Your choice of what to wear, what and when to eat, and whether to buy the grapes or cherries seem completely unrelated to writing your academic book. And yet they are related.
Specifically, each is a decision, and each decision depletes your precious willpower. So, each decision you make makes it harder for you to accomplish difficult, focus-intensive tasks like writing your academic book.
As I suggested in a previous article, you shouldn’t rely on willpower alone; rather you should engineer your environment to set you up for success.
Part of engineering your environment, then, becomes ruthlessly eliminating your decision points.
Decisions accumulate quickly and often imperceptibly.
So, the point of this exercise is twofold:
- Gain greater awareness of the decisions and steps that stand between you and a successful writing session.
- Reduce the number of decision points by pre-making decisions and eliminate unnecessary steps
Ready to dive in?
Writing Session Decision Audit Step 1: Pre-Make These Decisions
Each decision point you make effectively requires you to recommit to writing the book. So, you should never ask yourself to make the following decisions in the moment. Instead, you should make them in advance, as part of implementing your container routine each week.
If/ Whether or Not You Will Work on Your Book
What it sounds like: Will I write today? / Do I feel like writing today? / “I should write today…” (Will it happen?)
Why it’s disastrous: This line of thinking is especially common in people who feel ambivalent (at best) about scholarly writing. If you find yourself always feeling like you “should” write, but struggling to follow through, you might be self-sabatoging by forcing yourself to make this decision each day.
What you’ll find: When you commit 100% one way or the other, you free up all the mental energy you would spend worrying about whether or not you will write your book to doing the thing you decide to do.
When You Will Work on Your Book (and Where)
What it sounds like: When will I write today? / Should I write now? / Do I feel like writing now? / “I’ll write as soon as I …” / “I’ll write later…”
Why it’s disastrous: Not making this decision ahead of time and fully committing makes you keep making this decision over and over again, all day long. So, you’re actually making tens of decisions–not just one.
Instead: If you have developed and implement a container routine each week, you should have already identified a time slot for each writing session. But, if not, pick an objective time (not a relative time, such as “as soon as I wake up”) and commit to that being your start time. When the time comes, count down from 5 (“5-4-3-2-1”) and begin. Stick to your time at all costs. Enlist a friend or colleague to be an accountability partner if necessary.
What you’ll find: You might have to test multiple start times to discover which one works best for you. You might also have to test and tweak different opening routines. But you will never have to repeatedly decide when to write.
What You Will Write
What it sounds like: What will I write today? / Should I write this or that? / What do I feel like writing? / What did I write yesterday? / Where was I in my project?
Why it’s disastrous: Not making this decision ahead of time means that you will waste precious writing time deciding what to write. You will likely also perceive the project as more difficult and nebulous.
Instead: Break your project down into weekly product-focused goals and action steps. Use a closing routine to decide, at the end of each session, what you will accomplish in the next one. Make sure your next session goal is small and actionable: you should be able to sit down and start working on it right away.
What you’ll find: Because you’re breaking your large project down into small, actionable goals, you’ll find that you start each session more quickly and easily. You’ll also feel a greater sense of progress week after week because you’ll have a list of tangible accomplishments, rather than a vague sense.
Decision Audit Step 2: Write Down all the Steps You Must Take to Begin a Writing Session (and their associated decisions)
For the next week, track how you start a writing session on your book. Write down each step you take to start.
See email window open with urgent emails. Decide to respond to one email now. Decide to let others wait. [Recommit to writing]
Close all open windows and tabs
Find and open tracking spreadsheet
Fill out tracking spreadsheet. Decide what to write. [Recommit to writing]
Realize need novel and notes from other room
Go find book and notes
Bothered by dishes. Decide to put away now. [Recommit to writing]
Return to office
Reread book and notes
Find and open document
Eliminating & Automating Your Writing Routine Steps
Set yourself up to start immediately with as few steps as possible. Make things as easy and streamlined as possible.
Ask: What steps can I move “upstream”? How can I remove steps between now and starting my writing session?
In the example above, how you leave your writing space and computer at one point impacts how you start your writing later. Closing all windows, collecting notes and books, opening your tracking spreadsheet and document as a part of preparing your desk the night before (or earlier in the day) reduces your 13-step process that required you to recommit to writing three times to the following 4-step process, that does not require you to recommit at all.
Fill out tracking spreadsheet
Read book and notes
Begin writing in open document
What decisions have you realized you’re making, thanks to the decision audit? What decisions can you eliminate or automate? In what other areas might you conduct a decision audit? Let me know by email! I’d be happy to help you streamline your writing process!