On things which compute

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

As if to bring back the point why this book was an important read, writing this blog post had me itching to jump away as soon as I got stuck writing the next sentence.

As a knowledge worker, working behind a computer can be devastating for your productivity. It’s too easy to jump away as soon as you get bored or find yourself stuck on a problem.

If you are like me and you are frustrated that your side projects don’t get finished, your workout schedule is like a Swiss cheese, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is a great read.

Not just because it shows you how to reach the finish, but because getting stuff done makes you happier:

The results of these habits and routines were demonstrated in yet another recent set of studies, in the United States, showing that people with high self-control consistently report less stress in their lives.

The book contains lots of great advice on how to train your willpower muscle and I have selected a few which I found helpful and will incorporate in my daily habits.

Showing up every day

In a study looking at your professors and their writing habits, Roy and John write:

The page-a-day folks had done well and generally gotten tenure. The so-called “binge writers” fared far less well, and many had had their careers cut short. The clear implication was that the best advice for young writers and aspiring professors is: Write every day.

This principle – chipping away every day – is what I’m doing for the core subjects I want to get better in the coming year. A defined amount of time each day is dedicated to each and during that time it’s my single point of focus.

Being a hoarder of books, I have an ungodly amount of unfinished books that I want to read. This used to overwhelm me to a point where I wouldn’t know what to start reading. The new approach is to read at least an hour a day, not looking at the finish line, because there won’t ever be one.

Paying attention

Context switching is costly. Although common knowledge amongst developers, we still spend our attention as if it is infinite. Slack, Twitter and answering emails are injected in between work.

There is some valuable lessons to be learned on the productivity of writers. In an interview, Nathan Englander, writer of short stories tells us about his habits in an interview for the daily beast:

Turn off your cell phone. Honestly, if you want to get work done, you’ve got to learn to unplug. No texting, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram. Whatever it is you’re doing, it needs to stop while you write. A lot of the time (and this is fully goofy to admit), I’ll write with earplugs in — even if it’s dead silent at home.

To get into this habit I started using two tools, first one is the Pomodoro technique, where I divide my time in 25 minutes of undivided focus. The second one is blocking all site’s which are unproductive to the task at hand.

Although I found it patronising at first, being a grown man, needing tools to help me focus. I now embrace it as habit forming tools. Repeating the most important lesson of all, it’s better to consistently make small steps than to sprint and run into a wall.

Willpower to keep at it

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is a great read for those wanting helpful tips, backed by research on how to have consistent progress on the goals in their life. The message could have been conveyed in a book hundred pages shorter, but we must appreciate the irony if we would lay it down because we got bored.

For myself it brought back the point as described above, full focus on small incremental steps. Daily work towards my goals and reaching them someday is more important than sprinting and never reaching them at all.