An experiment in writing a half-hour per day

For the last twenty-one days or so, I’ve been working at writing a half-hour per day about my personal-professional development. (Full disclosure: I traveled last week and didn’t write at all since I was with colleagues during the day and evening).

I’ve been struggling to work in writing and reflection time as a routine practice into my daily workflow. From past work-related experiences, I have estimated that one blog post usually takes about 4 or more hours of time. During most weeks, finding one solid four-hour time block to write is pretty rare for me.

That is why I recently decided to try giving writing a half hour per day a try.  A “half-hour” is an approximate amount of time for me, as some days I have been writing as much as an hour, whereas other days it may be twenty minutes. As of now,  I am not forcing myself to have a published product (or blog posts) in that same half-hour, for now it’s about writing (here in WordPress, Evernote, or on paper) so I develop a habit of working out loud or narrating my work.

At two weeks into this process, I’ve mostly worked on one blog post, which remains unpublished, but I’ve also had the following reflections:

1)Even though I haven’t published the original blog posts I’ve been working, I have done more thinking and research on the topic then I intended (that is a good thing). I also ended up sharing these ideas with co-workers more easily since they were already put together in a (unpublished) blog post.

2)It’s been very helpful for clearing my mind. Writing a half-hour per day has helped me feel like I can become aware of other new ideas, either by tabling them,  incorporating them into what I am writing at the time,  or helping me to deflect new ideas that may be interesting,  but less relevant to things I’m working on at the moment.

3)Other people find this act of writing for a half an hour, helpful or interesting too.  After tweeting about my 4th day of writing for a half-hour, a former #xplrpln cMooc member Tanya Lau mentioned she’d like to join me, and several other people retweeted or favorited my tweet. This is great, because I could always use social accountability to continue the momentum.

4)There are some days I need to take a break. I think I’m going to allow taking two – three days most weeks for this kind of non-committal activity. Why? I also need my early morning time to write the grocery list, set health goals and stay on top of the family calendar.

5)Other days I need to write with the intention not to share with others.  The reason for this is there are some ideas that I’m working on but not ready to share yet. When I find myself working on these ideas, I plan to journal in Evernote or in a paper notebook.

So far, I’m pretty satisfied with taking the time to write for a half-hour per day.  I think taking the time to write a half-hour a day is working from the stand point that I look forward to sitting down to write a half-hour every morning, and I’m putting this into my daily routine consistently. However, I am interested in getting to the point of publishing more frequently. As Tanya Lau mentioned,  I think it may be helpful to start to develop an outline and plan of things I’d like to write to publish here once I get the ideas flowing from a couple a weeks of just writing a half-hour per day.







7 thoughts on “An experiment in writing a half-hour per day

  1. Karen – thank you for writing this – been meaning to respond in more than 140 chars for a while. I am currently writing a post about cMOOC connections (of which this is one!) and thought it was about time I dropped you a note on your blog too.
    I found myself nodding in agreement throughout your post, as I have experienced much of what you have said here – both your challenges and reflections. I’m glad I incidentally saw and responded to your tweet about you undertaking this writing journey. Even though I’m still not applying the intent to write regularly for half an hour each day it’s been excellent moral support knowing that you are going through the same and I have someone I can touch base with to get a motivational pick up or some encouragement.
    I have definitely started writing more regularly since we tweeted. As I mentioned though the main thing I struggle with is to get a regular habit going – and to just stick to a half hour stretch. I haven’t set up a regular time slot in my day for writing (which is bad), which means that some days I do it, other days I don’t. And often when I do, I find it REALLY hard to just stick to short stretches. I tend to want to finish something when I start, or otherwise it ends up being abandoned. I have a lot of half finished posts. I think if I set up a regular time and became more disciplined about it, this would be less of a problem.
    The other thing I tend to do is spend a lot of my writing time commenting on other people’s blogs. Whilst this is a good thing for building strong connections and conversations, it does tend to mean that I don’t end up finding the time I’d like to for my own posts. Really this is probably s form of procrastination, as I tend to find it a lot easier to write as a comment on someone’s post rather than write my own. I think again, structuring / dividing my writing time to focus on commenting vs writing own posts would probably be helpful.
    Anyway – it’s a continual journey I guess – thank you for providing some great support (I do think of you writing quite often, even when I don’t communicate directly with you on it), and hope you are progressing well with your writing goals too!

