” I used a handful of different strategies to gain control, which I’ll detail in a sec, but the biggest key to staying motivated has been to turn it into something like an art project.

Time management as an art project – Kelly Maguire, Offbeat Home (1 January 2015)

One thing she uses is called a Chronodex and you’ll see why she likes it plus she tells you where to get them for yourself, but that’s not a Chronodex…

…that’s Moonbase Alpha.

Read the full piece.

Why you kill your own ideas

You’ve done this. You’ve thought of something that might be the Next Big Thing – or even is just the Thing You Long To Do. And you don’t do a thing about it so it just never happens. Since we’re writers and it’s often as if there is just something in the air, quite often it does happen and it does get done, just by someone else.

Fast Company writer Courtney Seiter claims there are typically six things that stop her, starting with this:

The No. 1 thing that keeps me from creating is that the idea doesn’t feel complete yet. It lacks something, or I need more examples, or I’m not sure if it’s clear.

A former editor of mine called these “glimmers”—a little spark of an idea, not fully formed but on the cusp of being something. Sometimes you need to let a glimmer sit for a while before it becomes a fully formed idea. Sometimes you can smush it together with a few other glimmers to make something.

The main thing is that idea glimmers need nurturing, which can be hard to do. When ideas are still developing, they can feel embarrassingly incomplete or tough to explain to others. What if my little glimmer is misunderstood or turns out to be nothing at all?

How to fix it: It may seem counterintuitive, but I’ve learned that this is the time to talk about ideas most, so they can grow from a glimmer to a real idea. You can even post it on social media to give it a quick test. So what if the idea might fail? I’ll be able to get feedback right away and know whether to keep thinking on my glimmer or let it go.

6 Ways Your Brain Tries to Kill Your Ideas and How to Fight Them – Courtney Seiter, Fast Company (18 August 2014)

The other five ways include ones you’ll recognise as well as I do: the idea is too hard, we’re too busy, we’re too distracted. The full piece is a meaty examination of these and more with a lot of good ideas for beating them or at least making it more of a fight.

Don’t do things too early

The website Fast Company calls someone who does things too soon to be a ‘precrastinator’ –

A precrastinator – one who completes tasks in advance – may think they’re beating procrastinators at their own game but that’s not true

‘Precrastinating’ and Why It’s Just as Bad as Procrastinating – Lisa Evans, Fast Company (14 July 2014)

Go on.

Professor David Rosenbaum and graduate student Cory Adam Potts conducted an experiment in which participants were given the choice of carrying one of two heavy buckets full of pennies down an alleyway. One bucket was placed near participants at the start line, while the other bucket was placed closer to the finish line.

Surprising the researchers, the majority of participants picked up the bucket that was closest to them, even though it meant they had to carry it farther and expend more physical effort. When the participants were asked why they’d chosen that bucket, the majority replied they wanted to get the task done as quickly as possible. The desire to lighten their mental load was stronger than their determination to reduce their physical effort.

I’m not convinced that’s precrastination, I think there’s got to be an element of spatial awareness there, but there is one persuasive point in the full article. There’s the suggestion that procrastinators can do better because they simply have longer to think about things.

The brute-force way to motivate yourself

Regular productivity writer Eric Barker has a piece in Time magazine about what he calls the mistake every Productivity system makes:

Productivity systems rarely take emotions into account. And feelings are a fundamental and unavoidable part of why humans do what they do.

We can’t ignore our emotions. Because of the way our brains are structured, when thought and feelings compete, feelings almost always win.

Riffing on a book called Change by Chip and Dan Heath (UK edition, US edition), Barker proposes we think like mad when we’re planning what we have to do but then we do it by feel and specifically by using three steps to “rile up those emotions and get things done”.

The three – detailed in the full piece – are about rewords and peer pressure but my favourite is:

Having trouble finding a reward awesome enough to get you off your butt? Try a “commitment device” instead:

Give your friend $100. If you get a task done by 5PM, you get your $100 back. If you don’t complete it, you lose the $100.

Your to-do list just got very emotional.

That’s broadly the same principle that the website Go Fucking Do It works on (official website, news story on The Blank Screen)