DISCLAIMER: you are excused from reading this long-ass post about my personal project/attempt to change my habits and get revisions done. If you’re into things like books about year-long shopping bans and happiness projects, you are of course welcome to stay.
If not, please enjoy this cat photo as thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have a lovely day 💕
June should be interesting.
Note that I didn’t say “fun.” It’s going to be interesting because I’ve reached a point where I can no longer explain why I’m not getting important work done. I’m losing hours—days, even—to my desperate need for the kind of mental stimulation I don’t get from the challenging yet unrewarding work of novel revisions. It feels like I must either give in to my distraction attraction or do something drastic in an attempt to wrangle my habits into something that serves me.
…you can probably guess which one I’m choosing, especially if you were around for my productivity experiment back in 2017.
This is a whole other thing. Less experimental, narrower scope, far less record-keeping.
For one month I’m getting off social media, minimizing multitasking (and what I call “distraction layering” because I don’t know what else to call it), setting my phone out of reach, and ruthlessly eliminating options for my brain when it wants to wander away from revisions and editing.
(I will be here occasionally to record progress and insights, but if it becomes a crutch or an obstacle I’m out. You can hold me to that.)
Big gestures like this have a mixed reputation, with good reason. For a lot of people there’s a solid argument to be made for changing habits gradually, cutting back slowly, and restricting as needed. It’s far more sustainable in the long run, and the adjustment is less painful.
AMAZING if that works for you. For me, it doesn’t. I’ve tried. If the (social media, bingeable show, game, sweets, whatever) is available to me, I struggle with setting self-imposed limits to the point where they become useless.
…unless I’ve first broken the cycle by going cold turkey, adjusting to not having The Thing, and then decided whether to bring it back in a more limited way.
So here we are. If anyone is still reading, please note that this is in no way a suggestion that you or anyone else should try this with me. This is not a fun new productivity trend. It is me charging into battle, unarmed but scrappy and, above all, desperate.
So it’s not a how-to.
It’s also not a “dopamine detox.” I’m not minimizing pleasure for the sake of becoming more sensitive to it.
I will still watch TV with my husband in the evening—after my work is done, and without my phone in hand.
I will still have gaming time—on Sundays and maybe as a reward after I’ve finished all of my work on a focused day (especially if I’m too mentally drained to do any reading).
I will still read—hopefully more than I manage to when other things are on the table as alternate options.
I will do online drawing lessons (again, at appropriate times). I will go for walks and hikes. I will cook and bake (but I will no longer be bingeing Justified on my iPad while I’m in the kitchen).
There will be photos, but they will be for me, not for posting in places that keep pulling me back to see who liked or commented.
There will be joy. There will be glorious consumption of other people’s creative output.
But there will be limits, structure, and rules—things my brain needs, yet consistently rebels against.
Still with me? Weird, but cool. Let’s move on.
-no social media. The need to check notifications is too strong, and that leads to scrolling for stimulation. No one is going to suffer for the loss of my silly observations and cat photos for a month, and I don’t do much book promo these days, anyway. It can wait.
-minimal morning distractions. I suspect this will be one of the hardest parts, but I’ve learned that my morning truly does set the tone for my day. If I’m starting my day with high-reward, low-effort activities like watching YouTube videos while I make breakfast it’s really hard to switch gears to high-effort, low-reward work. I haven’t figured out the exact limits here (can I listen to a podcast even if that starts its own distraction cycle, or will that have to be part of the re-introduction process? Can I read even if that tends to turn into “one more chapter” and often cuts into work time?), but ideally my mornings will be quiet and painfully present.
And I do mean painful. Boredom HURTS. I’ll do what I can to relieve it—exercise, DuoLingo, journaling, and whatever else helps prepare me for the day—but it will be a challenge to not have someone else’s voice in my ear as I go about my business.
-limit multitasking and distraction layering. This is one of my worst habits these days (in terms of my own goals, not objectively or morally). I’m rarely doing just one thing. There’s always something else pulling me out of being present and focused. If I’m cooking, I’ve got Netflix on in the background. If I’m watching a movie I also have my phone in my hands to scroll social media or play a mobile game.
Sometimes this layering is beneficial. I genuinely focus better on writing if part of my mind is engaged with music. I get more exercise if I can listen to music or a podcast while I’m walking.
But I think, for me, I’d like to cut back and return to a place where I either enjoy what I’m doing in off-hours or go find something I like better rather than layering distractions on top of entertainment (or whatever).
Again, I need to explore a bit to define limits. Can I try learning cross-stitch or practice drawing while my family watches a movie we’ve seen ten times? That feels fine in a way scrolling Instagram or reading a book doesn’t. TBD. Again, the point isn’t to torture myself with boredom, but to explore.
-work time is for work. Simple rule, and probably the most important. I’ve had it for ages, but it doesn’t work without the other rules to support it. From 9:30 to 2:30 on weekdays (barring appointments) my butt will be in my chair and my fingers on my keyboard. If I’m stuck, I’ll write about why I’m stuck and figure things out that way instead of wandering off to do something else. No posting to social media because “it’s for work.” No other business tasks coming before revisions. Coffee breaks and lunch break, yes, but scheduled and with time limits.
Most importantly, no other options. No phone. No distracting websites. No Kobo packed with tempting books at my side.
Music, yes. And a notepad where I can write down whatever other chore or activity my mind suggests we could be doing (to be saved for a more appropriate time). Also a journal for observations and for writing through the hard parts when necessary. And cats. Always cats in the office, and visually appealing clutter, but they help more than they hold me back.
(Side note: the danger of burnout is real, and accommodations for things like migraine days and mental exhaustion will be necessary. This is just the goal.)
-stay accountable. My brother has generously offered to let me send him chapters as they’re finished so I’ll feel pressure to get work done. That’s my book accountability. For this project I also have a friend who understands my struggles and has agreed to let me check in with her so I feel the pressure to stay on track. One for the tasks, one for the habits.
-get off your damn phone. Pretty self-explanatory. I hate how I reach for my phone as a way to fill every quiet moment of my day. I need it within ear-shot for phone calls (I can’t pick up messages at the moment), but I don’t need it in my hands.
-choose whenever possible. This one sounds a bit silly and obvious, but I’m keeping it. My biggest problem isn’t the things I do, it’s that I do them without conscious thought or choice. I have never consciously thought yes, I’d like to lose an hour to scrolling posts about ridiculous baby names on Facebook, but it happens. There’s nothing wrong with spending three hours reading about architecture, but when I did that instead of editing it wasn’t because I decided it was more important, and I wish I’d chosen it at a better time instead of letting it pull me away from my intentions. I want to practice choosing what’s best for me in the moment rather than acting out of habit. Deciding to crash in front of the TV at the end of the day because I’m mentally done is TOTALLY fine. I just want to make sure it’s my choice.
As this is not a process of punishment and deprivation, there will be rewards and celebration along the way. If I start work on time and get a chapter done in the morning there’s a treat with my name on it to go with my lunch. Revising 10 chapters in a week earns me a night off from cooking. Each chapter over that buys me an extra hour of gaming on Sunday (if I want it).
There will be others, but you get the idea. When the work isn’t intrinsically or immediately rewarding we can try to make it feel like it is.
So that’s about it.
Not tackling anything other than getting my habits in order and facing down my craving for mental stimulation (and trying to get my work done).
Not experimenting with other productivity strategies like changing my schedule or recording hourly time use.
No dietary changes, though eating healthier would definitely not hurt.
Just me trying to get comfortable with discomfort and helping my brain get back to doing what it does best.
Time to make the stories.