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A Strategy Primer for Writers: Part II

February 12, 2021
5 min read time

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!

STRATEGY #4:

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.

David Allen, the author of "Getting Things Done" has created the following exercise to help.

  • First, write down any stressful to-do items, projects or situations that are weighing on your mind.
  • Then, after each item on your list, write down the intended successful outcome for that problem or situation.
  • Finally, write down the very next physical action you must take in order to take a step toward that successful outcome.

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.

STRATEGY #5:

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:

When we think about sending a rocket to space, we want to do two main things. The first one is to reduce friction. We want to take the rocket and have as little friction as possible so it's the most aerodynamic as possible. And the second thing is we want to load as much fuel as possible, to give it the most amount of motivation; energy to do its task. And behavior change is the same thing. (2)

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.

And how do we increase motivation? Here are threse methods Ariely has studied that have proven results:

  • Check off a box every time you complete your new daily goals. These checkmarks act as a visible reminder of your success, which then increases the likelihood of continuing the new habit.
  • Set alarms to alert you to the tasks you want to complete. Simple as it may sound, studies show that being reminded helps.
  • Give yourself a reward for meeting your goals. It’s up to you what you choose as a prize, but rewarding good behavior is more effective at helping to build new habits than punishing bad.

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...

STRATEGY #6:

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.

The Kolbe A Index does this by measuring four instinctive action modes:

  • The way you gather and share information
  • The way you arrange and design
  • The way you deal with risk and uncertainty
  • The way you handle space and tangibles

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!

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