Have you ever noticed that when you have lots of time to work on something, you don’t get as much done as you thought you would?
It’s hard to get started. You get distracted. Maybe you do a few small things first because they’ll just take a short time and you have lots of time for your main event. And then you get into whatever it is and all of a sudden it’s supper time or time for that late afternoon meeting or whatever and …
Break those long periods up
If you have all day to work on your writing, break the day up into a series of shorter work periods. Decide on a start time and end time. Set an alarm (use a meditation alarm if you find a kitchen timer jarring). Stop when your alarm goes off. Make a brief list of what you would do next. (Don’t start the next thing, just write some prompts to remind you.)
Get up. Walk away. Do something else for a break. Come back and start the next defined section.
It is also much easier to focus for a shorter period. You can experiment with how long those shorter periods are. They need to be short enough to give your writing some intensity.
Take into consideration what kind of task you are doing. If it is tedious (like checking references or editing), you might want sessions as short as 15 minutes. You can focus on almost anything for 15 minutes. If it is the kind of writing that will make you lose track of time once you get into it, go for longer periods. More than 90 minutes is not advisable.
Take short, 5 minute, breaks between short sessions. Take a longer, 15 or 20 minute, break every 90 minutes. Take a longer break partway through the day.
Build a virtuous cycle of accomplishment
You are a competent person who gets a lot done. Make sure you feel like a competent person who gets a lot done when you start.
Start each session by reminding yourself of what you have accomplished recently. Sit properly, plant your feet on the floor, and take a few deep breaths. Ground yourself in that feeling of competence and confidence.
This gives you energy. If you start from this place of confidence and accomplishment you have the energy to move forward.
You need fuel
You can’t get the focus and energy parts of this equation if you ignore your physical body. Take time for meals. Proper meals away from your desk.
Do something physical in each break: walk, run, dance, yoga, a Wii fit game… Your brain is designed to work better if you are physically active. (BTW, a standard pop song is about 3 minutes and thus makes a good timer for your short break while giving you something to dance to.)
If you are physically restless this is a sign that your body needs to move. Go move. Especially if you are mentally stuck. You’d be amazed at how quickly some of those conceptual issues clear up if you take the dogs for a walk in the woods. You don’t even need dogs.
Drink water. Take care of your other bodily needs.
These are the principles behind A Meeting With Your Writing
I lead an exercise to get you energized and focused. You hang up and write for 90 minutes (split into a series of shorter sessions if that’s what your writing needs that day). You come back and I lead you through an exercise to close the session.
This post was edited April 18, 2016.