Sometimes having an unlimited amount of time at the computer to write can be daunting. As can a blank screen.
Let’s say you are a newbie to the writing and sharing your work, and you haven’t established a writing habit yet. You don’t know which hours you write best, you don’t know where you write best; you don’t know if you are more productive in a coffee shop or a home office, you don’t know which direction your desk should face while writing, you don’t yet know which topics are best suited for you to write. You just don’t know because you haven’t had enough experience yet. Your non-habit is limiting your writing ability. One way to get writing is to set a constraint.
Set a time constraint
Having a limited amount of time to write can ward off distractions. Set a timer for a reasonable amount of time.
If you are really stuck and can’t get a word on the page, start with a manageable amount of time, say, 15 minutes.
When you put time constraints on a task, the goal is more attainable, you’ll be distracted less because you only have a small window of time to get it done.
Set a timer and do not get up from the chair until the buzzer goes off.
Nine times out of ten, you won’t want to stop writing after 15 minutes, you will find your groove. You will most likely reach a flow state; you will latch onto an idea you want to keep chewing on that you want to continue to parse out.
Make a task less taxing by adding more constraints
The more constraints you add, the more your internal motivation will rise.
Another constraint — that dramatically increases writing output — is turning off wifi on your computer, limiting your computer to just a word processer, turning off access to email, and the internet. It will amaze you how your output will increase when writing distraction-free.
The next obvious constraint is putting your cell in another room. This is the biggest distraction while doing any task.
If you work from home, another constraint is putting a sign on the door that reads, “Do not disturb, writing in progress.”
A question of willpower
With each addition of a constraint, the need to rely on willpower diminishes.
Willpower is not something you can rely on; the variables which make our willpower rise and fall throughout the day are varied, like, whether you had enough sleep or you’re worried about your loved ones — these are two variables that affect willpower.
It isn’t reliable.
It isn’t something you have or don’t have, but something that fluctuates.
However, you can get the most writing done by making small changes to your habits and routines and from adding constraints. So often, our environment drives our willpower. Do you eat more sweets during the holiday season? Most likely, yes, for the reason we all do, during the holidays, there is an abundance in our environment of candy, cakes, cookies, and wine. The environment makes it more likely you will indulge just due to the access to sweets.
Setting a constraint, like a timer for 15 minutes, is setting up your environment to drive your willpower. James Clear writes,
Willpower is the ability to control oneself and the decisions one makes. It’s the ability to delay gratification and choose long-term rewards over short-term rewards.
Rely on willpower less to control your decisions by adding a constraint
Making a choice to add a limitation, like a time limit, aids in controlling one’s behavior and sets you up for success, more than relying on willpower alone.
Your daily habits become your life, you spend time on those things you value, whether that is binging Netflix or writing a novel.
What you end up spending your time on is what you value.
Writing is never easy, but you can make it more doable by setting up your environment to rely less on sheer willpower. This same principle works for anything that adds value to your life but isn’t easy to implement, like regular exercise. Setting out your workout clothes and shoes the night before will remind you in the morning — when you wake up tired like I did this morning — that you valued exercise the night before.
The simple act of putting out your clothes (setting up your environment for success) will trigger you to act and make you feel a little guilty if you don’t.
Research supports the notion that willpower and the ability to delay gratification are vitally important for a successful, productive life.
“If you don’t do it consistently, it’s not a habit. It’s a hobby.”— James Clear
If you are serious about writing, you have to write. Practice the verb often before becoming the noun. You can’t call yourself a writer if you write occasionally. I treat my writing like a job. I do it every day, especially on the days I don’t want to write.
Set up your constraints and get writing.
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Jessica is a writer, an online entrepreneur, and a recovering perfectionist. She lives in Los Angeles with her extrovert daughter, two dogs, and two cats