Living proof that focus and diligence are moving targets



I was scared to death to tell everyone I was quitting my job to try and be a full-time “blogger”.

I had been writing this site on the side for several years, but in 2011 I decided to quit my job as a creative and marketing director. I quit so I could write here as my full-time gig.

Aside from the fear of rejection, the fear that my membership drive would be a colossal embarrassment, and the fear that I was throwing my future away, one of the things I feared most was that I’d run out of things to write about.

That was four years ago. The fears about rejection, the membership drive, and my wasted future all turned out to be for naught. As did the fear of running out of things to write about.

What I didn’t anticipate was just how easy it could be for a full-time writer to never actually write.

About two months ago, as the holiday season was winding down and the new year was upon us, I realized something about my morning work routine. I was spending the best part of my day checking inboxes and analytics.

Every day when I came downstairs to my office to work, my first instinct was to check all the things. Were there any urgent @replies? What about urgent emails? What was our website traffic like yesterday? How much did we make on affiliate income?

I told myself these stats were important metrics, and it was okay to check them right away. Who knows if someone may have emailed me with a problem on one of my websites that I needed to know about as soon as possible?

In truth, there were never any urgent emails or Twitter replies. Traffic and income were almost always exactly what they always were. And the process of checking all these inboxes and statistics usually would spiral into an hour or more of just surfing.

I was wasting the best part of my day.

This was not how I wanted to spend the first hours of my work day.

Which is why I decided to change my habits.

  • I made a commitment that every morning I would write for 30 minutes no matter what. This writing time would be the first thing I did each morning when I started my work day.

  • Additionally, I committed that I would not check any statistics or inboxes until at least 9am. I start my work day at 7:30am, so I knew I had a good 90 minutes of time where my only goal was to write, think, or plan.

  • Lastly, I started playing the same music every morning during my 30 minutes of writing time. I have a soundtrack playlist on Rdio. I’d put on my headphones and hit play on that playlist.

For the first several days, it was a mental workout. My mind rebelled. I literally went into inbox withdrawal. I wanted to check the inboxes and the stats. But I would keep my commitment to write for 30 minutes no matter what. If I every finished writing at 8:59am, I would wait one more minute — until it was 9:00am — before I moved on and began checking the stats and the inboxes.

It took about a week before began to get into the groove. When I’d walk into my office I knew that the first thing I was going to do was write. It didn’t matter if I wanted to or not. I was committed to write for at least half an hour.

Before I made this habit change, I was usually writing 500 to 1,000 words every day. But I didn’t have an exact time for when I’d do my writing, nor did I have a clear idea for what I’d be writing about. It was hit or miss, honestly. Some days I didn’t write at all. And I certainly wasn’t making daily, iterative progress on my long-term writing goals.

However, since I made this change a month ago I’ve written over 40,000 words.

40,000 words in one month.

I’m glad I decided to change my morning habits.

I still am keeping my commitment to write for 30 minutes no matter what. But those 30 minutes almost always spill over. Most days I write for 2 to 3 hours in the morning. Sometimes more. And I often spend an hour writing in the afternoon as well because I have so much momentum left over from what I began working on that morning.

This is funny to me.

Because here I am writing a book about living with diligence and focus. And yet I realized I was not being very focused with my writing habit, nor was I working with clear goals in mind. Sure, I was writing every day, but I wasn’t doing my best creative work.

All throughout my book I hit on this one very important point: focus and diligence are moving targets.

We never just “get it”. It’s something we always have to be working on, reassessing, and re-evaluating. But it’s worth the work. If we make a small change that brings us just a slight increase to our productivity and creativity, the returns we’ll get over the course of our lives will be immeasurable.

The worst assumption I could make would be that I have it all together. That I have it all worked out and never have to change my lifestyle, habits, or work routines.

If I had assumed that, then I never would have realized I’m not reaching my best potential in this season of life. By making a small change (to write for 30 minutes each morning before checking Twitter) I drastically increased the quantity and quality of my creative output every day.

They say that after the age of 30 you begin to reject new technology. The things that existed or were invented before you turned 30 you accept and adapt into your life. But the things invented after you turn 30 you reject as being crazy or evil or who knows what.

If people do that with technology how much more so with lifestyle habits and practices and workflows?

After four years of being a full-time writer, I’m glad I allow myself to reevaluate my workflows and my habits and my routines. These things just degrade over time, and so they need to be evaluated. And I need to keep learning how to do things a little bit better.