On an average day, I wake up before the sun rises. I have ample time to get dressed, drink a glass of water and brew my coffee. I write past daybreak without distraction and work diligently on the to-do list that I prepared the night before when I went to bed at 10 pm. What about you?
Bah! I wish! And I do wish I had this kind of day, just once a month would do, but the reality is that my day is full of distractions, some self-imposed, others not, others arguable. My evening passes by quickly, and the distractions fly in by 10 pm, I am as close to feeling like bedtime as I am to finishing that to-do list. Nowhere near.
I have had these kinds of days, and they are possible but always at the expense of something else. “Success” a diligent routine-meister would say, but there’s gotta be another way. The opportunity cost of this perfect day for me could be a last-minute inspiration dash on a story; it could be an evening out with friends, a cinema date, it could be a client deadline, it could be life.
I get it, I do, 10,000 hours and all that. I understand that an unshakeable routine is at good accumulating those hours and progress, but I’m a flawed human being and prone to distraction. Pretending otherwise is the least productive option.
Even within a routine success is not guaranteed. Writers, freelancers, humans I know you’ve had a bad, uninspired day and there’s nothing to be gained within those walls of your regime. Isn’t sticking doggedly to a routine putting a process ahead of the product?
Ergo, I’m experimenting out loud with alternatives to a strict routine. I have my schedule, my plans for mass domination and my to-do list but I’m ditching the rest.
Below are a couple of things I’m trying out.
The OODA Loop
This strategy was created by the US Air Force Colonel John Boyd, and it is a process for quick but effective decision making. How will it work in this context? You keep your schedule but not lock in routine at the expense of everything else. You make quick decisions on incoming attention attacks with this process.
Observe — What’s coming in? A massive award for your work? That’s going to be hard to ignore.
Orient — Quickly now, can you shift something in your schedule to spend an hour or so digesting, celebrating, responding to the award news? I would.
Decide — Yes, you can. You can switch tasks and quickly allocate a later time for your current job. Or not, or you decide not to process this news now.
Act — It’s time to take your first step on the road of the decision you’ve made above.
What this process does is eliminate that nasty beast, procrastination.
Experiment with your fixed routine. Can you transplant those morning hours to the afternoon? Could you answer emails first thing or last thing at night? Whatever is in your ideal method. Can you switch it?
Sure, you’ve had great success doing your writing first thing but have you ever tried other times?
I’ve started moving my writing time around in the day. It means that if something goes wrong with that first session, it isn’t game over. It also cuts out excuses that I tell myself. Such as if I don’t hit that inspiration hour it’s not worth carrying out. Life outside routine is not futile.
Just try being flexible. It will mean you are more resilient and in control of the way you spend your time. You also don’t get stuck with the habit of needing perfect conditions to be productive.
Write it down, write it down, write it down. Rather than the feelings of guilt, hopelessness and despair (I have been there regularly) that come from an unproductive session within your routine.
Take note of what has happened, how it made you feel — just kidding! What happened, what you were working on and how much of a disruption to your routine has resulted in a productivity drop?
Then, combine the info you glean with the funky rescheduling exercise above. Is there a reason you couldn’t fight off distraction at this time? Try rescheduling your day with this in mind. Could you even schedule in the distraction?
Could you give it a go? Control is an illusion. Try being flexible about when you do what you do.
If like me, you are on an inquisitive quest for understanding then join my newsletter.