Writing is my passion, but it wasn’t appearing in my calendar as regularly as I would have liked and I wanted to start dedicating a daily space for it.
I looked to other professional authors on how they wrote their books and what tips of the trade I could implement. What do they know what I didn’t get the memo on?
My research revealed most people have 3 to 5 hours of uninterrupted time to dedicate to their craft. This would happen early in the morning or from around 8PM at night. Some people have designated writing spaces that are external to their homes and spend days, weeks or even months there to complete a project.
I started to feel quite despondent about my situation. I have two small children and don’t have the luxury of uninterrupted hours on end – especially in lockdown. I can’t keep the same productivity schedule as them so I ditched that idea.
Instead of trying to fit into someone else’s mould, I looked into my world to see where I have an established habit that I can replicate.
I realised my success area was my exercise habit, I train six days a week and have been doing this since I was a teenager. I am going to be 39 years old in August so I can speak with authority on the subject.
I deconstructed the habit into its basic principles so I could use the same blueprint and apply it to my writing and it is working so well.
Think about an area of your life that you would like to make progress on – the one that you have been talking about since New Year’s Day but not much has changed since then.
Keep this in mind while you are reading the article and think which principles you can apply to your goal. Take what is relevant, ditch what doesn’t work for you but the point is to base it on your unique world.
Principle 1: Schedule and protect
“How we schedule our days is how we spend our lives” – Gretchen Rubin
My training is scheduled into my calendar like a meeting. It has its own dedicated space so I can see it clearly when planning my day. I protect this time like a warrior, it is my non-negotiable. I also have zero guilt because I know I am a much nicer human when I have done my training.
Mornings work best for me because they tend to unfold in more predictable ways and I have more energy at this time of the day and find it difficult to get through an afternoon workout with the same focus. There is also something amazing about knowing you are making progress on your goals when most of the world are still sleeping.
If I don’t insert my exercise into the morning, it will not probably not happen. I have carved out space in my diary for it by training myself to wake up earlier. Pre lockdown, I was in the gym at 5AM so I could be ready to get the kids to school on time. Now I can be more flexible on the actual starting time but it happens before my children start their online lessons.
If mornings really don’t work for you then that’s fine but make sure you dedicate a slot in the day for it; even if it is only ten minutes and ditch any guilt attached to it.
Mornings are the best place for it because it goes beautifully with my journaling and meditation practice which I do as I wake up. I have had to experiment with my morning routine to figure out the best time to write; at the moment it is scheduled for 6:30AM for ninety minutes. Some days, I only get forty-five minutes but I make sure I don’t miss it. Everyone in my house knows it’s my special time and not to disturb me – however this doesn’t always seem to happen with my kids.
I also had to get comfortable with inserting this new activity into the morning and giving myself permission to do it differently. Of course, I had the usual guilty thoughts of what I ‘should be’ doing instead but I ignored my mind and did it anyway.
Now it’s your turn…
- When are you going to schedule time for your new habit?
- How long are you scheduling it for?
- When are you going to set a reminder in your calendar to evaluate if it’s working?
Principle 2: Planning is key
“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” – Winston Churchill
I have a structured program for each of the 6 days that I review the day before so I can start my session immediately, I do not waste time debating and deciding what I should be doing. This is crucial so you don’t even entertain the thought of going down the Google rabbit hole of ‘researching’ programs and ideas for the day when you should be doing the work.
I know where I am going to train – it used to be the gym, now it is on my patio but on the really cold winter mornings, the lounge becomes my gym.
I lay out my clothes the night before so I do not have to expend any unnecessary energy on decision making. I even prepare my pre-workout shake ingredients the night before so when I walk into kitchen, it is like a smooth military operation.
I know the piece I want to work on the night before so I can open the laptop and get into it immediately. When I am not clear, I brainstorm some possible options in my journal and see which one resonates the next morning. I don’t replace actual writing time for ‘research’ time because this gives you a false sense of progress. I have been guilty of that many times, it is really constructive procrastination.
Now it’s your turn…
- What can you plan today to set you up for tomorrow? Examples: leave out exercise clothes, plan a healthy breakfast, have your journal and pen ready, have the link for the online course open.
- What could sabotage me achieving this?
- What can I put in place to ensure success?
