How not to Blog
July 23, 2018
It’s been a long while since my last post; over an entire year, to be exact. Fortunately, nothing drastic has occurred in my life to garner this sudden deceleration. I haven’t dropped off the grid, forgotten my password, or stopped learning anything worth writing about on this side of my site. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Over the last year I’ve made huge progress both as a human and as a coder. I’ve uncovered the secret to grinding out long-term projects. I’ve figured out the magical trick to forcing myself to consistently work out. And atop my conquered endeavors sits the prized proficiency I have, since March 10, 2017, honed: how not to write a blog.
Motivation and Discipline
The secret to making progress really boils down to two sides of the same coin: motivation and discipline. The former is what sees inspiring new ideas and takes initiative to start interesting projects; the latter is what puts in the work and the hours to finish them. And while it may be easy to cultivate the former, for me, it is incredibly difficult to manage the latter. Perhaps this is something we can all relate to. Either way, this realization has led me to isolate the first step to unsuccessfully maintaining a blog: relying on motivation to put in work.
Just as with other voluntary pastimes that have high activation energies, it’s easy to busy yourself with more exciting tasks that are more immediately gratifying, such as working on a new project that you’re more interested in or simply playing videogames. A blog is particularly easy to avoid, since oftentimes it feels like you’re just writing to yourself. In addition, it can seem daunting to have to put out a coherent, well-planned essay that you can reflect on in a year and not physically cringe (well, maybe that’s just me). So when motivation no longer gets you moving, how do you find the discipline to finish what you’ve started?
I’ve found that there are two main ways to grind through projects. The first is to simply do it; in other words, you just have to exert some miraculous, Herculean effort and crunch out everything you need to do in a productive couple of sittings. Now, as ridiculous as this sounds, there are cases in which it can work. For example, putting on some quiet music, turning off major distractions such as your phone, and giving yourself a solid amount of time to just work can yield surprising results. However, this isn’t always feasible, especially because of the even larger activation energy setting up for this requires as compared to the actual task itself. Instead, I propose that the real way to get through work is to schedule, schedule, schedule.
I cannot emphasize enough how useful it is to set out time during the day to do a particular thing. And mind you, this works for everything – from working out to writing code to cleaning to listening to albums on your queue. By allotting time to focus on one objective, you free yourself from the distractions of the future for long enough to really get into the groove of whatever that objective entails. Furthermore, since you can contribute to your longer-standing obligations more consistently when you schedule them, you can spend shorter intervals on them each day. This helps you stay more focused and engaged for the time you do spend on them, and it also makes them less daunting to tackle when it comes time to do so.
For example, at the beginning of the summer I realized I really wanted to work out more consistently – I mean, who doesn’t want to get built? However, my previous attempts to do so had all failed, typically because I would take a break one day or be busy a couple others and then it would be a downhill slope from there. This time, instead of choosing specific workouts I would force myself to do each day, I decided to go about it by setting several hours out of my day (which had previously been taken up by volleyball practice) to just exercise. And surprisingly, something about the new system clicked with me. I’ve fallen into the routine of heading downstairs to lift at around 5:00 PM and coming up to shower before dinner, which usually happens at around 6:15 PM. While I’m not exactly bodybuilder material, I feel like I’ve visibly improved my chest, shoulder, and arm muscle-mass as a result.
Another example came from the last few months of school, during which I realized how sad it would be to let Crossword die after putting so much work into it over the years. Some time in May, I promised myself I’d get a stable version out by July. However, I didn’t consistently work on it in the following weeks. Instead, I’d put in several concentrated hours here and there every week or so. Sure, I was getting things done, but I wasn’t on track to finish by my deadline. Towards the end of June, I recognized the problem and decided to switch it up, instead scheduling about an hour most weekdays after dinner. To even my own disbelief, I was able to put out the alpha just a couple weeks later.
In short, while it’s easy to start new things and spend time on them because you’re suddenly really passionate about them, such motivation can be ephemeral. The best way to stay disciplined is to schedule time to work on projects and uphold commitments. In addition, increasing the frequency or decreasing the time spent on these things can make it easier to pick them up again when your schedule says it’s time to.