I’m currently working on a novel and I have a goal of writing 1000 words a day.
I also subscribe to the Getting Things Done way of life, and I try to do a daily review of my projects and tasks, just to keep them fresh in my head, and to see if there are any easy things I could knock out.
And another thing that I’m trying to do is to gear up for a fall 2014 re-entry into the workforce when my kid starts kindergarten, so I’m doing design and coding work on personal projects for a few hours four days a week.
These are the big projects in my life right now. I care about them a lot, and I’m very motivated to complete each of them.
The trouble is this: If I skip a day on any or all of them, there’s really no tangible repercussion.
Who’s going to know if I don’t work on my novel today? The house probably won’t burn down if I don’t see that it’s time to change the furnace filter. And 09/14 is a long way off, and I probably won’t forget that one new jQuery method I read about yesterday, so I can sit on the couch and watch Star Trek on Netflix tonight, right?
But if I do that too much, my novel goes unwritten, important tasks slip through the cracks, and skills atrophy.
I’m not a machine. Willpower is a finite resource, and my brain is susceptible to maladies like fatigue, illness, or distractions. So I need to find a way to make doing these tasks with very intangible benefits more appealing than doing something more fun and tactile, like watching Star Trek or playing a game or staying in bed.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.
He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
I’m a believer in the effect of habit and rhythm on productivity, so upon reading this, I could imagine the power of this technique.
As a GTDer, I know the power of crossing an item off of a list. Feels great. And this chaining method gives you that satisfaction of X-ing off a day. But it also gives you the added bonus of being able to sit back and admire your work.
Problem is, I don’t really have a place to put a physical calendar of that size where I’d be able to see and admire it every day, though. I do, however, have a free iOS app called Good Habits.
It’s a calendar based habit tracker, and it works really well for setting up multiple habits tracked individually. It’s kept me on track with my various long-range projects surprisingly well.
So while it may be true that no one will know if I don’t get my 1000 words in today, I’ll know.