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For Consistent Blogging, Don’t Depend on Willpower

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To get noticed, you know that you need to update your blog on a regular basis as well as do guest posts among many other things.

You always face each day head-on. But some point during the day, even before you accomplish your most important tasks, you’re already drained and couldn’t face another one.

Instead of controlling your projects, you feel like they’re controlling you.

If only you have more willpower, you could write more, publish more and get more traffic to your blog.

Right?

Well, I have bad news for you. Willpower, like crude oil, is a finite resource. Once it’s gone, there’s no bringing it back until the next round of supply.

A research conducted at the Columbia University involving over 1,112 judicial rulings reveals how decision fatigue can affect our willpower. A group of researchers studied judges who have one of the most mentally taxing jobs.

During a hearing case, they would hear the appeal of the prisoners and discuss with other members of the board whether to grant the prisoner a parole or not.

The study revealed that prisoners who made their appeals early in the morning were paroled about 65 percent of the time. On the other hand, those who appeared late in the day received parole less than 10 percent of the time.

The lesson is clear: willpower is indeed a mental resource that gets depleted. The judges exhausted their willpower through the straining decisions they had to make each day.

Maybe you don’t make heavy decisions like the judges. Maybe yours are smaller and not as consequential. But still, your days are filled with lots of them. “What should I wear for work?”, “Which email should I tackle first?”, “What should I cook for dinner?”

Experts tell us that willpower is highest in the morning — before the emails, the argument with your colleagues, the traffic rush, the decision on which meals to cook and other mundane evils of everyday life.

So if you’ve ever wondered why you’re too tired to write, that could mean that you’ve used up your supply of willpower for the day. So stop beating yourself up wishing you had more energy. As Gregory Ciotti from Sparring mind pointed out “worrying about having more willpower is a fool’s game.”

What You Should Do Instead

Good news is, here’s a way you can beat procrastination without relying on the mercy of your willpower.

And that is where a system, specifically a pre-game routine comes in.

If you’re a daredevil who thrives on freedom and limitless possibilities, you might feel that having a routine is a waste of creativity. But hear me out. A systematized routine, if used intelligently, can do wonders to your blogging efforts.

How a Pre-game Routine Can Help You Get More Things Done

I first learned about this concept from James Clear, a well known entrepreneur who shares clever insights about working and improving self. He suggests that having a pre-game routine is an effective way to bypass willpower and still get things done.

The goal here is to just start. Here is where the Zeigarnik effect comes in which suggests that once you’ve started a task, you become focused on completing it.

Because let’s face it. There are days when you just don’t feel like doing anything. You don’t feel the enthusiasm and the motivation you had when you first decided to work on a project. Sometimes willpower is like a butterfly that eludes you when you need it the most.

A pre-game routine could save you from your worst off days by getting some work done whether you feel like it or not.

How to Apply the Pre-game Routine

timeclock

Step 1: Identify the task you tend to procrastinate on 

Step 2: Set a time for doing that task 

Step 3: Create a series of braindead, simple activities that are so easy, you cannot not do it. 

Step 3: Slowly transition into the main task.

Having a set of simple activities to do before the main task primes your brain for what’s about to come. Instead of wrestling with how hard the main task is, you just focus on the small pre-activity at hand.

For instance, if you find yourself always procrastinating on exercising, your pre-game routine could look something like this:

  • Change into workout clothes
  • Tune in to my iPod (it helps to have a playlist of fast music for your workouts)
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Go out and walk for a few minutes

By this time, your brain is likely already prepped and ready for the main task which is to jog and break a sweat.

Again, don’t look at exercising as a whole. According to a research by Kenneth Mcgraw, our brain tends to loathe big tasks because it visualizes the worst parts, thus causing the delay.

So when it’s time to work out, you only see how tiresome and rigorous exercise is instead of how it’s good for you. The inertia will be strong, you might as well be a statue. If you have an ounce of willpower in you, you’ll probably try to convince yourself numerous times that you should do it.

Stop that vicious cyle of thoughts. Instead, just look at the super small, simple tasks one at a time. For example, let’s say 5pm is your workout time. Once the clock hits 5, tell yourself “Just change into my workout gear”. After that, “Just tune in to my iPod”, then “Just drink a glass of water” and so on.

Okay, let’s put this example into blogging. Many bloggers are masters of procrastination so a pre-game routine can definitely work to their advantage in this activity.

Take my case for example. I’m the type who would rather write than edit. By the time I’m finished with the draft, I’m exhausted. The thought of spending more time going over the text often makes me want to call it a day.

So to combat that, I employ the following pre-game routine:

  • Set up focus booster timer to 1 hour. I usually spend more than an hour on editing but I like how the tool kind of creates a mini game where I race with time. Besides, there’s nothing like the sound of a ticking clock to keep me focused on writing. This task is so easy, I cannot not do it.
  • Open Calmy Writer, turn on Focus mode and Go fullscreen. If you’re not familiar, Calmy Writer is a minimalist writing editor that keeps the focus on your thoughts and words. I discovered it just a few weeks ago and is currently my favorite because of its simple layout. Once open, I turn on the focus mode — a feature that highlights the text being edited, as well as full screen to keep all distractions away. Again, it’s so easy I cannot not do it.
  • Copy the raw draft and paste it into the Calmy Writer editor. As easy as pressing CTRL A, Ctrl C and Ctrl V.
  • Start editing somewhere. Anywhere. This could be correcting typos, silly wordings and trimming paragraphs. It’s so easy, I cannot not do it.

By the time I reached the end of my pre-game routine, my brain is already wired to do the main task. I find that once I’ve edited a few lines, I eventually gain momentum and pick up speed. Before I knew it, I’ve entered the “flow” state where I’m on “game mode” and editing just comes naturally.

Because I just have to follow a series of super easy steps, there’s no need to try hard. No beating myself up saying “I need to edit this, I need to edit this”.

Side note: I make it a point to take short breaks during work sessions to maintain my focus and avoid getting burnout early.

Why It Works

When you don’t have the willpower and you need to choose between a hard task and watching TV, it’s easy to choose the latter. A pre-game routine removes the negative choice because instead of looking at the daunting task, you instead slowly but surely build the environment where you reach “game mode”.

Another example of a pre-game routine at work is Danny Inny’s method for writing 1,000 words in 1 hour. Though the article doesn’t talk in this context, I think it nicely fits the concept of a pre game routine which is basically using the power of a routine and constraints.

Here’s his system for writing 1,000-word post in 60 minutes:

– Write down the title

– Write the hook by describing the problem

– Outline the rest of the post

– Write

As you can see, it’s a process that works under tight parameters. No leeway for deciding what to do next. Just follow the routine step by step.

As a recap, here are the elements of a pre-game routine:

– The goal is to start.

– Make tasks super small, you cannot NOT do it.

– The step by step system removes the room for counter-intuitive options, thus sharpening your focus on the small task at hand, leading to the main task

– Take short breaks during work sessions to maintain your focus and energy throughout the day.

Conserving Willpower is Good, But Employing a Pre-game Routine is Better

Having a pre-game routine is like learning to bike the first time. You’ll start out wobbling and unsure of yourself. But as you keep going, you’ll eventually gain momentum and learn to pedal the right way. Balancing becomes natural and you’ll be riding with confidence.

By the same token, don’t worry about starting with willpower on your side. Just follow the mini routine. One small step after another. Use the power of a system and you’ll get more blogging done.

To end, here’s a quote from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. I think it nicely illustrates the profound essence of not looking at a task as a whole, but taking it one step at a time:

“My older brother was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”