Principle 3: Define identity and values
“Creators create. Action is identity. You become what you do. You don’t need permission from anybody to call yourself a writer, entrepreneur, or musician. You just need to write, build a business, or make music. You’ve got to do the verb to be the noun.” – Chase Jarvis
I value health, longevity and vitality and so the only way to bring those values into my world is to make sure there is a corresponding activity scheduled into the calendar.
Knowing what matters to me and internalising the identity of a healthy person means I do not rely on willpower to motivate me. I don’t get up because I ‘have’ to but because it is part of who I am. It isn’t something I ‘have’ to do like a punishment; it is something I choose to do.
The only way to make something part of your identity is to give yourself permission to be that person. It is a combination of changing your belief and having action to back it up. I had an internal conflict of spending time on something that didn’t have a direct outcome attached to it. If I spent time developing a workshop, that’s fine because I have a tangible deadline and outcome attached to it.
My husband took the kids camping last year for 2 nights and I effectively had a 2 day holiday at home. When I thought about how I wanted to spend that precious alone time, the first thing that came to me was ‘I get to write’. It is part of my identity, it is a passion for me – even if there is nothing attached to it. It is the joy I get from the process and that is worth inserting into my day because it energises me and that’s the ultimate benefit.
Now it’s your turn…
- What are the things that naturally energize you?
- What would you do for free?
- What excites you?
- If you had a free afternoon, how would you spend it?
- What topic could you talk about for hours?
- In a bookstore, what topics do you naturally gravitate towards?
- What kinds of articles do you find yourself drawn to?
When something energizes you, add more of it to your life. When something depletes you, figure out how to do less of that thing. As often as possible, follow the energy inside you. That is where passion lives.
Principle 4: Decide the night before
“You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling, than feeling yourself into action’. – Jerome Bruner
When my alarm goes off at 5AM, I do not even engage with my mind. It is trying to convince me that it’s early and I should lie in but I have learnt to switch off the alarm, banish snooze from my world and just get up. I do not get complacent and let myself off the hook because last week was a great one. I am able to shut down the sabotaging conversation that is going on in my head because I decided the night before exactly what I am going to commit myself to. I am one step ahead of my mind and she loses every time.
By deciding in advance, I don’t fall into the trap of ‘But I don’t really feel like it today’. There is seldom a morning I am really in the mood for training, it takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to get into it. The only way through that feeling is to do the action in question until I feel like it.
The night before I know exactly which blog I want to work on and I do not wait for inspiration and creativity to magically hit me before I can start. The Muse only shows up when I have started the process and when I am into the writing. Not every session is a good one and produces amazing work. Often the next day, I am correcting most of the writing from the previous day but at least I made progress and have something to edit.
I always remind myself that there is no such thing as ‘Runners Block’. They just get on the road whether they feel like it or not and they run.
Now it’s your turn…
- Are you showing up to yourself when that alarm rings or are you giving into the snooze button?
- Are you avoiding an activity because you don’t feel like it or because you have a fear you won’t be perfect?
- Are you stalling on taking action because it never feels like it is the right time?
In the book, Creative Calling, Chase Jarvis reminds us that ‘pursuing small, imperfect, playful habits today—having a regular creative practice—is far more important than chasing a long list of perfect things you want to create tomorrow’.
Principle 5: Consistency
“Part of courage is simple consistency.” – Peggy Noonan
This is the guiding principle to bridge the gap between you are and where you want to be. Whether you have one hour or twenty minutes to dedicate to a goal or habit, it is the consistency of the activity that will result in success. I built it up over time but I am now training 5 – 6 days per week, year in and year out. I do it throughout the year including Winter.
The more frequently you do something, the more the behaviour becomes automatic like brushing your teeth. You do it without thinking about it, it is just part of the day.
When we went into lockdown, I had to start a new routine all over again based on what equipment was available. I used a TRX suspension trainer as this could do my whole body with one piece of equipment that can be done in any room or outside. I felt like I had to take 20 steps back and go through the stiffness, burn and grind all over again. By consistently showing up to it, my body got used it, adapted and actually has boosted my strength and fitness.
The only way to establish writing as a daily practice is to consistently show up to the page. It is not about how many words I complete in the allocated time but the fact I show up every day. I don’t pressure myself with the outcome but I make sure I enjoy the process of writing and see what comes out of it. Some mornings I can finish an entire blog and some mornings, I feel like it is 60 minutes I will never get back. The point is to consistently do the action of writing. Writer’s write. Simple.
