Productivity: Habit and Ritual

I mentioned the kernel of this idea [here] [1] and I wanted to take some time to expand upon this. Here's what happened. I was listening to a podcast, where Cory Doctorow wrote about apparoching writing as something that worked best if you didn't approach it as a ritual, and rather as a habit.

He said, basically that there are lots of things we get done because they're rituals. Personal hygiene, reading before bed, and so forth, and that writing should be done in the same sort of way. Get up, read the paper, write an idea down, shower, write 100 words, get on the bus, outline, and so forth. The second part of this "habitual" method is that you always write (or do whatever it is you do) weather you feel like it or not.

For instance, I almost never want to eat breakfast until I've been awake for a couple of hours, but I've learned that I need to make myself eat something when I wake up regardless.

Interestingly, and this is where I thought it broke down is that Cory also said that you should be able to write at any time, if you have a moment, and avoid building rituals around your writing habit. Now I have to say that habits tend to be pretty ritualistic, so while I think we're talking over a very fine line here, the mindset that he proposes I think is a pretty good one. Be able to write anywhere and anytime that you have an idea and a moment. Don't get yourself hyped up so that you can only write in the mornings after your second cup of tea, if your email is answered, and you're listening to your ipod in your noise canceling headphones. It becomes very hard to satisfy all of these conditions, and if you happen to be in an off day, who knows how long it'll be till you have a chance to write again. Don't set yourself up for such quandaries, it's more important to get material written.

I'm also a big proponent of being protective of your time, and attempting to firewall my schedule so that, for instance, I can wake up in the morning and write from about 8:30 till 12, do chores in the afternoon, and take care of other tasks in the evening like coding, website design, and correspondence. Sometimes I get a second wind between about 7:30 and 11pm and can do more writing then, but often not. This isn't because I'm not able to write in the afternoons, but I know that I can work best in the morning, so I take advantage of that, I guess.

I do know that it's really easy to get "I work best in these circumstances" confused with "I can only work in these circumstances," and that's the larger point. The one thing that sticks in my head about this whole segment is that Cory said that when he was writing he felt like some stuff was great and some stuff was crap, but when he went back later, he couldn't tell the difference, and upon reflection, I think he's probably right.

I've been had a James Thruber quote in my email sig file for a while, "don't get it right, get it written," which came to my attention via my father (an aunt told him that when he was embarking on graduate school v.2,) and I like the sentiment.

cheers, tycho

[1]I totally can't find the link, at all, sorry. I might have, I'm realizing blogged inside my head but forgotten to actually post it. Sigh. On the other hand I might not be crazy and posted it in my "real" notebook.
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