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Frogs

I know I blogged about this on my Writing Diary Blog , but I don’t think I blogged about this here. I read a few writing and productivity books, and I’ve been trying to form better daily habits.

The problem is that my self-discipline is very bad. As in, embarrassingly bad.

One of my goals has been to form a better writing habit. Since I’m a full-time writer, I already write every day, but I think there are things I can do to tweak my schedule so that I can be able to focus better when I write.

I tend to get distracted by the thought of things I need to do that day which I haven’t done yet. I don’t know why my brain is like this, but I haven’t been able to break this tendency.

So for example, while I’m writing, I’ll suddenly think about the fact that today’s the day when I need to change the bathroom towels, or mop the kitchen floor, or change the bedsheets. It’ll distract me for a few moments before I tell myself I’ll do it later and I need to focus on writing now. Then a few minutes later, the thought will pop up again.

I’ve found that the way to combat this is to just get that stuff done before I start writing. It eases some type of weird tension in me that there’s something I need to do (I wonder if I have slight OCD tendencies?).

So even though chores are low urgency and medium importance, I’ve been doing them before writing just so that I can better focus when I get to work.

In the book, 5,000 Words Per Hour, the author talks about something called “clearing the decks,” where you do what you can to get stuff out of the way so that you can write without distractions. So for me, doing chores is part of my “clearing the decks” requirement.

I also have a goal of learning the Japanese language. I took it in high school (most of which I’ve forgotten) and I took a year in college (almost ALL of which I’ve forgotten). So I’ve been doing self-study for several years, but I tend to do it in spurts, and then let it lapse for weeks or months in between. My last lapse was last year, when my IBS got bad.

I’ve been trying to become consistent in my Japanese study every day. I learned about flashcard apps on your phone or computer that utilize SRS (Spaced Repetition Software), which enables you to review flashcards during optimal intervals so that you remember them better. And in order to ensure SRS works best, you have to review your flashcards every day. The software will determine which cards you need to review each particular day.

I read the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, which (to summarize) states that every day, you should do the most difficult tasks first, in order to get them done. Well, I definitely wanted to develop a consistent Japanese study habit, so I started making it a priority to do it first, before my writing. I found that if I put off my Japanese with the intent to do it later in the day, it almost never got done because I’d usually feel too tired.

I’ve been doing my Japanese very consistently now for two months. I think I missed only 3 days, when I was too sick to do it.

So I’ve been combining the concept of “clearing the decks” into a daily “frog” routine that I do before writing. I categorize as “frogs” anything I need to do first, before writing, in order to ensure that it will get done. 

My chores was mostly in order to prevent distraction while writing, but it did fall under a “frog” category because often if I pushed my chores out to later in the day, it wouldn’t get done if I felt too tired. My Japanese study was definitely a “frog” because it absolutely wouldn’t get done if I left it for later in the day.

Another “frog” ended up being my daily Bible reading, which was another item that was important, but not urgent. Often I simply forgot to do it later in the day, or I’d only remember just before bed when I was really tired. So I shunted it into my “frog-clearing” routine before I started my writing work, to make sure I got it done.

It seems kind of irreverent to call my daily Bible reading a “frog.” But I’ve been able to be much more consistent with it for the past several months, since I started doing it before my writing. It’s usually what I do right before I start writing.

A fourth “frog” was my exercise. I did sometimes skip my exercise if my IBS was really bad, but in general I’ve been trying to do my daily exercise as the first thing (or almost first thing) after I wake up, and before writing. Since I’m sitting for hours at a time, I really need to keep my body moving so that I don’t develop more (or worse) problems than I already have.

I discovered that waiting even an hour after I wake up sometimes killed any motivation I had to exercise (and I’m really, really good at coming up with excuses not to exercise). So I’ve been trying to do it literally within 30 minutes after I get out of bed. I don’t know why I need to do it absolutely first thing in the morning, but I figured I should just try to accommodate the strange way my willpower (or lack of it) works.

So right now, I have four “frogs” I do every day before I start writing: house chores, exercise, Japanese study, and Bible reading. Unfortunately that usually means I don’t start writing until 5 or 6 hours after I wake up, which seems kind of late to start work. But the tradeoff is more consistency with things that are important to me, which I need to make sure I do on a daily basis.

I’m not sure why I blogged about this. Maybe to prove to myself that this method really does work, since I’ve been consistent for at least two months (in the case of my Japanese study) and longer (in the case of my daily Bible reading).

I hope this helps one of you, especially if you’re thinking about doing something like learning a foreign language or forming a daily writing habit. I fully admit that getting up a little earlier SUCKS, but there’s an intense satisfaction when you’ve done something important consistently for a few days.

Comments

Oh, I totally understand this. I also love the word "frogs" because I also picture my self hopping from one thing to the next before sitting down to do the main thing. For me that would be reading or anything related to helping authors promote their books.
So first, I do my Bible reading, then I eat breakfast and make myself presentable, do my chores around the house, and only then can I get a cup of coffee and sit down in front of my computer.
The one thing I need to factor in that schedule is exercising. I hate it, but I guess I need to find the time. UGH! Thanks for posting this blog!
Have fun writing!
Camy Tang said…
Sounds like your schedule is just like mine!

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