By Tim Riddle
Many individuals in the marketing world would jump at the chance to increase their content creation.
I own a marketing company and write or review content for clients almost every week. Several years ago, I wrote my first book, and over the past 12 months, I gathered notes, ideas, outlines, etc., for my second one. I tried to find time to write with my busy schedule, but I started to wonder if I loved the idea more than the process.
Before you jump to conclusions and think my tiny habits wrote the words for me, that’s not the purpose of sharing my experience. I did accomplish more than I expected, but the win was what I learned – a repeatable process that I will take with me when I write books 3, 4, 5…as you can tell, it left me with a new level of optimism.
I’ve read or tried almost every hack to improve productivity. But, as I get older, I have a sense of urgency not to waste the remaining time I have to utilize the gifts God has provided.
So, a month ago, I noticed I had a whole week of no travel. I quickly blocked all the mornings on my calendar, intending to make progress on the book. Then, as a Tiny Habits coach, I began brainstorming a few tiny behaviors I could implement to guide my week. But I felt stuck.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around how to write the volume of words I needed to write, focusing on tiny. I was stuck wondering how the habit of “After I sit down at my desk, I will write one sentence” would help me complete a book anytime soon.
But…surprisingly, I had an epiphany by the end of my writing week and uncovered several tiny habits that, although tiny, were the foundation that produced the results.
I wish they all came from my great wisdom as a Tiny Habits coach, but honestly, some of them found me before I found them. It wasn’t until I reflected on the week that I recognized their significance.
First, I used a starter step by blocking my calendar. I recently heard a martial arts instructor talk about the most significant belt you can earn. The assumption is the black belt, but he said it was the white belt. The white belt is the first belt you receive, indicating that you have started the process. You can’t earn a black belt if you don’t start. Great wisdom to implement with habits; remember the value of setting a tiny habits starter step.
Another starter step I utilized was to prepare myself for the challenge spiritually. As a Christ follower, prayer is a core value, so I intentionally spent the weekend praying for the upcoming week’s challenge.
A final starter step was to break down my big goal for the week into smaller ones. For example, my big goal was to write 15,000 words for the week. I broke that down into 3,000 words per day with a minimum of 500 words per hour.
Next, I thought about the time of day that I do my best work. Mornings are best for me, so I decided to specify the time. I am an early riser, but I decided to set the alarm even earlier, at 4 AM this week. To do this, I knew I had to get the rest I needed, so my first tiny habit was to get to bed by 8:30 PM every evening; “After the clock hits 8 PM, I will get ready for bed.”
Ironically, I woke up before the alarm every morning, thanks to my tiny habit of getting to bed early. I started with my version of the Maui habit, “After I wake up, I will thank God for a great day.” Then, I had a quiet time of devotion and prayer to prepare for the day. During this time, I tried to fight off the negative thoughts of, “I can’t do this… I’ll never be able to do this every day this week… I’m an idiot for thinking I can do this.”
At 5 AM, I sat down at my desk. The time of day allowed me to dive in without distractions. Nobody was emailing or calling me at 5 AM, and after a couple of hours of writing, I was deep enough in the process that interruptions didn’t tempt me. However, I put my computer and phone on focus mode for extra security to silence all notifications.
I then set a timer for 45 minutes. My goal was to write for 45 minutes and take a 15-minute break. At the end of every 45 minutes, I would record the number of words I had written. Sometimes it exceeded my target of 500 words, sometimes, it didn’t, but it kept me on track and focused.
At the end of every 45 minutes, I stopped, took a break, thanked God for the words I had written, and asked for clarity, focus, creativity, and motivation to keep going for another 45 minutes.
To end each day, I focused on thankfulness for the completed day and preparation for the next. Each day was different. For example, Monday was filled with anxiety…In the first hour, I only wrote 250 words. Tuesday was better, although I still questioned if I could make it to the end of the week. Wednesday, I experienced what I call the messy middle. It’s that time when you question why, but I kept moving. Thursday, I wrote the most words. Perhaps I could see the end in sight. And Friday, I had to fight against the excitement of getting to the finish line. After a pep talk to stay focused, Friday was the best day regarding the quality of words written.
Disclaimer: The above steps were actually tinier with more specific trailing edges, but you get my point.
Although I am hesitant to share results because the win for me was the journey each day instead of the finish line, in the spirit of celebration, here they are:
Here’s my takeaway. It felt as if my tiny habits were the pillars that supported my overzealous goal for the week. Without them, my week would have crumbled. My habits were the connecting issue that moved me from step to step. Funny how the difference between success and failure can indeed be tiny.
When I think back to all the times in the past when I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be, I typically would chalk those times up as failures where I didn’t work hard enough, wasn’t focused enough, wasn’t capable, etc. When in fact, maybe I needed a few tiny pillars as the supporting foundation.
So the win was NOT the total words I tapped out on my keyboard; to stop there would miss the most significant value. The real win was the change I experienced in myself. Now I can’t wait for my next week of writing. Perhaps I should block that week now with a new starter step!
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