This post is part 2 of my 10-part series, in which I tackle one of the trickiest problems for first-time academic book authors: finding the time to write your book when the semester gets hectic.
Next week, I’ll introduce you to the container routine–a simple planning strategy you can implement now, before the semester’s begun, to make sure your top priorities find time in the chaos of your semester day-to-day schedule.
But there’s one main problem.
To implement this tool, you need to reframe how you think about yourself, first. You see, when it comes to finding time to write your book, you’re actually two people: a “planner” and a “doer.”
If you’ve ever thought “I’m not a planner!” “Planning sounds great, but it doesn’t work for me!” “I always come up a great plan, but then can never seem to implement it!” this post explains what’s gone wrong.
Put simply, you were not planning with the “doer” in mind. You were planning according to the “planner’s” rules, not those of the doer.
Here’s how they differ.
As the name suggests, the “planner” you sits down to map out time, systems, and routines. During this time, you ambitiously use your analytical brain. You’re able to see your big picture goals and commit to sacrificing short-term pleasure and comfort for long-term rewards. You plan for important, but not urgent things.
From the “planner’s” vantage point, all tasks seem easier than they will feel in the moment. In your “planner” role, not only tend to significantly underestimate the amount of time tasks will take, but you also discount the psychological struggle involved. And you tend to assume tasks are more well-defined than they will actually feel, in the moment, to the “doer.”
But the biggest problem of your “planner” self stems from the fact that you believe that you, the “doer” will be able to rely on willpower alone to stick to your plan. As Benjamin Hardy’s provocatively titled book, Willpower Doesn’t Work (ebook | audiobook) , illustrates, this assumption is sorely misguided.
Unlike the planner, the “doer” likes comfort, resists difficulty, and seeks out small wins and well-defined tasks.
To excuse seeking comfort and avoiding difficult tasks, your “doer” self offers convincing stories and exploits loopholes. Your “doer” self might, for instance, rely on stories about past performance to avoid doing hard work (“writing has always been difficult,” or “I’ve never been able to start on time”).
“I don’t know” (or its cousins), “I’m tired/stressed,” and “I need to deal with this other thing now” are three classic thought patterns the “doer” uses to thwart the “planner’s” best intentions.
The worst part? It usually works.
How to Close the Gap between your Planner and Your Doer
Knowing how the “doer” beats the “planner” means you can actively take steps to preemptively counter the “doer’s” tactics. In future articles, I’ll show you exactly how to accomplish this using the container routine, but for now, here are the main ingredients:
- Engineer your environment to remove decision points–the points at which the “doer” has just enough time to make up an excuse to avoid doing difficult work.
- Curb your “planner” self’s overly ambitious side. In the beginning, the most important aspect of planning is developing the habit of keeping commitments to yourself, not producing a lot of usable prose. Over time, these kept commitments will snowball.
- Fill in your “planner” self’s other main blind spot by explicitly scheduling for urgent tasks. (Ideally, schedule these for the trough, when your energy naturally dips and your focus wanes).
- Satisfy the “doer’s” preference for accumulating small wins. Do this by setting product-focused weekly goals and breaking them down into actionable steps.
- As much as possible, plan your tasks according to your natural daily ebbs and flows in focus. Scheduling time to work on your book at 3 pm when your energy and focus naturally dip is setting yourself up for failure from the start.
- As part of your planning stage, anticipate the excuses the “doer” will offer, and make concrete “IFTTT” (if this then that) plans. If you think “I’m too tired to write,” how will you respond? Have a plan beforehand.
- Schedule time to monitor, investigate, and reframe the stories the “doer” tells about writing your book.