Review & Revise Your Container Routine with These Questions

If you’re following along with my “Finding the Time To Write Your Academic Book Series,” you’ve now had a few weeks to develop and practice implementing your Container Routine. (Don’t know what a Container Routine is? Read my article on why you should use a Container Routine. Then read Container Routine 101, which helps you put together your first one.)

The first few weeks of the semester can be a mixed bag. Excitement and enthusiasm for the “newness” of your Container Routine, and your “clean slate” moment might have helped you stick to it initially. But now the rubber has met the road, and your Container Routine flew out the window somewhere along the way.

Or, you’re “toughing it out”–sticking to your initial plan with all your might, but wondering how long you can sustain it.

Maybe you had the best of intentions, but never really actually stuck to your research time. You kept telling yourself, “next week, I’ll finally be caught up and I’ll be able to keep my writing sessions.” But somehow you haven’t yet felt caught up enough to write.

The good news?

Even if you’ve haven’t stuck to your Container Routine once yet, you’ve been gathering data about what actually works (and doesn’t) for you for a few weeks. So, now is a prime opportunity to use that data to salvage–if not thrive during–this semester.

Use the 4 questions and the thoughts below to discover the small but impactful changes you can make to accumulate 50+ hours on your book in what’s left of this semester.

1. Does Your Container Routine Prioritize Tasks That Matter?

Sometimes scholars forget: writing a book is just like any other work. Ultimately, a published book comes from accumulating many hours writing your book.

Of course, I publish resources to help you spend your book writing time as efficiently as possible–like showing you how to work ON before working IN  your book (and stalling out).

But you cannot produce a published book only by reading, thinking, and planning.

So: review your Container Routine: does it prioritize writing?

2. Does Your Container Routine Limit the Time You Spend on Tasks That Matter?

This point seems paradoxical. More time is always better, right?

Not if it leads to a decreased sense of urgency.

If you have blocked off multiple hours for writing, but find yourself struggling to begin your sessions, their length might be to blame. Instead, limit your time–start with one hour.

Which of these two thoughts just popped into your head?

“There’s no way I can write a book one hour at a time!” or “but I can’t get any writing done in an hour.”

I promise you both are wrong.

If you’re not writing at all because you “have all day,” then an hour of focused, deliberate work will get you infinitely closer to a published book than what you’re currently doing. And you will be extremely surprised at what you’re able to produce with a heightened sense of urgency. Try it, and you’ll be amazed.

3. Does Your Container Routine Have Daily Spots for Types of Tasks that Derail Your Research?

This point usually goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. Many first time book authors feel “behind” on their books. So, they frequently try to make up for lost time by deeming non-teaching days their “research” days, and intend to spend long stretches (6-8 hours) on the book.

But there’s a problem.

Conscientious teachers–especially those that feel “behind”–sit down to their sessions, but defer starting them until they “just get that lecture done” or “just finish that one task.”

What happens?

They never meet the ever-receding goal posts.

By intending to write for 6-8 hours, they end up writing for 0. In point 3, I recommend that you limit your writing time if this sounds like you. But here, I also recommend that you intentionally schedule whatever you tend to defer your writing for every day.


That way, when you sit down to write, you will be able to reassure yourself: I will write my lecture/grade that assignment in one hour / at 2pm. You already have a designated time on your calendar.

4. Does Your Container Routine Contain Activities that Fulfill and Recharge You?

This point might also seem counterintuitive. Writing–or any other energy and focus-intensive activity–does not happen in a vacuum. Rather, some (if not a lot) of your mental energy and focus for writing depends on things that have nothing at all to do with writing, like your overall mood, sleep, and sense of security.

Ultimately, things that recharge and replenish you are not divorced from writing. They deserve space in your container routine.

Of course, these containers will be highly personal, but they might include one or more of the following:

  • walking/exercising
  • being in nature
  • socializing
  • reading for pleasure
  • creative activities
  • taking a class
  • learning a new skill
  • working for a cause you support

Especially at stressful, “triage mode” points in the semester, it’s easy to dismiss the above activities as “frivolous.” You feel like you just don’t “have time.” But making even a small container in your weekly Container Routine for them actually create sthe conditions upon which academic writing depends.

Revising & Retesting Your Container Routine

I bet the above questions have prompted you to revise your default Container Routine. I recommend that you use what you learned above to revise your weekly template and test it out for 3-4 weeks. Of course, you will necessarily have to tweak your container routine each week to accommodate exceptional meetings and events.

As you test run your new Container Routine, continually ask yourself this powerful question: “what about this doesn’t work?”

Be specific. Not “I can’t seem to get motivated” or “I never start on time,” but “I have writing scheduled after meetings, but I usually find myself needing to chat with people for about 15 minutes” or “I have a hard time starting because I’m distracted thinking about tasks that need to be done.”

Notice how the latter are actionable. You can decide to block off an additional 15 minutes for meetings. For the second issue, you can either keep a pad of paper next to you at all times (the most primitive of capture systems) and keep a running “triage” list. Or, you could decide to devote the first 5 minutes of each writing session to clearing your head or “brain dumping.”

Keep an ongoing list, and you’ll have a lot of fodder for your next Container Routine revision in 3-4 weeks.

Your Turn

Will you be making small but significant changes to your Container Routine? What surprised or resonated with you the most? I’d love to hear from you

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