When I started writing full-time, I was sure I was focused and hard-working enough to do it; after all, I had been working intense 10-hours shifts at my job, and had been consistent about revising my book on my days off. And I knew it would be worth trying because writing had been my happy place for years. Writing felt like driving a car down a sunny country road, while going back to work the next day was like suddenly being stuck in traffic. I wanted to feel like I was driving that country road every day.
Right away, working full-time on my book felt different from when it had been just a few days a week. After a month of full-time revising, I was frustrated that my writing felt less like a pretty road of trees and open fields and more like a street full of pot holes and abandoned houses. And worse, I was less productive—it was like I was pushing the car, Flintstone-style, with my own two feet.
What happened? If writing for a few days of week was so engaging, why was writing every day not? I wasn’t working more hours than before or more intensely than before, just on something different. And that different thing was supposed to be my work happy place.
I kept pushing through. I told myself that I was just in a rough spot, that writing is just hard sometimes. I kept hoping that it would become less sloggy.
It did not. I was starting to think I’d made a colossal mistake.
And then I began taking a class, and something interesting happened: I started finding my happy place again with my book. My writing car picked up speed and moved back onto smooth pavement.
Something about this new schedule was making a positive difference in my energy, focus, interest, and enjoyment for everything I was doing. What was it?
Meg Selig, in her article for Psychology Today “GIVE ME A BREAK!” lists benefits of taking breaks, including an increase in productivity and creativity, restoring motivation, and preventing “decision fatigue.” This applies to real breaks, like taking a walk or chatting with a friend, but can it apply to changing work tasks? Yes, in part. In the same article, Selig further notes: “If you can’t take a break, consider switching work tasks. Changing your focus—say from writing an essay to choosing photos or a presentation--can often feel like a break because you are using a slightly different part of your brain…When you return to the original task, you’ll experience some of the break benefits.”
Ah-ha! The act of alternating types of work every day was allowing enough of a change for my brain to be productive, motivated, and engaged again. And since making a living as a writer is tenuous enough without adding the inability to work full-time, I’m grateful that I stumbled on to this method of productivity.
As I play with this new way of creating balance, here are some things that have been helpful: