Ink-Stained Scribe

Changing the Trigger

Lee Min-ho is working diligently.

This week, I did a guest post on the Magical Words blog where I talked about different ways to get Hands On Keyboard -- Words On Page (HOKWOP). One of the tips/techniques I mentioned was establishing a trigger.

This is not trigger in the sense of topics, images, or events that trigger a resurgence of emotions from a traumatic experience. This is trigger in the sense that productivity gurus use it. Here's an excerpt from that blog post, Eight Ways to HOKWOP.

A trigger, in the lingo of productivity gurus, is an action you take that impels you to work. Some writers sharpen pencils, others open a blank page, others do yoga. Part of establishing a habit is establishing a trigger for that habit. 
At the moment, when I sit down at my computer to write, my habit is to click on Google Chrome. This begins a series of events that leads to a low-productivity morning, until guilt eventually drags me away from the internet and shoves me lead-footed onto the page. I’m currently in the process of breaking that habit and establishing a routine that includes a new trigger, which will get me writing. 
First, I have to break the old habit of surfing the net in the mornings. My trigger for that is the automatic desire to open Google Chrome when I open my computer. It’s muscle memory at this point–I hardly notice I’m doing it until it’s done. While I’m breaking this habit, I’m trying to establish a new one, which is opening the document for my work-in-progress. 
To remind myself of that trigger, I’ve established a schedule where I wake up, do morning pages, go for a walk, eat breakfast, do some yoga, and sit down to write. I recognize that everyone doesn’t have the luxury of such an open morning. I’m getting up at 6:30 to do this, and I start writing at 9:00 – I have alarms set for each. When I was in college, or working, my trigger was often sitting down at a coffee shop, taking a sip, taking a deep breath, and opening my notebook. 
Figure out the triggers for your negative habits, then find or establish a positive trigger.

So. I'm working on this. As I mentioned above, I've got a schedule. Have I been keeping to that schedule? Uhhh, no. Not really. But I'm trying to. I've always had trouble falling asleep, so I'm trying to make myself work out in the evenings to tire me out. I'm forcing myself to work out by restricting my podcast-listening time to workouts-only. No workout? No podcast.

I'm also not doing yoga in the mornings yet, because I haven't been waking up early enough to do my morning pages before my walk, so I do them after. It's currently 10:05 and I'm planning to go to bed as soon as I finish this post. I've set my alarm, which is across the room, for 6:30. Hopefully, I will get up out of bed and not just go right back to sleep, as is my wont.

I'm still sitting down at 9:00 to work. Problem is, it's also release week for my book, so I'm wanting to check my stats. Hnng. So I've made an exception. Also, I've been finishing up my most recent audiobook, HAVEN: A STRANGER MAGIC, by D.C. Akers. ACX is giving me hell with the uploading, so I'm still spending a good amount of time getting all that done.

Which means I'm still not on the schedule I'd hoped to be on at this time. Now, honestly, all of the above are excuses, and it's not like I have any issue writing when I sit down to write. It's that I have other things that are more URGENT, if less IMPORTANT.

...and that has just sparked a memory.

Image from wikipedia article
A few months ago, Skrybbi was telling me about a time-management system she learned about at a seminar. I just looked it up and discovered it's the late Stephen Covey's four-quadrant matrix for importance and urgency, from his book First Thing's First (which I must now try not to impulse-buy).

Quadrant 1: Things that are both important and urgent. In other words, GRANDPA'S ON FIRE.

Quadrant 2: Things that are important, but not urgent. No one will die if I don't finish Song of the Heretic by mid-December, but it's important to me (and my career) that I keep producing new writing.

Quadrant 3: It's urgent, but not important. Most emails and text messages and chats on Facebook.

Quadrant 4: It's neither urgent nor important. Tumblr, Pinterest, TV shows, etc. Of course, some of these things can be considered important in terms of providing a dialog (I am an English major, after all. I see significance in communication through art.)

Covey postulates that we most often ignore Quadrant 2, but in order to lead more productive and fulfilling lives, we have to do more of it. That's sort of why I quit my job in March. No time for Quadrant 2.

So Here's What I've Been Doing (wrong)

Most of the stuff I've been up to in the past few days is in Quadrant 1, 3, or 4. Not because I've necessarily been ignoring Quadrant 2--just the opposite, I'm scheduling and planning for it and writing this blog post right now. The problem is, I've overestimated my abilities with audio editing and got to the point where IT'S ALL ON FIRE. ALL OF IT. I MUST FINISH ALL THE THINGS.

Luckily, I've enlisted help to get it under control and am looking forward to the slave-driver of guilt not keeping me constantly scuttling, head-bowed, to garage band or screaming at the server that doesn't want me to upload files.

I will probably end up drawing my own version of this quadrant and hanging it next to my desk as a reminder to ask myself what quadrant a particular topic falls into.

Reading and writing blog-posts is something that I actually consider to be part of my vocation. Part of being a writer, especially a writer with independently-published work, is staying in contact with my audience (I still can't quite make the word "fans" work in my brain. It feels too pretentious). That's part of why I got back to it, and now I'm glad I did--it's reminded me of something I think will be helpful in changing my trigger.

SO. Tomorrow morning, I pledge to you: I will get up at 6:30 for my morning pages. I will go on my walk with mom at 7:00. I will be in my chair with the laptop open and scrivener opened to Song of the Heretic. At 9:00, I will write.

I may check my sales on my phone during my walk, but other than that, I will not be looking at them until I've written at least 1000 words.

Do you have a trigger for writing? Do you have a negative trigger? Do you have a plan to break it? How? Have you broken bad habits and established good ones? How did you do it?