The power of a 'go to' routine

I've been a self-employed, home-based, full-time writer now for something approaching a decade. Which likely makes the extroverts amongst you a bit jittery. But it's a way of working that suits my particular personality quite nicely, thanks.

Succeeding in a home office

I'm often asked how I manage to work at home and not become distracted by other things around the house – housework, hobbies, even just the television. The answer is actually very simple: I have a routine, and I stick to it.

In fact the routine I use is more or less what I've been using ever since the first day I started working from my home office. Back then, I realised that if I was going to make the work-from-home thing work I would have to be disciplined about it – especially as I am someone who generally dislikes routine. From the very first day I was at my desk by 8am and it has been that way (give or take 15 minutes) ever since.

The routine I use is built around my energy levels. I tend to spend the mornings on 'meaty' writing (in two two-hour blocks) because that's when my focus is best. Afternoons are for other stuff: less intense writing, administration, meetings, the gym, the occasional errand. (If you've ever tried scheduling a meeting with me and wonder why I always prefer the afternoon, now you know why.)

Of course this is the 'ideal'. There are plenty of days when the 'standard' routine just doesn't work. And there are plenty of other days when it gets away from me; I can procrastinate with the best of them. But the ideal routine is my default routine – a place to 'spring' back to.

My routine helps me stay productive. It has also helped me keep the family at bay as they have come to understand the way I work.

Succeeding in a 'real job'

Anyone who works in a 'real job', where you have to commute to work and sit in an office surrounded by colleagues who interrupt you every few minutes so preventing you from ever getting any work done ... phew! I get frustrated just thinking about it. If you're in that position you're likely wondering what this has to do with you. For you, routine is a pipe dream isn't it?

The inability to form any sort of routine is the main reason I hear from people who are unable to make a start on, let alone continue, their book project.

The trick is to aim for a smaller target. In part that means forgiving yourself if the timeline for your project stretches out, but staying on track nonetheless. It also means establishing whatever routine you can in order to squeeze some writing in on a regular basis.

Any time of day or night

Perhaps it's half an hour first thing in the morning – at home or at work, before others arrive. (It never worked for me but I know of people who write very first thing – straight out of bed and before the rest of the family stirs.) It could be half an hour last thing at night. Perhaps you can only find a brief time every Sunday morning. Perhaps quarter-hour blocks are the best you can hope for.

It really doesn't matter as long as it's something. And, like my routine, it doesn't matter if it gets broken from time to time – as long as you reestablish the routine as soon as you can.

If you can do this, and stick to it until it becomes a habit, you will get there. It will feel like you're crawling, which you are to some extent, but you'll be far better off than if you do nothing at all.

Keep at it!

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please add a comment below or contact me.

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