Early last week , I was super cranky and frustrated. I’ve been feeling stuck this month after a productive October. The baby got sick for the first time ever, Andrew went away for a week so I was solo parenting for the first time ever, and then the baby got sick again. It’s been weeks of sleeplessness and exhaustion and only meeting basic needs like grocery shopping and making food, doing laundry, and bathing. I’ve barely been able to read, let alone write or work on any other projects. When I have been writing, I’ve been sacrificing sleep. The resulting writing and writer’s personality have not been pretty.
After having a bit of a whinge on Twitter and feeling immensely sorry for myself, I reminded myself that no one was going to magically make things better. It was up to me. So I got offline and quickly prioritized what I wanted to happen that day: 1) earlier bedtime, 2) quality writing time, 3) reconnection, 4) anything else on my to do list no matter how small.
By the end of Tuesday, I was feeling a LOT better. I realized that the sleeplessness and exhaustion and crankiness had derailed everything, not just writing. I didn’t make it to bed as early as I’d have liked that night, but I made it to coffee with my local mums’ group, which cheered me up immensely, and made some actual writing progress and crossed one or two small items off of the to do list.
A few things helped turn last week around, so I’m jotting them down here for future reference and in case they help you during a similarly rough patch:
Seriously. Dehydration gives me massive headaches. I’d also gotten into a habit of “Oh my goodness the baby is finally asleep, I survived another day, let’s have a glass of wine to unwind,” which used to be a small, daily celebration, and now just makes me even more tired. I cut that out last week and realized my evenings were magically more productive, no extra hours needed.
We all learned about inertia in school. It takes a big jolt of energy to move an object at rest, but once that object is moving, it’s pretty easy to keep it going. Same for people.
I get the most done on days when I have a few things going on. But there’s a sweet spot. Too much, and it’s all just frenetic. Now I’m trying to schedule something that gets me out of the house every day so that I interact with other people, get out of my head, get moving, and get into “go” mode without getting into complex logistics.
My French class meets two afternoons/week. I have a weekly mums’ group meeting. We just started Kindermusik classes. Between those and errands and chores like grocery shopping and laundry, we have something almost every day.
There’s nothing like getting something done to serve as motivation for accomplishing something else. With my revision, I was feeling discouraged because I was trying to complete a chapter a day and had gotten stuck on one chapter. I was staring at it every single day, which meant I wasn’t crossing that chapter off of my list, and I was wasting hours feeling frustrated. This, in turn, meant I couldn’t figure out what the chapter needed — I was too stuck on what I needed.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t do well with daily word count goals. If I don’t hit the count, I feel like I have to make it up the next day, and more often than not, I drive myself into a bad writing week for not hitting goals even if I’ve made progress overall. In revision, progress often means cutting/reshaping, and increased word count isn’t even an accurate measure of productivity.
Instead, I’ve set my daily “to do” to “write for 15 minutes.” More often than not, if I can sit down for those 15 minutes, I’ll get absorbed and work for 2 hours. I don’t feel a need to make up a missed 15 minutes, so I don’t get sucked into a vicious cycle of never catching up.
I recently read this piece via Lifehacker that summarizes this change — it’s an interview with the Dilbert comic author Scott Adams on having systems, not goals.
The final reminder is as obvious as it is true. Regularly getting an extra hour of sleep will make the 15 minutes of writing much more productive than staring at the screen for 3 hours. This isn’t to say that the occasional long push instead of sleep isn’t worth it — it absolutely is — just not long term.
Originally published at anindita.org. You can comment here or there.