Setting Aside Time for Writing

It is time for New Year’s Resolutions, and the new habit I aim to pick up is setting aside some serious, concentrated chunks of time for writing each day. In taking a high-level review of goals and tasks at the end of the year, I found that I was tending to put off writing actions and had a significant number of them that had piled up. So I’ve decided to set aside the first 60 to 90 minutes of the work day focusing exclusively on writing. I know my mind is freshest at that early morning time, so I think it would be possible to knock out some good work then. Here are my thoughts on the process thus far.

Late last year I also encountered the Pomodoro technique of breaking up tasks into 30 minute chunks: 25 minutes of concentrated activity followed by a 5 minute break of something unrelated to the original activity. This makes a lot of sense to me, and I’ve started using the Pomodoro timer Mac application to help keep me on task. I like it because it includes a constant ‘tick-tock’ audio cue that reminds me to stay on task plus it has spoken warnings at various intervals to help you keep track of time. I don’t use any of the interruption tracking or reporting features of the software at this point, although it can be helpful to look back at the day’s activities as I make reports of time allocation for grant reporting purposes. So, for those of you instinctively good at math, my morning writing time would consist of two or three Pomodoro sessions.

My morning routine as encoded in OmniFocus actions

In the middle of last year I formalized a morning routine based on a post by Sven Fechner with daily repeating OmniFocus folders of tasks, and this really helped me get a handle on the start-of-workday activities. Sven says:
You should review a few things in the morning, but no your email. This is the one thing you won’t find in my Daily Review. I check emails twice a day at 10am and 4pm (if I stick with my principles) and my Daily Review typically happens before I check my emails in the morning. The risk of including ‘Check email inbox’ into the Daily Review, or even worse check it before, is that you can easily be rat-holed by only one email in your inbox and before you realise you have reached the afternoon and lost control a fair bit.

My use of daily task folders actually extends past the morning routine because I have an entry each day that is set to start at 4:30pm and be due at 5:00pm to enter the day’s time allocations in a time tracker. Those start and end times make the task stay out of the way for most of the day and pop up to remind me to end the day with it. (By the way, the “Walkabout” context refers to the name of my laptop, so those are tasks that I can do on my laptop without needing to connect to the internet.)

(I’ll also admit to being unable to break the habit of checking e-mail first thing in the morning for anything important. Perhaps it is just the position I’m in, but others expectations of me means I can’t let some important e-mail go unanswered until mid-morning or later. I have gotten pretty good, though, with being able to turn off new e-mail updates/prompts/alarms and only checking for new messages a few times a day.)

Where I’m stuck at the moment is when I should add the writing block to my morning routine. I definitely need to put it after the “Check calendar” task — there might be entries in the calendar that would supersede the writing block — but I don’t know how far I should let myself get into through the collection stage of the Getting Things Done day. I’ve experimented with right after the Check calendar task, but the inbox tray full of miscellaneous stuff is a distraction — especially after living with the habit of emptying that tray as one of the first activities of the work day for about six months. But putting it as far down as the “Process OmniFocus Inbox” can burn up a lot of time and energy completing the 2-minute actions that I encounter in those collection steps. It is going to take some more experimentation to find the right balance of clearing-the-morning-clutter and concentrated-writing-time before I get this right. Any advice on what has worked for you would be most welcome.