A Strategy Primer for Writers: Part II
February 12, 2021
Welcome back to the strategy primer for writers! This series aims to provide you with a number of productivity strategies to help reduce procrastination and that can be used to build better habits for your writing career.
You can read a hundred books on how to break story and outline scripts, but if you don’t have your mind wrapped around a good system of productivity, it’s possible you’re either not getting as much writing done as you could be, or you’re letting the process be more exhausting or inefficient than it needs to be.
You can check out the first part of the series - A Strategy Primer for Writers: Part I - or jump straight into our next round below. Today’s strategies all focus on the psychology behind our productivity.
Let’s dig in!
OPEN LOOP EXERCISES
The Zeigarnik effect states that any action that is interrupted or unfinished is more easily remembered than an action that is completed. For example, a waiter can more easily remember the order of a table who hasn’t paid their check yet than of any table that’s already been closed out.
This can be helpful in certain areas of life, but if left unchecked, this subconscious function can also be quite draining. Every major life stressor and unfinished to-do — from fellowship deadlines and pitch meetings to preparing taxes or having an uncomfortable conversation with a friend — sits like an open tab in your brain until it’s completed.
Allen says that completing this exercise for all of the items on your list should increase your feelings of control, relaxation, motivation and focus. (1) This process simplifies the way you are thinking about your tasks in a manner that maximizes your thinking efficiency — so you’re literally working smarter, not harder.
HIJACKING HABITS + THE MOTIVATION CODE
One of the great features of the brain is its ability to utilize automatic and habitual behavior as a way to save energy. The bad news is, that means it's also incredibly hard to create new good habits. Oh, and it’s also terribly hard to break bad ones.
But harnessing the power of habits is the key to increased productivity and turning your goals into completed accomplishments, so what are we to do?
Neuroscientist Dan Ariely offers the following advice:
So how do we reduce friction? Hijack your habits.
Instead of trying to create a completely new habit or pattern, try adding a new habit to an already habitual process in your daily routine.
For example, if you want to start going for a run in the morning, put your running shoes right by your bed so you see them first thing when you wake up. If you want to read more books, start placing your to-read items in front of your television so when you consider turning it on, you’re already presented with a visual alternative.
By interrupting your regular routines with reminders and access to the things you want to be doing, you can help rewire your habitual behavior and will have more luck successfully adopting a new habit into your day.
If you’re still not sure how to best motivate yourself, I recommend checking out Todd Henry’s book, "The Motivation Code" which is designed to tap into exactly that. And while we’re on the subject of figuring out what makes you tick, that brings us to...
THE KOLBE A INDEX
Now, I love a good test, but when I first heard about the Kolbe A Index, even I anticipated the results would include the same vague feedback and broad strokes you get from a high school guidance counselor or a Buzzfeed personality quiz. Instead, I got advice that I still default to years later whenever I find myself elbow-deep in an unproductive or distraction-filled day.
Contrary to other tests that measure the affective part of your mind (DiSC, Myers-Briggs), or the cognitive part (IQ tests), the Kolbe A Index assesses the conative part of your brain, or rather, “the way you take action and your approach to productivity.” Essentially, your method of operation.
By quantifying your instinct-driven behavior, the results of the assessment allow you to “understand your unique attributes as strengths and leverage them to do more, more naturally, in every aspect of your daily life.”(3)
Full disclaimer, the test itself isn’t free, but if you’re not interested in the price tag, you can also check out books by its creator Kathy Kolbe, like "Conative Connection" or "Powered by Instinct" from the library using the free Overdrive or Libby apps on your phone.
There are many more tips to come, but until then, happy loop-closing, habit hijacking, and conative skill assessing!
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter and freelance development consultant. She has one show currently in development, is featured on The BitchList 2020, and won the 2019 Tracking Board Launch Pad Julian Silver mentorship. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook, and can be found on Twitter at @howtoliz.