Design my life for a week?
July 29, 2017 3:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the last week of a big writing project, which I expect to complete in the next nine days. I have no other commitments over this time period, as I've cleared my diary to focus on it. I have an office available to me, and a library that's open from 8am-11pm. How do I organise my days to take the best possible advantage of this block of time and get the project finished?

I have already have a written outline of the work and a basic schedule for what I want to complete on each day. But I know I tend to lose time getting ready in the mornings and procrastinating here and there during the day, and I also have tendencies to plunge into depressed moods when I have too much unstructured time on my hands. I really want to minimise my usual chaos for this one week, and get the job finished. So I'd like to set some rules for myself that I can follow rigidly for nine days, even if they wouldn't be sustainable over a lifetime. For example, I'm planning to limit my recreational internet time to half an hour a day in the evenings, and to keep all the screens out of my bedroom so I can get enough sleep and wake up early. Any tips along the same lines? I'd be grateful for anything, from advice about how to break through blocks on the writing to advice on getting up early and getting enough sleep and exercise.
posted by Aravis76 to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I'd limit your recreational internet to the afternoon, honestly, if you want to stick to your "no screens at bedtime" rule as well. It's easier to just pick something else to do than to turn off something you're actively engaged in.

Here's what my schedule tries to look like.

- Wake up, drink glass of water
- Do Headspace session for 10 minutes (this honestly does good things for my focus and mood for the rest of the day)
- Shower, get dressed
- Feed cats, eat breakfast, enjoy some recreational internet, write down things to do that day, do a couple quick chores like emptying the dishwasher and loading breakfast dishes
- Assemble lunch

- Go to work (even if you don't actually GO anywhere)

- 20 minute walk break (I listen to Audible while I walk)
- Return to work

- Lunch, 30-minute walk break
- Return to work

- 20-minute walk break
- Return to work

- Done working!

- Enjoy some recreational internet

- Eat dinner, play with pets, go to the gym, do the chores you wrote down in the morning

- Screens OFF
- Get ready for bed
- Do some light stretches
- Read a book (this helps me feel sleepy), take some melatonin

10pm or whenever your eyes close:
- Lights out!

With the walk breaks and the evening walking around doing stuff around the house, I hit 10,000 steps pretty easily. If a scheduled workout wakes you up as opposed to making you more tired, then you might want to do that earlier (like between 4-5pm, or before you shower in the morning).
posted by Autumnheart at 5:36 AM on July 29, 2017 [15 favorites]

I have morning procrastination issues too. One thing that really helps is doing as much as possible the night before. Prep the coffee so all you have to do is hit the button in the morning. Lay out your clothes. Pack your bag. Prep breakfast/lunch if you're packing food. Etc. The mornings where I've managed to do all that the night before and all I have to do is get dressed, put the food in the lunch bags with the ice packs, pour coffee into the mugs, and take out the dog, go much more smoothly.
posted by joycehealy at 5:37 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Pomodoro the shit out of those days. When it comes to writing my next novel, I have NEVER been so productive as when I start that dang timer and get my fingers to moving and my brain to shut the hell up.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:42 AM on July 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

Seconding the pre-morning and pre-week prep. I tend to eat a lot of foods that can be conveniently brought in a lunch: carrots, tuna salad, cottage cheese, protein bars, whole fruit like apples or bananas. Even if you're not going to an actual location, it might take some of the load off to just prepare servings of these things on Sunday so that you can grab them and not have to worry about preparing a meal.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:44 AM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


First, think about what your personal rhythm is like. Do you work best in the morning? Afternoon? Evening? Most people tend to have a bit of a mental/physical slump at some point in their day -- do you know when yours is? Consider what you know about your own work habits and circadian rhythms, and plan a day that works well for your body & mind.

Example: for me, I usually get my best work done in the morning; I always have a slump after lunch. So, when I have the freedom to schedule my own work day, I do 4-5 hrs of challenging work in the morning, take a walk or a nap during my normal slump time, do about 1.5-2 hrs of easy work or review/planning before dinner, and about 3 hrs of work (including some review & planning for the next day) after dinner. The breaks are just as important as the work time -- I have a leisurely lunch & dinner and take a long, strenuous walk in the afternoon. When I come back, my brain is refreshed and I can usually work faster and better than if I'd tried to slog through.


The Pomodoro Method is an incredibly useful technique for reducing distraction and reducing anxiety about work by breaking it up into achievable chunks. Here's how you do it: Pick a task and set a timer for 25 minutes. During that 25 minutes, work without distractions. When the time is up, stop and take a short break -- 5 minutes to stretch your legs, check your email, go to the bathroom, whatever. When the break is over, start another 25 minute work timer. After every 4 work sessions, take a longer break -- 15-30 minutes. Here's a short primer on the method. Here's a longer ebook about it. Here are some Pomodoro timer apps you can use.