    • Tanya, thanks for your post! Walking through this process with someone else is really helpful for thinking through and refining my approach. Many of the things you are talking about in terms of making writing a practical habit I am also struggling with. First, this exercise is teaching me that 1/2 hour is really not enough so far, but anymore than 90 minutes, I tend to hit a saturation point (where I get more ideas flowing than I care to deal with). Thus I’m stopping myself somewhere between 60-90 minutes. Secondly, time of day is really key for me. This means finding an early morning time (4-7 am, before the buzz of the day happens) is when I can write continuously and think clearly. I didn’t use to have this kind of energy/early morning time block regularly, but my kids are older and are sleeping later so this helps. Thirdly, I’ve (very) recently tried to draw (or sketchnote) my blog posts before I write the post. This helps, because a)it makes me think through an entire post before I start writing, b)if I can’t finish a large amount of writing in the time I sit down to write, the next time I can pick up with the sketchnote and remember how I should proceed, and c)I see how these sketchnotes might be helpful to visually anchoring or communicating the value proposition to others who might be reading (depending on if they can interpret my notes! 🙂 As for commenting on others blogs, this is something I need to get better at, but for now, I’m viewing commenting on others blogs as more of the “seek” than the “sense” part of Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share model. I probably should do this more, but I ‘seek’ better than ‘sense’ during other hours (beyond 7 am) of the day. I also need a compass to determine to when I should spend the effort commenting (because I could do this all day on many interesting posts). The purpose of me writing (see my original post was to anchor me around my professional goals, and provide a place to synthesize and capture those thoughts so I could share in other conversations. I don’t mean to sound too regimented. I do give myself a fair amount of passes for all these self-imposed rules I’m making. We’ll see how this all shakes out over time! It’s definitely a process to put your thinking-out-loud-time first. I’m just beginning to see how it can integrate with my personal and professional goals. More soon!

  2. Hey Karen, interesting what you say about the optimal amount of time – I might try 60-90 mins too. Incidentally I read an article recently that said 90 minutes was the optimal amount of time you should spend on a task before having a break for maximum focus – so you might be onto something there!
    Also have seen quite a few recommendations to write in the morning- this is something I have tried but find hard to sustain because I’m more a night person, and also do find that often when I DO get up early that is the day my 3 yr old also chooses to wake up early! It’s something I’ve been meaning to reattempt though, although probably need to do it consistently over a few weeks for it to stick.
    Sketchnoting is something I’ve been intending to try too!! Do you have recommendations for resources or tips to get started?
    In terms of being disciplined / regimented, I think being disciplined does help, I am nowhere near disciplined with it, which is why I end up starting but not finishing a lot of posts! I read a post by a freelance writer who said that he schedules everything, including all his breaks – that might be a bit extreme but might be helpful if you’re a freelance writer. Setting time aside and turning off internet access during writing time is definitely important to minimise distractions…
    Good to talk through this with you, and nice to know that a lot of my experiences are common!

    • Tanya I think I’ve seen a similar article about spending 90 minutes on a task. I can certainly relate to 3 year olds waking up when you wake up! No matter how early I used to wake up, when my kids were that young, they would also wake up. Maybe carving out some prime night hours is best for you at least for now?

      Sketchnoting has been a great help. I use paper or my Galaxy Note tablet, and both work very well. I like paper because it doesn’t have a battery life, but I love being able to sketch in layers with my SketchbookX app, then share my images to the cloud more quickly. I am currently reading “The Sketchnote Handbook” by Mike Rhode, and have read “Gamestorming” by Dave Gray and Sunni Brown. Next on my list is Sunni Brown’s the “Doodle revolution”. I’ve been actually planning on writing a post about learning to draw – maybe it’s time to add it to a schedule.

      • Thx again for these tips & resources Karen – I just downloaded a sample of Mike Rhode’s sketchnoting book – looks really useful and already got some tips that I might start to try. Will look at getting hold of this too. Look fwd to checking out the others and continuing our conversations : )

        ps. yes – what IS IT about small children?! They totally have some sort of inbuilt radar for when you are awake in the morning. Even if I wake up and am still in bed thinking about getting up….10 minutes later come the footsteps down the hall….
        So yes I am doing stuff in the evenings now, but look fwd to the day when I can do a morning without the sound of small footsteps before I even get a chance to make coffee!

  3. Pingback: Experiment in writing a half-hour per day: What is writing time? | Karen Jeannette

  4. Pingback: Reflections on the value of MOOCs | Explorations in learning

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