good habits

We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.
John Dryden

150 minutes/day x 6 days = 15 hours/week

That’s my writing formula. I’m currently working on getting in 15 hours of writing a week. My goal is to get to 16, two full workdays worth.  It feels like a good number.

I started with 10 minutes a day.  This was a few years ago.  Sitting down to write was a challenge. It meant trudging through difficult drafts and fending off the barrage of nasty voices that said I was wasting my time, I’d never be any good, I was deluded if I thought I could write something anyone would ever want to read. So naturally, I dragged my heels.  But I wanted to write things.  I wanted to start them and finish them. And the ideas banging around my brain were quite rowdy and insistent.  So I started with a goal of writing for 10 minutes a day.  That felt doable.  Easy, even. 10 minutes a day, 6 days a week. Done and done. With this small change, something big shifted.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the distance between what I wanted to accomplish and where I was at any given moment, I started to feel competent and capable of even bigger things.

I had read somewhere that it takes three weeks for a new habit to take root.  So I decided that after 3 weeks of writing 10 minutes a day, I would graduate to 15 minutes, then 20 and so on until I made it to 160 minutes a day, 6 out of 7 days – in other words, 16 hours a week. Again, adding just 5 minutes every three weeks felt doable, easy even. Since then I’ve read that the 21-days-to-a-habit number is pretty arbitrary, and they think it’s more like 66. Nonetheless, I’ve made it to 15 hours a week, 3 weeks at a time. Sometimes it’s still tough to sit down and do the work, but sometimes I can’t wait to get cracking. Oh, also there are prizes for reaching a 3-week benchmark. I like prizes.

Kooky though it may seem, this strategy has made me smarter about how I use my time. As a freelance teaching artist, I have lots of unstructured time that I have to divvy up to accommodate the various tasks I need to accomplish. Too often, writing used to be last on the list, squeezed into whatever time was left over, after lessons were planned, bills paid, laundry washed.  Now it’s the first thing I find time for.  I look at my day and see, oh, I’m teaching two classes and I have to plan a lesson, so when can I write?  Or, I have a really full week ahead, so I’ll have to get in lots of writing hours this weekend.  Some days it’s just not possible to fit in 150 minutes (2 ½ hours for the arithmetically challenged), but the idea is to make sure my daily totals add up to my weekly goal. And I’m happy to say it’s become a habit.

Tell me how you carve out space and time for your work.  How do you make it a habit?

5 thoughts on “good habits

  1. Since I now work a 9 to 5 job and am exhausted at night I take 15 minutes a day at lunch to write. I really look forward to it and I am considering adding 15 minutes in the evening, even though I’m tired.


  2. I love prizes and use them as motivation for all major (& some minor) milestones in my life. Even in the face of ridicule by friends & family, the reward system still works for me as an adult. Xo


  3. I have been making exercise my habit for many years and have found that if I do it at the crack of dawn, when I’m finished, I get to enjoy the quiet morning with my adrenaline going before anyone is even thinking of starting the day. This is my reward. Quiet, healthy, serenity. 🙂


  4. i remember you telling me that this approach worked for establishing a solid cardio workout, too! maybe i could do it with yoga. i took a few months off and building back up to a 90 minute practice seems overwhelming. the longer i wait, the harder it seems to start. it’s a vicious cycle. maybe adding a posture or two every 3 weeks would do the trick…


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