Last week, I started an experiment with myself. I made it a goal to do some free-writing every day to see if it would help me be more productive. You can read the first post here.
I wrote six of the last seven days. I did not write on day five because it coincided with a day off. I had no specific time of day when I wrote. Sometimes I would write first thing in the morning, other times I would write mid-afternoon, or right before bed. The format they tended to take can be best described as a stream of consciousness pep talk. As I mentioned in the original post, my tendency in free-writing is to start by dumping all of my frenetic thoughts and worries onto the page, followed by an attempt to understand what is going on behind those thoughts, and finally some compassionate or encouraging words to myself. If you think this sounds loosely like a DIY-cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you would be right. I first learned about CBT during a particularly stressful time in college and found it helpful. Though I didn’t consciously set out to apply CBT techniques, it is nevertheless what I ended up doing (to varying degrees) each day in the journal.
On day three, a particularly unproductive day, I started off with a minor word-tantrum and that cleared my mind so that I was able to look at the problem more objectively. I wrote, “I got a later start to the day and it completely unraveled my desired schedule.” Then I followed that with “Places I went wrong today,” where I listed all of the things I did that put me so off track. It gave me several good (albeit obvious) insights such as, “don’t spend half the morning watching the premiere of that show you like, those are your best brain hours…don’t waste them on television!” A no-brainer, I know, but sometimes you have to reflect and remind yourself. Because I wrote in the afternoon following the aforementioned TV binge, the end of the entry was about how I could salvage the rest of the day with a few less ambitious goals.
On another day, I wrote in the morning, “What’s behind this complete lack of motivation? I think working from home is really difficult for me.” Then I wrote about some of my concerns and questions I have in my research. Toward the end, I wrote some advice I often give myself, not to worry too much about frameworks and organization yet, “for now, focus on the task at hand: collect. that. data.” And with that, I picked up my books and headed to the cafe. It was an okay day as far as productivity went.
One week in, I am definitely feeling the benefits of this exercise. On a few occasions, I even found myself in the middle of my work with a few errant thoughts rattling around in my head. They were in a feedback loop and distracting me from what I was trying to do. I turned my paper over and just wrote them out. I felt like I was literally pulling those unhelpful and distracting thoughts out of my brain. It was amazing how quickly I was able to get back to work after that.
I’m looking forward to new insights that week two might bring. For now, I’ll just keep writing.
It’s never too late to jump on this free-writing experiment. Let me know if you try it out and how it works for you!