So, a couple of days ago I did a review of an ebook that looked at how to break “writer’s block”. Most of it was really good, and my only major quibble was a risk that some people would find reinforcement for the idea that “getting up early” to write was a good way to find time. My take, and not so much in opposition to the ebook’s premise so much as an added thought, was that too many people misunderstand that to be an example of “time management” when it really isn’t. At least, not unless people are also going to bed early to compensate.
There was, however, an element in the ebook that I didn’t discuss because of a sub-bullet that I’m not sure about. Here’s the premise — as with finance, or priority-setting for writing, you should “pay yourself first”. In the priority world, this means making your writing time a “rock” and putting it in your schedule first, or as the ebook and others describe it, “ring-fencing time for writing”. In other words, block out time that is sacrosanct — time that you will not “cut” or “move” or “reschedule” or “reduce” to make room for other things in your life. For some people, this is first thing in the morning when no one else is awake; or afternoons while their child is napping; or evenings after people have gone to bed. Seemingly a guaranteed way to allow you time to write.
Yet here’s where the problem comes in…what do you do when life intervenes and you HAVE to adjust that time? Well, the simple answer is you treat it like a block, and move it but never never never delete it. It is YOUR time. One of your ROCKS. So you have to do it. And the ebook reinforces this — it suggests that if you miss a day, you give it back to yourself. You pay yourself first, with your time in this case.
I love the premise, I really do. But then I have niggly doubts, because I’ve been in this situation before. I know what happens. I tell myself, “Okay, I wanted an hour a day, but I missed yesterday, so I have to do two hours today.” Yet if I had trouble scheduling an hour, and had to miss it one day, what chance do I have to slip another hour in the next day? Or if I miss two days, three hours on the third day?
For writing, this time shift is possible. For other goals, say working out, it’s not feasible — working out for 3 hours on the third day means more likely that you’ll not only hurt yourself but also you’re not even getting the same benefit. Or if it is $, hurting yourself on day 2’s budgeting or day 3’s budgeting just makes you resent it all the more.
In books on stress, they’ll tell you the complete opposite — if you miss a day, let it go. It is all about DAILY routines, progress over time, incremental success, not rigidly sticking to a schedule. And the more you do something, starting with a clean slate each day, the less likely you are to start getting stressed that you missed a day, and the more likely you are to start making it a habit. Because you reward yourself when you do it but don’t punish yourself if you’re not perfect right out of the gate. For some people though, this will just be an excuse to stop doing it at all — after all, there’s no penalty.
The solution, in my view, is a bit of a hybrid of the two approaches. First, accept that you don’t have only one rock…after all, there’s a reason you bumped your writing time, and it is probably because the short-term urgent need (a kid’s appointment, suddenly realizing you’re out of some ingredient for a dinner you’re having that night with guests and you need some groceries, the pipe in your basement burst and you had to find a plumber) over-rode your long-term important goals. And it is about balance, not about rigidly sticking to a script.
Second, you also can’t just let yourself off the hook — you should be tracking your goals and seeing how your performance is doing. Maybe that’s daily, maybe it’s weekly. But tracking your progress to alert yourself that if your goal was to write for three hours every day and you only managed to accomplish that twice in a month, something’s not working. Either you need to be more realistic in your goal-setting or focus more energy on priority-setting and actually eliminating the other parts that intruded.
After all, if you missed your writing time because you were rushing a friend to the hospital, you don’t “owe” yourself that writing time elsewhere. The goal is for you to manage your priorities so you can set a realistic schedule, not for you to stick rigidly to a schedule so that it manages you.
So I’m comfortable with that “hybrid”. Sounds good to me. It seems far less “formalistic” or “stressful” than paying yourself first and owing yourself if you don’t. But what happens when your tracking doesn’t produce a change? What happens if you’ve set your goal, missed some days, adjusted, tracked some more, and are still missing days? What’s your third “mitigation” strategy?
Is paying yourself first, and owing yourself second, the best solution as it avoids the psycho-babble that follows? I just don’t know. And that’s why I didn’t comment in the previous post. Happy to have views. 🙂