Benjamin Hardy is an incredibly successful writer and he said in an interview, he only found his stride around 40 articles into writing. He equates it to the burn of exercise. I remind myself that every article is my way of moving through the burn because I know after long enough consistent effort, it will reap huge benefits.
Now it’s your turn…
- Can you find an extra 15 minutes a day if you stopped checking the socials and email as often?
- Where in your day can you schedule those 15 minutes to make progress on your goal at least 3 times per week?
Choose one area to focus on and all you have to do is show up consistently. You can watch a TED talk, a YouTube video related to your goal, meditate, read, plan, journal but just keep doing it and you will be astounded at what you can accomplish with 15 minutes a day. (If you can find more time than even better).
Principle 6: The benefits exceed the effort
“If you own the story, you get to narrate the ending” – Brene Brown
In the beginning, I did the exercise for the obvious health benefits only. The more the habit was established, the more I discovered the real benefits and what it does for me:
- It boosts my mood instantly
- It is my stress release
- I generate great ideas
- I pair it with something I enjoy –listening to podcasts, audio books and online courses
- It is the one hour of the day that is just for me
The surprising gift of the habit was that it builds resilience, boosts confidence and has allowed me to change my story.
Pre lockdown, my alarm was set for 4:40AM and often the kids would wake me up in the night or someone was ill and my sleep was disturbed. With much dread, I would still get up and arrive on time for my session but what was so surprising was how I was actually stronger on those days or at the very least, I could slog through the session. But I did it! Despite having a bad night sleep, I still kept the promise to myself and that is what boosts confidence. Even though it wasn’t the perfect scenario, I could still do it.
Now this lesson taught me something about my mental strength, not just physical. One night, I had a really poor night’s sleep as my daughter was ill. Instead of getting up for the gym, I had to show up to a conference to present a talk. I felt awful and exhausted. If I hadn’t had the gym experience, my self-talk would have convinced me that I cannot get through the presentation with success. It would have been a ‘poor me’ narrative. However, I had built up the mental and physical resilience to know that wasn’t true and I made the decision to show up as my best self and I nailed the talk. Lastly, my habit of exercise has enabled me to change my story. The story of ‘I could never train at 5AM, that’s for crazy people!’ and ‘I’ll never get through this talk feeling so depleted”. It made me question what other stories I told myself that are limiting me in what’s possible.
The biggest benefit of writing is contribution. The ability to take every day events and situations and share them. I always figure if I am having certain challenges, I can’t be the only one and so I want to share my lessons and experience to help someone understand they are not alone and fast track the solution.
The hidden benefit is it has made me more mindful and present. Every day is new content for me. When I started learning mountain biking last year, it was much more than the technical skills for me. Every lesson with my riding coach was another blog post – how I conquered fear, how I was focusing on the obstacle and not where I want to go – which resulted in me nearly riding into massive rocks and trees every week. It all became a metaphor for how I live my life and what I can apply from riding. I am more mindful and appreciative for every lesson, experience and insight I can share.
Now it’s your turn…
- What can you do to make your habit more enjoyable? What can you pair it with?
- What is the story you tell yourself? Is it ‘I’m too old, too young, I’m bad with numbers, an introvert?’ Challenge the story – when did you make these beliefs?
- Are they still relevant today or are they holding you back from something you really want to make progress on?
- Rewrite the belief to give you permission to take action
Principle 7: Trust the process
“It is more important to be prolific than perfect” – Joe Polish
When I first started the exercise habit, I would do the right thing in terms of training but I felt like I wasn’t seeing a difference physically. By persisting with the habit, I had the opportunity to understand that doing the right thing consistently over time despite seeing the result is how you work through the initial frustration.
I didn’t question the process, I just trusted it. Eventually I could feel my body getting stronger, the constant slog started to lift and it felt easier. It is the greatest life lesson because instant gratification is the barrier to succeeding on new goals/habits and skills.
There are no hacks, quick fixes or instant diets. It is creating micro wins over time consistently that yield sustainable results.
Niel Gaiman, a very prolific writer said we all have about a million bad words in us that we need to purge before any of the good stuff can come out. When I started initially, I reminded myself that it’s just the process I need to go through in order to reach the good stuff. It was my way of trusting the process and that day after day, I will get better, it will start to flow and I will find my unique voice. I am grateful for the initial period because it gave me the opportunity to trust the process and not be perfect at it. It was so uncomfortable at first because I felt like an imposter and it’s not pleasant to start at the beginning again. However, the only way through the discomfort is trust and daily doses of action.
