I waste a lot of time reading about productivity. I can’t tell you the number of productive hours in the day I’ve thrown away binging one article after the other about how I can be more productive. I’ve been advised to just go ahead and Eat the Frog, do some Pomodoros, stop reading about productivity and start doing it (they know me too well).
But I wasn’t expecting to find a productivity trick that works for me in a book of essays from a famous actress. I’ll admit that I sometimes do what celebrities tell me to. I’ve cooked from their books, I bought make-up they’ve suggested, I’ve once tried something called ‘oil pulling’ because Shailene something-or-other mentioned its healthful benefits. I don’t know why I think advice from skinny women in magazines works but I do it anyway. Maybe because they’re so pretty?
So when Lauren Graham mentioned the Kitchen Timer method in her book Talking as Fast as I Can, I might have been more inclined to listen to her. Tell me what to do famous, successful and pretty people.
I gained my new productivity method from her chapter Kitchen Timer. In it she talks about having her book of essays, another book and a screenplay due, along with currently working full time on the Gilmore Girls revival. It stresses me out just reading that sentence.
She says she was complaining about it to Dan Bucatinsky (Scandal!) on the set of Gilmore Girls and he suggested she contact his husband Don Roo. Don’s written Marley and Me, Boys on the Side and Happy Endings, so I’m guessing he manages to get some stuff done.
He calls the system he uses to get stuff done the Kitchen Timer Method. The principle is to judge yourself as a writer on behavior, rather than content achieved.
Here’s how it works:
Decide the day before how much time you’re going to write.
Set up a goal for yourself that’s easy and measurable. Put it in your calendar, like a lunch appointment or a business meeting. When in doubt choose less, rather than more, time.
Get a timer and set it to 60 minutes.
If an hour is too long pick another time 45, 30 minutes, whatever works for you. You can use a kitchen timer or your phone or anything you have that has a timer.
The Kitchen Timer rules include:
- No phone. No texts, no calls. If you’re using your phone as your timer set it face down on the table and behind your computer so you can’t see it. Yes, remove it from your eyesight completely.
- Respect this time. It’s your life and you deserve this sliver of time not to be bothered. When you respect the time other people will too.
- Absolutely no Internet. Turn your Wi-fi off. I’ve found myself in other work times clicking on the Chrome browser out of habit and it helps when it tells me it doesn’t work.
- No reading.
- No tidying, organizing, suddenly feeling the need to clean up the desktop on your computer.
- No music unless it doesn’t have words or is in a language you don’t understand. I’ll admit that I’ve broken this rule, music helps me. You’re not always the boss of me, Don!
- When the hour starts open up two documents, your journal and the project you are working on. If you currently don’t have a project just open up your journal.
- The rule for this hour is you spend the time keeping your writing appointment. You don’t have to write anything if you don’t want. You don’t have to work on your project, you could just write in your journal. If you feel like writing your feelings on what you ate for lunch that day (the turkey sandwich was dry but the cookie was excellent) or your deep ceded feelings on Saved By the Bell (didn’t they kind of miss an opportunity never going there with Zach and Jessie?) that’s fine.
- While writing if you get bored with your current project, switch over to our journal. When you get bored with that switch back to your project.
- It’s always okay to just write in your journal. Do what you want, this is your life.
- It’s much better to write fewer hours every day then write a bunch of hours one day and then none the next. Even weekends. If you’re dealing with a crowded weekend then cut your time down, do it for 30 minutes. You can find 30 minutes in the day to knock it out.
- When the hour is up, stop, even if it’s mid-sentence. I’ve also broken this rule because I’m a badass.
- If you’ve scheduled another hour or block of time, give yourself a break in between. Read, get a snack, stretch, go for a walk, do an errand. This time is free, it’s just the writing time that’s sacred.
- If you don’t meet your number of hours for the day, you’ve scheduled too many. If you failed your schedule the day before schedule fewer hours for the next day. Don’t try to catch up the hours you didn’t get. The past is the past, let it go.
- When you’ve fulfilled your time for the day, congratulate yourself. You’ve met the obligation you made to yourself and the rest of your time is to do with what you want. If you write every day, you should be proud. Writing every day makes you writer.
- When I’ve met my goal I mark an x on my calendar to signify that I’ve completed my time for the day.
This method, working every day and marking it on the calendar is also known as The Seinfeld Method. Jerry Seinfeld is a big believer in working on something every day and then marking it on the calendar. This creates a chain that you don’t want to break, you want to keep getting those x’s on the calendar. I wonder what that guy has done?
There’s power in establishing yourself as writer by establishing it as a habit. You’re more likely to do something when it’s part of your identity. They suggest setting up small goals for yourself and then (and this is important) reaching them. If you sit down and write every day, you’ll see yourself as a writer. Being a writer will be your identity. And we’re more likely to do something when we see it as part of our identity.
Out of all the productivity techniques I’ve tried, this one has worked the best for me. Mostly because actually sitting down to write is the hardest part of writing for me. I’ll have projects I’m working on that I’ll open up and realize I haven’t touched in weeks. With this method I don’t have to feel like I need to accomplish a certain amount of words or that they need to be perfect. I just have to put in my time and when I do that I’ve reached my goal and fulfilled my promise to myself.
Also marking that little x on my calendar scratches my good student itch. I’ve reached my goal and get an A from the teacher, even if I am that teacher.
This is easy to do for writer’s but pretty much anything can be done with this method. Spend 30 minutes learning computer programming, painting, figuring out how to knit, web design, whatever it is you want to do.
Decide tonight you’re going to write for an hour tomorrow. If an hour seems overwhelming, and you don’t have the time, start with 30 minutes. If you can’t do 30, then do 20. And if that feels overwhelming plan for 15. You can do 15 minutes of uninterrupted work. No one is so busy they can’t find 15 minutes. Do it. And then raise it to 20 the next day. Keep going and you are now a writer who writes every day. Just don’t break the chain!
What is your daily writing time goal? Let me know in the comments below.