If you’re anything like me you can always find an excuse not to sit down and write. And even when you start, you can probably find ways of stopping yourself. This has become particularly evident to me over the past few days.
I normally use a program called Freedom 2 to cut myself off from the Internet for fixed periods of time. The internet is the ultimate tool for self-distraction and by cutting myself off from it and forcing myself to sit down at the computer I can usually pretty much guarantee I will get some writing done. I usually set Freedom to operate in 30 minute or one hour blocks of time, depending on how my RSI is and how many breaks I feel like taking. Recently though Freedom has started to misbehave. When it returns access to the Internet to me, my Mail client does not function, nor does Evernote or a few other programs. The only thing that bring them back is a hard reboot. I am not sure why this has happened. Maybe there is some sort of conflict between Freedom and some other recently updated program. In any case, its disturbing.
In my search for a solution I came across a recommendation for another program Self Control which is for OSX and which is free. SelfControl works in a slightly different way from Freedom. It blocks access to specific websites and once they are blocked you don’t get any access to them until the period of time you have set has gone. Not even a hard reset works. It’s a little more work to set SelfControl up– you need to add each site you want blocked to your list– but once it’s done, it seems to work and work well. I can’t get access to the sites I normally use to distract myself but I can still get any research I need done. I also have access to my email.
I also started using RescueTime to keep track of where all my time on the computer was going. This is an interesting bit of software that logs the use of all the programs on your computer and shows it to you on your own personalised webpage.
A side effect of this is that it made me realise that I have other ways of wasting time than simply looking at the Internet. I blocked the KDP home page on Amazon where I usually check my sales. This made me aware of an odd behaviour pattern that costs me a lot of time. Normally when I check my sales, I update my spreadsheets with the new numbers. (This may sound weird but its quite common among indie ebook publishers.) If there’s anything unusual about the pattern of sales (and I can usually find something), I pause to think about it and make some notes. This can easily waste half an hour if I am not careful. The insidious thing about it is that it’s something I normally do between work periods while I am having a cup of tea and it stretches those non-working periods out far beyond what I would like.
Looking at this behaviour I realised that I am prone to what I call procrastination cascades– I do one little thing that wastes some time which then leads me to doing something connected with it which leads me to something else. None of these things, of themselves take up huge amounts of time but added together they waste hours every day.
As an experiment I set SelfControl to block access to certain sites for 8 hours and suddenly I noticed an immediate change in my behaviour patterns that instantly increased productivity. By not being able to check Amazon, I could not trigger the whole cascade of behaviour leading from it. I have always been reluctant to block access to the Internet for 8 hours because, you know, just in case. I am far less reluctant to block just a few sites so this seems to be working for me. You may want to give it a try yourself!