Now it’s your turn…
- Have you given up on a dream or a goal because instant gratification won?
- Are you avoiding taking action on something to avoid the discomfort of not being perfect?
Julia Cameron, author of the Artist’s Way, says we should aim for progress, not perfection. Don’t set unrealistic expectation for yourself. Just keep showing up and give yourself permission not to be perfect but to enjoy the process and know you will get there.
Principle 8: Every day is a win
“Micro wins are the antidote to inaction” – Lori Milner
Despite having done this habit for over 20 years, I still celebrate and acknowledge myself every day.
When I schedule time, show up and complete the task – I win my day before it has even begun. I proved to myself, I was worth getting up for and that even though I didn’t feel like it, I still did it. Even if it wasn’t my strongest or best session, I still acknowledge it as a win. It’s not about how far you can push yourself, just acknowledging the habit of showing up is what’s needed to move ahead.
By celebrating the habit, I have developed a way more important skill and that is being kind to myself every day. I am training myself to accept praise from myself which is not always an easy thing to do but a benefit that reap rewards far beyond the physical benefits.
When I was writing Own Your Space, I showed up to the manuscript steadily every day. It wasn’t about how many words were written, but that I maintained the habit of writing. Some days I only had one good sentence but I had to celebrate that sentence because that is what propelled me to the next one. It is the micro win that needed to be acknowledged to propel me forward. I also quickly learnt one bad draft is a micro win to a better page. In the words of Seth Godin ‘Don’t look for great ideas, focus on generating lots of bad ideas and some good ones will slip in.”
Now it’s your turn…
- Are you acknowledging your progress along the way?
- Do you internalise the daily win or only allow yourself to celebrate once the huge goal is completed?
Celebrating the win is how you create the new neural pathways to ingrain the behaviour as a habit, celebrating is what locks it in. It also ensures you are internalising the person you are becoming along the way. That is how imposter syndrome happens – you tend to only acknowledge the big achievements but when you do eventually arrive there, you feel like a fraud.
Principle 9: Periphery activities are equally important
“Don’t pursue happiness; pursue a lifestyle that gives happiness!” – Dandapani
What about the other 23 hours? I make sure I do the right thing for the rest of the day. If I just did 60 minutes a day of exercise and then ate junk food and never managed my energy I would never be able to sustain the habit or see the desired result. It is the periphery activities that happen the other 23 hours that enable me to convert the effort from my hour of exercise.
Stress management is energy management. After my session, the remainder of my day carries the same values. I eat good nutrition, I don’t drink alcohol and have minimal sugar. I ensure I am sleeping 7 – 8 hours a night (I don’t watch TV). I also insert meditation and yoga into my morning routine to manage my mind. This has built up over time, I am not saying you need to have all these elements. The point is one good hour doesn’t excuse bad choices throughout the day that are not in alignment with your overall goal.
It was a big aha that I could make so much progress one hour per day of exercise so I didn’t feel so bad if I only get 60 – 90 minutes of writing on a good day. I asked myself what are the equivalent periphery activities I can do to make this hour of writing more effective?
Journaling and meditation are key ingredients for me. I have been journaling for many years and it is how I explore my ideas and work through blocks. I adopt the mind-set that everything is content – life is a canvas for my ideas. Most of the time, it is the daily struggles that produce the greatest insights. It is being open and aware to the simple stories of my life that I can be a better writer but I need somewhere to work through them to make them an article. Reading is also a very important interest for me to maximise my writing time. I fit this into small pockets throughout the day and before I go to sleep at night. Even if I get 10 minutes a day to read, it is enough for me to make progress. I also pair audiobooks with my actual workout which is an extra hour of reading per day!
Now it’s your turn…
- Are you doing the right thing for 20 minutes a day but spending the rest of the day in self-sabotage mode?
- What are the periphery activities you can build into your day to help make progress on the main goal?
- Can you listen to an audiobook or course while doing another task?
- What do you need to stop doing in order to make progress on your goals?
Principle 10: Build in recovery time
“Sleep is extremely important to me — I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.” – Usain Bolt
I ensure I have dedicated recovery days where I don’t do any exercise. I also don’t push myself if I am feeling particularly fatigued and I take time off if I am ill.
