I had the most productive work day I’ve had in weeks today, by implementing a few relatively minor changes. First, I closed my browser when I wasn’t using it, and relegated email to first thing in the morning, mid-day, and late afternoon. This kept the browser closed most of the day, and kept me feed-free (except for the red flashing light on my smart phone, which I’ll need to deactivate).
I also removed all the the buttons from my web browser’s Favorites or Bookmark bar except my work email login, the U’s homepage, and the college intranet site. Yesterday, if I wanted to check Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo, the Yankees score, or blog comments, I had only to click the button at the top of the browser – this afternoon it was disconcerting to notice the number of times my mouse-arrow reflexively climbed the screen to click on distractions that were no longer there, each time forcing a conscious decision on my part about whether I needed to log in. The vast majority of the time, the answer was no. (I didn’t use the timer, but I would estimate that, this blog post included, I’m in the 30 minute range for today.)
Finally, I imposed a gentler discipline on my schedule. I had been forcing myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. in order to stretch, shower, pray a rosary, and eat breakfast, and still have time to write fiction for a while before starting my workday. The alarm sounds, it’s dark, I’m inevitably tired; my shower’s slow, I drift in and out of awareness as I pray, and it takes a full hour and a half to ready myself for…what? I stagger downstairs and doodle as I try to write something worthwhile, yawn and drink some coffee, trying to awaken some creativity.
So today, I set the alarm for 6, with the same goal of 7 a.m. for fiction writing. I urged myself to move briskly, but also told myself, “If I’m 10 minutes late, the train is not derailed, it’s only delayed.” (Truth be told, I didn’t articulate it that way until just now; my actual thoughts were more abstract but no less compelling.) I started writing at a little after 7, set a deadline for myself, and stopped more or less on time, resisting the urge to write until I hit a block, and resisting the urge countless times throughout the day to take “just a few minutes” and do a little more. As a result, right now, I can’t wait for morning and the chance to write more.
As I’ve transitioned to working from home, I’ve tried to impose discipline, filling my work calendar with blocks of time for reading, writing, responding to email, etc., and when I’ve fallen off the pace, or run over the time allotted, I’ve basically said, “Well, forget that; I’ll never get caught up now.” Today I was a bit more flexible, and it paid off. When a colleague called unexpectedly, I wasn’t distracted by what I Ought to Be Doing, and at the end of the day, I accomplished more than I set out to. That feels so good, I should try it again tomorrow.