For some reason, the prospect of writing often fills me with mild panic. It’s the way I want to spend my time, and I whine and I beg and I steal to get it. But when I finally secure an hour or two to write, I’m often reduced to a state of frustrated immobility.
I’m a very good procrastinator. I’m in love with coffee, and new emails, and a small stable of frequently-refreshed websites. I like to read the Guardian Review over a week. And catch up on New Yorker articles. I’m not remotely a tidy person, but when I sit down to write I find myself driven to vacuum, or to clean the bathroom. Not so much as to make my house a decent place to live in, you understand, I wouldn’t want to give you the impression that my procrastination is practically useful. My attempts at housework are as short-lived as my bouts of writerly focus. And that’s how it goes for hours at a time. Cups of coffee. Checked emails. Half-read articles. Abortive housework. A dreary process. Uninspiring and dispiriting.
So when I happened upon a trick that improved my productivity it was no small discovery.
Since I find empty hours daunting, I tried instead to concentrate on smaller chunks of time. I gave myself permission to limit my sessions. Under the new rule I write for no more than ten minutes at a time. The trade off lies in the level of commitment those short periods require. There is to be no checking of email, or ego surfing. No following of viral links. No bloggery, or lurking on message boards. But that’s OK, because ten minutes is not a long time. Once I’ve come up for air, I can do what I want with a clear conscience until I set my timer once again.
Because the sessions are short I can commit to zero distractions. I can fit sessions into odd, previously useless, patches of time. Even a fifteen or twenty minute period can yield some work. This means that I can at least check in on a project daily, which is important to keep momentum going.
Less time should mean fewer words, though. Right? In fact, I’ve seen my productivity increase. When I chain sessions together I find myself writing for longer, and with more concentration than before.
I usually set aside an hour in the morning for writing. In that time I now finish several ten minute sessions, with plenty of time in between for vague and unproductive behavior. Each session renders between 250 and 300 words, so I occasionally meet my 1000 word target in the first writing period of the day! Of course, as usual, I make no claims for quality.