Sleep is a huge priority for me and I work backwards to make sure I have 7 – 8 hours per night. As Arianna Huffington said in her book Thrive ‘treat sleep like a meeting in your diary’. But the trick is to honour the meeting with yourself; I know I am more productive, happier and less stressed when I am sleeping properly. I also set a quitting time after work and commit to switching off for the rest of the evening and not incessantly checking mails. I know it’s easier said than done but showing up exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed is not serving your goals either.
When I am writing, I am fully in it. When I am sitting with my family or playing with my kids, I give myself permission to be with them. I used to have this internal guilt of ‘I should be’ working on my writing project instead of playing dolls but this doesn’t serve anyone. I landed up irritable and draining my energy tank. I learned that the best ideas about work happen when you’re not working; you need to create white space of thinking time and even mindless time for the ideas to percolate.
Another reason why I make sure sleep is part of my daily recovery is because it forms part of the creative process. Thomas Edison said, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” It’s common practice for many of the world’s most successful people to intentionally direct the workings of their subconscious mind while they’re sleeping. I always direct a question to my sub conscious before I go to sleep and it gets to work on the answers. When I wake up to journal, I often have an insight related to my specific project.
Now it’s your turn…
- Are you prioritizing energy management and self-care for yourself?
- Have you told yourself the story that sleep is for weak people and you can push through on minimal sleep?
- Are you setting a quitting time after work to give yourself an opportunity to switch off mentally?
- Is there any white space in your calendar?
I love the above quote by Usain Bolt and the idea of training being absorbed by your body. The paradigm shift is that strength is not only built in the gym or while doing the activity in question. It is built in the periods of dedicated rest and recovery. So, if you are looking for more strength, endurance, productivity and energy, then you must make sure you prioritise your sleep.
Principle 11: Reach out for professional advice
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsh
When I first joined a gym, the first thing I did was book some sessions with a personal trainer. It is so intimidating to walk into a gym and have no idea what to do. This is the reason most women don’t even go near the weights section because of a lack of confidence in not knowing what to do.
I empowered myself with the right knowledge and asked tons of questions before I felt confident to walk in on my own. Equally, I did the same thing for my nutrition. I reached out to someone who could develop a specific plan for me and my training goals. When it comes to exercise and nutrition, discipline is my freedom. I want the comfort of knowing if I just follow the plan and stick to it, I will see the results I want.
I still research new programs and stay up to date on the latest fitness research because I love learning and don’t want to stay stuck in only doing what I know and what I’m comfortable with.
Initially, I followed many professional authors to get tips and advice on how to start and what to do. I did a course on writing to improve my craft and this was really valuable initially because it gave me confidence. However after a period of time, I felt assured enough in myself to trust my own voice and unique style.
I still do courses when I can to improve the more technical aspects of writing such as what makes a great headline. I am confident in my own style but I am adding layers to make my work better. I also study people’s work that I really admire because their success still leaves clues – for example why do some articles get over 100 000 views while others barely get a glimpse.
Now it’s your turn…
- Are you avoiding taking action on a new habit or skill because you don’t have the confidence?
- Have you thought about a coach to get you started and learn the basics or take you further if you are at a plateau?
- Have you investigated the endless courses and workshops available online (most are offered free)?
- Have you considered investing in this habit/goal to make it a reality?
“Every next level of your life will demand a different you” – Leonardo Dicaprio
I hope reading through these principles has given you some insights and ideas on how you can take action and make progress on something that really matters to you.
Time to turn inwards… which area of your life have you achieved success?
It doesn’t have to be financial success. It can be success in your spiritual life, relationships with your partner or kids, your health or in your community. Maybe you are really good at a hobby and creating adventure into your life. What is that for you?
If you are thinking you don’t have one, trust me you do. It is something that means something to you, it’s not about external titles, roles, material possessions or money.
Have you got it?
Now I want you to deconstruct what makes you great at this specific part of your life. Once you have the blueprint, where can you apply it to other aspects of your life?
There is a potential risk mirroring someone completely as you start to feel maybe you are doing something wrong. Or you try and complicate your life because you convince yourself it’s how you ‘should be’ doing it.
Your own success has left you clues. Acknowledge them and follow your own treasure map to the next triumph.
Here’s to trusting yourself,