Habit Changes, Part 1 (The Big Two)

Now that I’m about a month into my new working routine, I thought I’d go into a it a little here. It’s not a single radical change, but several small ones that have all gained their own momentum to combine into bigger changes.
Gone are the days when I would work for nearly an hour, take an overlong break, lose focus, and give up. I’m working for longer periods of time with more sustained focus during my working time, and I’m getting a lot more done in those hours than I have in the past. A lot of what you’re reading on this blog can be directly attributed to these new working habits.
My first change was to my starting time. Writing has been moved up to 9:30am, when it was previously 10:00am. That 30 minutes has made a world of difference. I used to think that this hour was good for me, but in reality it simply destroyed my focus and drive. I’d get down to writing feeling less than enthusiastic, my ideas dulled by not getting them on the page when they were fresh.
Now, I’m in my chair and writing while my mind is still incredibly sharp from my exercise in the mornings. Ideas come more easily, writing comes out with less effort, and I simply have more time to actually write. If I can identify the one change with the biggest impact, it’s this one.
Second, I changed how I spend my actual writing time. Before, I would set long, uninterrupted blocks of time solely spent writing, and then take a longer break in the middle. This had the effect of—you guessed it—destroying my focus and drive to write, and a troubling number of writing sessions were cancelled early because of this. Even the sessions where I managed to write through it resulted in lower volume and lower quality overall.
To overcome this, I went back to a method I had tried when I began writing: the Pomodoro. For those who don’t know, the Pomodoro method goes like this: set a timer for 25 minutes, and work solely on whatever you’ve chosen for that period of time (I’m writing this post like that right now!). When that timer goes off, step away for a 5 minute break. Repeat for as long as you wish. I dropped it last year because I thought it was a bad way for me to work, and I started experimenting with longer blocks of writing time. Looking back, it was because I found it facile and was too skeptical of the benefits for my own good.
Even in the short time of using the method again—and taking it seriously by adhering to the time limits—the change has been immediate and noticeable. Like the schedule change, the Pomodoro method lets me work for longer periods of time, and produce more in that time. I thought more frequent, shorter breaks would ruin my focus worse than a single, longer break—the reality is the opposite. I still have ideas rolling around in my head during the break, and a shorter end time means those things will still be fresh when I sit back down. Work gets done with more detail, and there’s more high quality writing coming out of it. Having a rhythm to work means I have a groove I can settle into comfortably, but not too much so. Bad sessions can be discarded faster, and the good ones can be delved into more deeply.
These two changes are only the beginning of how I’m transforming my working time. Over the next few posts, I’ll go over my old working habits in detail, additional changes I made, and how they helped me. I might even go into some of my non-writing lifestyle changes which have definitely made a difference in my writing life.

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