We often resort to a constant environment in order to be more productive. This way, we try to facilitate our work. It’s about minimising the chance to be distracted by the unforeseen and the unplanned.
Imagine there is a big task you have to tackle. You don’t want to lose sight. You feel insecure.
That’s why you reach for an environment that has worked for you before, that is predictable and that you know.
You are entrenching yourself in constants to keep you safe.
Reduction, simplification and habituation are part of our human nature. They are powerful strategies if used wisely.
Only, making every aspect of your productive workflows a constant may not always be a wise approach. Especially when it comes to writing.
By building constant environments and sticking with them, you miss chances.
Sometimes change and variation is what you need.
The environments you create
If you are a writer, you know that writing is tough. It’s always a challenge to get started. It’s demanding to keep on track. It’s even more exhausting to finish something and then repeat again from the start.
If you have struggled in the past with how to better handle the stresses of being a proficient writer, you will - intentionally or unintentionally - have built several environments for you to get your writing done. Because you suppose they work best for you.
Perhaps you call this your „writing mode“.
Your writing mode has different aspects to it: You probably have your preferred time of day to write. You also have your computer, an office and a table where you do your writing. Maybe you always have a coffee when writing.
I want you to visualise these aspects of your writing environment. Can you name the essentials in your setup? Which are consciously chosen, which are not? Consider these four points:
- Your mental environment.
- Your physical environment.
- Your digital environment.
What I eventually want you to do, is to purposefully choose and change the aspects of your writing environment. I want you to play with these for productive purposes.
Try to vary your writing environment for the benefit of your writing efforts. Variation can spur motivation.
If something is not working, ask yourself: Is your environment the right one for this point in time?
Environments we have built for ourselves are often like fortified castles. Strongholds from which we try to defend ourselves from the onslaught of tasks.
Especially mindsets tend to resemble strong fortified walls. We stick with our mindsets. We hardly ever question them if we need to get something done.
We introduce elements of force to fend off the perspective of failure. „The stronger, the better“, we say. „I just have to push through.“
Force tends to help, sometimes. You can achieve a lot in what’s called sprints.
Sprints are high-intensity outburst of energy dedicated to a certain task. But sprints have to be kept short. It’s not possible to keep up a high intensity for too long. It’s counterproductive.
In fact, pauses in between sprints matter. The true power of sprints lies in interruption. Interruption is an integral part of any productive process. Pausing in this sense is not about procrastination. It’s about regeneration and growth.
Just ask any powerlifter how important his deload training is to growing his strength.
Respect the mental regeneration you need. Interrupt yourself. Even if you fear the risk of failure. Maybe this fear is simply unjustified.
Instead, I want you to introduce playfulness and an ease of mind into your mental setup. Build mindsets and routines that embrace change. Even if the job you have to do is critical.
If you use force and intensity to get something done (say a daily writing goal of a high number of words or something similar), use it in a flexible and feather-light manner. Just like Cassius Clay did his boxing.
You will find that not every challenge is decisive. In fact, the least of them are.
This is why it’s perfectly fine to err. You want to accept failures.
In writing, it’s not always about quality first. In fact, most of the time quality isn’t your priority. More often than not it’s about quantity.
Just write it. However imperfect it may be. Just produce. Warts and all.
When I started my writing, I as very hesitant. I kept stuck all the time. It was because I wanted to get everything right in the first place.
I found myself fiddling with form, arrangement, choice of words and punctuation. These things do matter. But only after you have gotten the ball rolling.
There are different phases in that creative process called writing. There is never only a single draft.
First, it’s about letting yourself go. Only later it’s about meticulousness.
Physical environments matter a lot in writing. You can tweak them for your good. Try to expose yourself to different physical environments while writing. Maybe you will find that certain settings miraculously get your juices flowing while others just don’t.
The following factors I find fruitful. I like to play around with them.
Ambient noise: Sometimes I just prefer it to silence.
Music: Somehow coffee table jazz works great with The Minimal.
Perspectives: Sometimes I just need to go somewhere else to write. A change of perspective often makes all the difference.
Lighting: I love writing in low light situations on sepia or dark-mode screens. Candles are great, too.
Cold air: I get a lot of ideas while out for a walk. I use dictation on my mobile device to write down my thoughts.
Scents: My brain craves stimulation. And olfactory stimulants are the most archaic of them all. For me, coffee and tea while writing are more about the scents and tastes than about the caffeine.
What you can do
I want to give you a few ideas how you can change your writing environment. Maybe changes are what’s missing to get you more proficient.
- If you are used to writing on your Mac at home, get up and go somewhere else. In fact, take a detour to that somewhere else and capture thoughts along the way.
- Take your iPad with you. It’s a great writing device. If you don’t have and iPad, take your phone. Give dictation a try.
- It’s about text, not the tool. So switch your tools regularly. Embrace different writing apps. Just be consistent with your filing system.
- Write on paper. There are many ways to get it into digital. When is the last time you used a pen?
- Split your task into chunks. Then finish them individually. Pause and focus on something else after each chunk.
- Quit writing, take a nap, then continue.
- Quit writing, do some exercise (like weight lifting), then continue.
- Quit writing, read something, then continue.
If you’ve tried a few of these ideas, I am curious to know how they worked out for you. Let me know.
*These words are part of a daily challenge. It’s called “Ten Days to a Better Blog”. This was my day 3. Also check out my day 1 and day 2. You write, you commit and you engage with others from a community of like minded folks. It’s all about growing yourself as a writer and building your confidence. I would love to hear from you on Twitter. The social thing is about getting bugged to stay on a writing track for ten days. It’s still open for anyone to join and won’t close anytime soon.