I like to track my work process notes in a physical notebook that I keep by my side throughout the day. It's where I write out my plan for the following day, take notes on how many Pomodoros I completed, jot down any changes I had to make to the plan, and record any insights I have on how to improve my work process -- "X playlist really helped me concentrate," "Y snack gave me brain fuzz," "Z insight is worth reminding myself when working on this chapter." If I get stuck mid-way through the day, I use the journal to free-write -- that can often help me discover the source of the stuckness so I can move through/around it. It's INCREDIBLY helpful to have a productive way to deal with stuckness, rather than defaulting to "check Facebook" or "berate self."


Speaking of might find it helpful to start each day by doing some free-writing. That's writing in a sort of automatic, brain-dump way, not about anything in particular, just filling up a set amount of pages or a set amount of time. One popular version of this is called "Morning Pages". I find that starting my day with 15 minutes of free-writing really helps me get going on any more focused writing I have to do afterwards -- it seems to get the clutter out of my brain so I can approach my writing tasks with clarity.
posted by ourobouros at 6:22 AM on July 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Hello! Are you sure you're not me?

Chiming in to say it's important to schedule breaks for things like walks (no internet browsing or emailing!) that get you out of your head and off the screen throughout the day.

And I very much like having a routine: breaks at the same time each day. Awake and to bed at the same time. Meals at the same time.

I have also found that I need an accountability person/group for this kind of sustained and intensive writing. What I do is ask my best friend or another writer in the trenches with me if it's okay for me to send them an email every day with a doc attached that has the words I wrote that day or the project as it's evolving. I explain that I don't want or need them to read the words or even reply to my email. Really! Don't reply! All I need is to know that I told someone I was going to send them words every day, so I have to deliver. If you have other writer friends, you can offer the same in return either now or for some time in the future when it's crunch time for them. Sometimes, instead of this or even as an additional plus, I keep a notepad nearby where I note my progress each day: words written, books read, sections completed, sections revised.

I also think it's important to set up little rewards for yourself as you go. 1,000 words? You can buy a new novel to read! Section completed? Get some nice takeout? Survived 8 hours of slog where things didn't go great but I still didn't once check askmefi? Going to have a glass of wine and ring my best friend! You get the idea. But I keep a list of "things that I like that are nice and feel like treats" that I can review before I start working in the morning; I pick one and an appropriate goal to go with it and get to work happy to imagine the reward waiting on the other side.

Also, to add to advice above re: prepping for your morning the night before, I've found that it's super useful for me to close out the last writing session of the day with a list of writing tasks to start in the morning (follow up on A by reading/skimming/reviewing B; write about C and D; revise edit E; introduce F; write transition between G and H; you get the idea). That way, when I sit down in the morning, I don't lose time trying to get in the groove and figure out what should be on my writing docket for that day. I already know where to jump right in.
posted by pinkacademic at 6:26 AM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

As far as writer's block goes - I took a workshop with an artist who walked us through her technique for breaking through artist's block - she gets her materials out, turns on a song, and starts sketching. She has until the song is over to finish the sketch. When the next song comes on, she sets the first sketch aside and starts another. She does this for 3 songs, then has a cup of coffee and looks at her sketches and thinks about them, and then makes decisions - trash that sketch, tweak this one, etc.

The beauty of it is that it really forces you out of your head. Even if you do three sketches you don't like, you're getting idea of what you don't like and your next round of sketches will be better.

Depending on what kind of writing project you have and whether or not you are the type of person who likes to write with music playing, this could be adapted for writing - especially if your writing style, like mine, is a matter of just getting *something* down, and then editing the crap out of it.

Although on preview, it's really kind of a riff on Morning Pages.
posted by bunderful at 6:29 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone; all fantastic and useful ideas, and I'll design some rules for myself out of a combination of them all. (Bollywood music + pomodoros always get me writing, somehow, so the music suggestions are great.)
posted by Aravis76 at 6:41 AM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

When I was book writing, one of the challenges was in not stopping on time when I was feeling productive. It's important to honor your break schedule so you don't run out of gas later in the day/week. So I would schedule errands during midday break time, to ensure I stopped, got out of the house, and got something done. Things as simple as mailing some mail or grocery shopping.

I found that after 3 hours, my work wasn't as good and I was more easily distracted. A three-hour "shift" works well for me.

I also did an afternoon nap, because I like to work another shift in the evenings. 2-3 shifts a day worked for me.
posted by Miko at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Pick one of the suggested schedules. And then tell yourself if you start strong and meet or exceed ir on the first two or three days you can have a little treat. I'm a big believer in starting early rather than believing the whole procrastination rationalization and letting the first couple of days slide. ymmv
posted by puddledork at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

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