Thursday, November 03, 2011
Why Don't We Do It In the Road?
In that White Album gem, "Why Don't We Do It In the Road?", Paul McCartney insinuated that whatever "it" was wouldn't matter because "no one will be watching us." The feeling of being watched can change the way in which one engages in an activity. Often, perceiving one's own behavior clearly is an essential step in changing that behavior.
I've thought about this lately as I've tried to become more productive in my writing, and I'm drawn to resources that help me externalize my monitoring procress. There are various commitment mechanisms out there, which I've lumped roughly into three groups. Some are designed to make me more conscious of my own obligation to write. Other mechanisms are designed to bring outsiders on board, inviting /forcing me to give an account of my productivity or lack thereof to others. And some, like StickK, combine the second with the means to penalize me if I fail to perform.
Should I need tricks to write? Perhaps not, but even with the best of intentions, it's easy to get waylaid by the administrative and educational requirements of the job. Commitment mechanisms help me remember why I want to fill those precious moments of downtime with writing. Below the fold I'll discuss some methods I've tried in that first category, and problems that make them less than optimal for my purposes. Feel free to include your suggestions and experiences here, as well. Also note that over at Concurring Opinions, Kaimipono Wenger has started the first annual National Article Finishing Month, a commitment mechanism I have not yet tried (but just might). In subsequent posts, I'll tackle socializing techniques and my love / hate relationship with StickK.
Perhaps like many of you, I find the Internet to be a two-edged sword. While I can be more productive because so many resources are at my fingertips, I also waste too much time surfing the webs. I've tried commitment mechanisms that shut down the internet, but have so far found them lacking. I've tried Freedom, which kills the entire internet for a designated period of time. That's helpful to an extent, although I store my documents on Dropbox, so my work moves with me from home to office without the need to keep track of a usb drive. While Dropbox should automatically synch once Freedom stops running, I've found that hasn't been as smooth as I hoped. This in turn makes me hesitant to rely on Freedom.
What makes me even more hesitant to use Freedom is that I have to reboot my computer to get back to the internet every other time I use it. If you are not saving your work to the cloud, you may see that as a feature and not a bug.
I turned next to StayFocusd, a Chrome App that allows me to pick and choose websites to block. Stay Focusd reminds me when I'm out of free browsing time with a pop-up that dominates the screen, with a mild scold, like "Shouldn't you be working?" If you are the type to use multiple browsers for different purposes, however, Stay Focusd is only a Firefox window away from being relatively ineffectual.
The self-monitoring tool I've liked the best so far is Write or Die. You set the amount of time you want to write, the words you propose to generate, and you start writing. As I set it, if you stop typing for more than 10 seconds, the program makes irritating noises (babies crying, horns honking, etc.) until you start typing again. Write or Die is great for plowing through a first draft quickly, but is less effective if the goal is to refine text. This is part because the interface gives you bare bones text. I'm too cheap to download the product, which has more bells and whistles than the free online version (like the ability to italicize text). In addition, in the time it takes to think about the line I'm rewriting, the babies begin to howl again.
So, what commitment mechanisms do you use when you don't feel like writing?
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