A while ago a friend told me that his most productive writing time is when he’s on holiday. I was skeptical at first. Surely it’s better to do the hardcore writing when you’re in the office in work mode?
But I discovered something recently when I went on a surfing trip to Morocco. I was there for 4 days and my goal was to write the first drafts of two chapters, no matter how crappy they turn out.
I thought I’d get distracted by the surfing lessons and pool-side lounging. But I surprised myself and managed to pull it off…! So now I’m sold on these “writing holidays”. Let me tell you why I think it worked.
✍️ What we worked on this week
On holiday, I had limited time to write in between all the fun activities I wanted to do. So I needed to be efficient and productive in the dedicated writing time. This week, we looked at something related to this: the power of having a “hard stop”.
During a typical office work day, it’s easy to let my dedicated writing time stretch out into the evenings. Say I intend to start at 9am but get distracted by something business-related. I’d tell myself that I’ll restart in the evening when the office quiets down. And my allocated writing time would bloat without much output to show for it. Worse still, I’d feel tired the next day because I worked late into the evening.
During the surfing trip, there was some kind of activity that I wanted to do on most evenings. So I knew there was a chunk of time between the end of my surfing lesson and the start of my evening activity to get things done. I’d have a “hard stop” to the work day and feel refreshed to restart the next morning before the surfing lessons began.
🧠 The most interesting thing we learned
Looking into the power of hard stops took me back to this 2008 article by my guru Cal Newport. In the article, Cal talks about his “fixed-schedule productivity” that helps him juggle multiple projects while doing his PhD at MIT.
There are two rules in this system
- Rule 1: Choose a schedule of work hours that you think provides the ideal balance of effort and relaxation.
- Rule 2: Do whatever it takes to avoid violating this schedule.
Rule 1 is usually simple. For most people, it might look something like – “Work 9 to 5 on weekdays and spend time with family and friends on weekends”.
Rule 2 is the tough one. It’s easy to let work spill outside the schedule you set out, meaning it’s no longer a fixed-schedule. But Rule 2 is important because of something called Parkinson’s Law – the idea that work expands to fill the time we allocate to it. If I think I have the evening to write, then I’ll “allow” myself to slack off in the morning.
❓Question of the week
Do you struggle with sticking to a fixed schedule? Have you any tips and tricks to stick to a fixed schedule? Do you have a shut down ritual that tells your brain you’re done for the day?
If you’re up for sharing an anecdote or story that might feature in the book, please reply here. As usual, the form will ask you for your name and email (optional) so that we can give you credit for the story, or potentially reach out to you to ask for more details 🙂
📢 Answers from last week’s questions
Thanks to all of you who took part in our survey last week about asking for help. Shoutout to Kern for sharing how ego got in the way of asking for help on a kitchen renovation project. It sounds like asking for help helped you not only get a nice kitchen but also made your fiancé happy!
“Recently, I attempted a kitchen renovation at the house that my fiancé and I were about to move into. I am a chemist by profession and I learnt everything about woodworking on YouTube. I refused to ask for advice about something as basic as choosing good quality lumber and because of my ego, I wasted a lot of time…and MONEY.
Eventually, I asked a professional woodworker for advice and he was more than happy to explain to me what I should look out for. Then because I used the proper building material, I successfully completed the cupboards and countertops and my fiancé decided to go forward with the wedding.”
That’s it from me this week!