All the Small Things


It’s hard to get started sometimes. Hey, even I just had a dilemma over whether or not I even wanted to write a post today. But I’m behind schedule, so I kind of have to.

But being the practiced procrastinator I am, I’ve come up with some tricks to get started, and they’re the kinds of things you can do right now if you need a kick in the pants.

Or, you know, you could do them after reading this post.

Clean Your Desk

I know when my work area is a mess, it’s a lot harder to get to work. This is partly because it just seems like it would be a better use of my time to clean, but mostly it’s because sometimes physical clutter acts like clutter in my brain. The disorder which makes it harder for me to find something that might only be a couple feet away has a similar effect when I’m trying to focus and write.

If I’m having trouble getting started and my immediate surroundings are a mess, I will take just a few minutes getting everything clean. Thankfully, I have an office, so I can close the door and pretend the rest of the house is clean.

But even having a clean office is rarely enough for me to get started.

Listen to your Favorite Song

I keep bringing this up ad nauseum, I know. But it works if you’re like me. Pick a song you like, preferably one that puts you in a good mood or has a strong attachment to something positive. Then listen to it before you get to work or while you’re getting set up. You can even do this while you’re cleaning your desk.

The trick is, you have to get to work immediately after finishing the song or before it ends. Otherwise it loses its magic, and the conditioning is meaningless. Your brain is a powerful tool, but it’s lazy, so it makes shortcuts by associating things that might be totally unrelated.

I listen to the credits song from Mass Effect for a couple of reasons: I simply find it an enjoyable song, first off, but mainly, whenever I hear that first game’s credits song, it’s like a reward for beating the game. So I associate the euphoric feeling of beating Mass Effect with that song, and I can tap into that feeling just by listening to it once.

I could also apply this to the song at the end of Fight Club, but I don’t have as strong an association, there. Close, but not quite.

Hopefully this clears up why I have such a weird choice of music when I write. If you can think of something that gives you a similar feeling—and it doesn’t even have to be a song—then just give it a try.

Clear the Decks

Chris Fox talks about this a lot in his book 5,000 Words Per Hour, which is free through his website if you sign up for his non-fiction mailing list. It’s a simple principle.

Are you the kind of person who’s constantly burning to find out what people are saying on Twitter and Facebook? Do you get in conversations/arguments on forums and then constantly refresh until there’s a new reply? Well, I’m going to tell you a secret:

It can wait.

But it’s not that easy, I know. I’m like you, too. This is why clearing the decks can be effective in getting you started on your work.

Before you start working, preferably after you’ve cleaned your work area and before your warm-up song is over, go check every social media thing you need to check. Check your email, too. Make sure there’s nothing you haven’t checked.

Then shut it down and don’t look at it again until you’re done with your work. You can set intervals if you like and check once every half-hour or so if FOMO is a huge problem for you.

You could also…

Use a Pomodoro Timer

The Pomodoro technique is a popular method for maximizing study time. You can time yourself with your phone or your microwave, or you can download a free app to get it right.

All you do is work for twenty minutes, then take a five minute break. After a few repetitions of this, you can take a twenty minute break. These five minute breaks are sort of a pressure release where you can step away from work mode and relax for a bit, but not long enough that you can’t get back into your work.

These five-minute breaks are where you can make sure the world didn’t blow up while you were busy.

Take Five

Alternatively, you can get started with five minutes of work, if twenty minutes is too much to commit to at first.

I used this technique during NaNoWriMo when I really wasn’t feeling like writing. And again, I used something developed by Chris Fox, though perhaps not in its intended purpose.

Fox developed the 5KWPH app as sort of a gamified method to writing his novels quickly. It keeps track of how fast you’re writing each of your projects, and gives you your speed in Words Per Hour (WPH). It’s fun to try to see how fast you can write, and it’s overall a good tool to use for all of your writing, especially if you’re the kind of person who loves beating your high score but has an issue with your inner editor slowing down your writing.

If you’d like the non-app version, you can get the 5KWPH spreadsheet here.

But here, all I committed myself to was five minutes at first. No pre-writing or checking the previous day’s writing for a new direction. Just five minutes of lightning-fast writing.

There were days where I would decide that writing was not in the cards after all. I would record my word count for that day and then shut down my manuscript. But most days, these five minutes were all I needed to get in the writing zone.

You have five minutes, right?

Get Your Blood Pumping

If you have five minutes, then you have seven minutes.

Consider this one a bonus, because it’s not directly related to writing. The Seven-Minute Workout app has been a lifesaver for me. I hate going to the gym and I don’t have a reasonable place to run outside—the price I pay for living in the city.

But I do have seven minutes to spare, and I also have the only equipment the workout requires—a chair.

The workout consists of twelve moves, thirty seconds each with a ten-second break. Honestly, when I think I don’t want to do it, I have to remind myself just how easy it is.

Plus, if you get this workout done early in the day, you’ll feel somewhat empowered and ready to do anything—like write a novel. And there’s some research that shows that aerobic exercise is good for creativity.

So, do you have any tricks to jump-starting your productivity and/or writing? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.


About David Shank

David T. Shank spends most of his time in worlds of robots, dragons, and robot dragons. He gets his cardio vicariously through video game characters while carbo-loading on Killian’s. His perfect vision lets him see everything but the fact that he’ll never defeat those walls he keeps punching. When he’s not doing the novel-writing thing, he can often be found in public reading his Kindle and being antisocial.

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