How Writing for One Hour a Day Can Improve The Quality of Your Life
When most people think about developing a writing habit, they imagine having to spend countless hours in a quiet room isolated from the rest of the world. This keeps them from trying to develop a writing habit at all. But you can accomplish remarkable things in just one focused hour a day of uninterrupted creation time.
We overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year. An hour a day doesn’t sound like a lot of time when we look at it in isolation. But when you add it up throughout the year, it’s the equivalent of 15 full days. Just imagine what would happen if you committed 15 full days to one project or idea. You would make a lot of progress.
In writing for a just one hour a day, I come up with ideas for blog posts, sections for the books I’m writing, and reflect on the key insights I’ve gained from conversations with guests on The Unmistakable Creative podcast. Writing for one hour every day produces an exponential ROI and an infinite value that can’t be measured. Writing for one hour a day can improve the quality of both your personal and professional life.
Compounding Effect and Professional Growth
Because habits are the compound interest of self-improvement, you may not notice any significant changes in the first week, month, or several months of writing. It was something I experienced firsthand when I started writing 1000 words a day in 2013.
- Within 2 months of starting the habit, AJ Leon invited me to speak at his first conference.
- I self-published 2 books
- Soon after, my writing began to resonate with my readers like it never had in the 4 years prior
- The talk I gave at the conference became the foundation for The Art of Being Unmistakable.
- After continuing the habit for 2 years, I landed my first book deal
Because we only see the results of most people’s efforts we tend to undervalue incremental progress. When I asked peak performance coach Renita Kalhorn what separated her clients who produced results from those who don’t, she said it’s a willingness to set micro goals and focus on the process instead of the prize. Just because you can’t immediately see the progress, it doesn’t mean you aren’t making any.
Improvements in Mental Health
It might seem strange that a daily writing habit could improve your mental health. But as I wrote in an Audience of One, “If I plotted out my levels of happiness on a graph, the peaks would always be when I was writing or working on a creative project of some sort.”
- Anxiety is mostly the result of feeling that we have no control over our lives. The beauty of writing every day is that we have an element of our life that we can control. At the same time, the blank page always contains a mystery that will unfold.
- Presence: Most of our suffering is the result of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. But when we do deep work like writing for an hour a day, it pulls us into the present moment. We’re able to live in the moment while keeping our eyes on the horizon.
- Something to Look Forward To: According to most happiness researchers, having something to look forward to has a significant impact on our well being.
- Healing Trauma: While I wouldn’t consider it a viable substitute for therapy and counseling, writing about our painful experiences can cause them to lose their power over us. By getting things out of our head and onto the page, we’re able to see the circumstances of our lives more objectively.
Before my daily writing habit, there were days of the week when I dreaded getting up in the morning. Now, my mornings are my favorite part of the day.
Figure out where you currently spend your time
Chances are you already spend an hour a day doing something that is not aligned with your essential priorities. Download a tool like Rescuetime and let it run in the background. At the end of the week, you’ll have a strong sense for where and how you’ve spent your time. Was it time well spent or was it time wasted on shallow, temporarily intoxicating digital validation in the form of likes and hearts?
Commit to The Easiest Part of the Process
The biggest obstacle most people face when it comes to developing new habits is getting started. So rather than commit to an hour a day, commit cracking open a notebook or sitting in a chair. The inertial will eventually carry you into following through on the habit.
Getting the most of out of your 1-hour
If you’re going to get the most out of 1 hour of writing, you have to create the right conditions. You have to increase your attention span by reducing the competition for it. In an Audience of One, I recommended the following framework:
- Set everything up the night before: For most people, I suggest they do their writing first thing in the morning. By setting up everything you need (i.e., pen, notebooks, etc.) the night before, you increase the likelihood that you’ll follow through. What you’re doing is designing an environment that is conducive to the person you want to become.
- Leave your Phone Out of the Room: You’ll be amazed by how much your productivity increases just by leaving your phone out of the room for an hour each day.
- Drown out the noise: Use a pair of noise cancellation headphones. Put an instrumental or techno track on repeat.
- Use distraction-free writing software: Unlike a word processor, distraction-free writing software has limited functionality. You can’t do much in it other than write.
- Use a distraction-blocking tool: It’s tempting to depend on willpower to resist distraction. But it rarely works because you have a limited supply of willpower. Tools like Rescuetime reduce your dependence on willpower and force you to focus.
James Clear’s Idea Generation Framework
I recently interviewed James Clear on The Unmistakable Creative Podcast about his new book, Atomic Habits. Because he writes some of the most well-researched articles I’ve read, I wanted to understand how he did it. This the process he shared with me:
You’re coming across ideas all the time right like when we talk in this conversation. I think you need to have a central holding ground where you just put all the ideas in your life whether it’s from a conversation or a book. For me, that’s Evernote. I have a notebook in Evernote titled articles. Whenever I come across an interesting idea, I dump it into there. Sometimes it’s just a title for an article. Sometimes it’s one sentence. Occasionally I’ll riff for a little while, maybe a couple of paragraphs. But all of that goes in the same folder.
I typically write either earlier in the morning or before lunch or late at night Whenever I’m sitting down to do that; I’ll go to that list and look through all the notes that are in there. I have hundreds of these. I start to look for ones that connect in some way. Sometimes I have a couple of articles that are in progress. They’re just like holding grounds for ideas.
Then, occasionally I’ll go through and try to find ideas that are on the same topic. Let’s say that you have five things that are related to creativity. So, I pull those ideas and put them into the same note. Then an article starts to take shape loosely.
I can see which holes are there and what things I need to research a little bit more. So then maybe I’ll pick up a book or do some research on some of the things that are missing or some questions I have. As that starts to build out a little bit and gets closer to a thousand or 2000 words, I break it into five sections.
There’s an introduction. Then I make this point and then make the next point. And then I have some practical takeaway, and then there’s the conclusion. It’s not always five pieces, but I kind of chunk the article out like that. Then I’m moving those chunks around to figure out broadly where they fit. Once I get to that point, I usually put it into WordPress so I can see what it looks like on the page. That’s really when the real work begins for me. So all of that kind of precursor to getting to that point is mostly a collection of ideas and just trying to get the general shape of the article.
From Focus to Flow
In an interview with Chase Jarvis, Steven Kotler said it takes roughly 90 minutes to get into a state of flow. In a state of flow, you’re likely to experience a 500% increase in productivity. By the time you finish writing for 1 hour, you’ll find yourself dancing on the edges of flow or be in it. What took you 45 minutes you’ll be able to do in 15. Your reflexes will be sharper, and your sentences will be more coherent.
Don’t underestimate what you could accomplish in one hour a day. I’ve built the majority of my body of work in about an hour a day. When it comes to any habit, whether that’s writing or going to the gym, frequency matters more than intensity. Habit is the precursor to becoming a master of your craft. If you’re willing to give something one hour a day, you might end up doing the greatest work of your life.
If you write for an hour a day, you’ll have a reason to get up in the morning and have something to look forward to. As a result, you’ll be happier and more fulfilled. Once you’ve developed the habit of writing every day, it’s something that you’ll likely do for the rest of your life. You’ll become the author of your life story because words are the building blocks of all creation. With the power of words, we shape our reality and become the architects of our destiny. Of all my habits, hobbies, and rituals, nothing has done more to improve the quality of my personal and professional life than writing for an hour each day. As Dani Shapiro wrote in her book Still Writing “I believe you can learn everything you need to know about life from an ongoing attempt to write.”
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