Friday, October 24, 2008

Habits Beat Deadlines

My friend Mark Mallman had an interesting post on his blog entitled "Deadlines." He is a master's degree student in sociology, and is having the normal graduate student trouble of getting down to the writing. He had tried to get his advisors to set deadlines for him, but it didn't really work. Both he and the advisors knew the deadlines weren't serious.

Instead, Mark has adopted the harder but more rewarding habit of a fellow student of setting aside a time each day -- 8 to 10 a.m., in his case -- to write. The rules are simple but firm:

She [the fellow student] does not allow herself to email, text, answer the phone, answer the door, eat, or play solitaire. She does not allow herself an out. The trick is, even if she only writes a hundred words in the two hours, it's writing only time.

Mark has adopted a similar rule, and it is already having good results. He is writing. I have a rule something like that: that is how I write a blog post each day. I have not been as strict about which distractions are excluded. When I get down to writing that book, though, I think these stricter rules will be necessary.

I suggested a similar rule to my undergraduates. They don't have a master's thesis to write, but they all have papers and quizzes, as well as notes and letters, that they should be writing at any time. They might not have two hours a day, but I think one hour a day is realistic for undergraduates.

In fact, I expect that nearly everyone reading these words has something that they are supposed to be writing all the time. Unless we are professional writers, we treat writing as a side job to be done only when we can no longer put it off. But our lives would be better, and our writing would be better, if we made a habit of absolutely setting aside time to write each day.

Because habits are more powerful than deadlines.


brax4444 said...

So have a daily blog! Right?

Gruntled said...

Well, one prerequisite for writing a daily blog is the habit of writing daily. A more important prerequisite, though, is having something to say. :-)

Mary Jo T said...

You do realize how your blog itself contributes to other peoples' procrastination, right?

Gruntled said...

That's why I keep 'em short.