Bite-Sizing Your Writerly Work
No. 155 | By Christine Carron
Imagine you have to (get to) eat a pizza. A big pizza. Do you pick up the whole pizza and start chowing down? No. You pick up one slice. Do you eat the whole slice at once? No. You take one bite at a time.
It’s impossible to eat a pizza in one bite. Even trying to eat a pizza in one bite would be uncomfortable, frustrating, and highly inefficient. Though you likely don’t think about it this way, whenever you eat a pizza you have also designed the work of a eating a pizza for flow, ease, and pleasure.
You want to do the same for your writerly work.
5 Benefits of Bite-Sizing Your Writerly Work
Many writers create tasks that are way too big. Instead of bite-sized bits of work, they try to get a whole slice, even a whole pizza, of work done in one go. This jams them, and their flow, up. When writers, however, strategically slow down and take the time to create small bits of work, benefits abound. Here are five of them.
Benefit 1/ You Get Steady Motivation
Every time you complete a small bit of work, you get an internal boost of accomplishment. It’s motivational fuel. That means instead of work designed in a way that drains you, you have work designed in a way that sustains you—and sustains your forward momentum.
Benefit 2/ You Create Natural Breaks
More and more research shows that breaks boost productivity. According to The Wellbeing Thesis project, “Studies have found that breaks can reduce or prevent stress, help to maintain performance throughout the day and reduce the need for a long recovery at the end of the day.”
When your writerly tasks are designed into short, bite-sized morsels, break points are built in. If you have long tasks, however, it will require more willpower (effort) to “make yourself” pause to get the productivity benefits of breaks.
Benefit 3/ You Boost Your Confidence
A key problem with big tasks is that they make you work so long before you get any satisfaction from getting something done. That makes it easy for doubt to creep in. Will I ever finish this? This is taking longer than I thought it would. And also longer than I think it should. Does that mean I don’t know what I am doing? Why did I ever think I could be a writer?
That kind of mindset tizzy is short-circuited with small tasks. Getting tasks done tells your brain you can do this, because you are doing it. It doesn’t matter that they are small tasks. It is the doneness that matters. Not the size.
The repetitive experience of Done! Done! Done! massively boosts your confidence and ensures you feel—and are—in charge of your writerly work.
Benefit 4/ You Are Able to Leverage “Pocket Time”
Often when writers start working with me, they tell me if they don’t have at least a hour or two to work on their writing, they can’t get anything done. For writers whose schedule or lives simply do not allow for such long blocks of time, this belief is a huge barrier to their progress and productivity.
We all have what I call “pocket time”—fifteen minutes here, twenty minutes there—that we can use, if our work is designed to take advantage of small blocks of time.
After learning this principle of breaking her work down into smaller bits, one of the writers I work with had her sister visiting for the weekend. They were planning to go out for dinner. The sister was taking longer than expected to get ready. Instead of getting frustrated, the writer simply asked her sister how long she thought she would be.
“Give me ten more minutes.”
The writer checked the tasks on her plan, picked one, and got it done while her sister finished up getting ready. Pocket time prowess in action!
Note: Goodjelly is not about filling every free moment of your day with more work. That would not be productive. But being able to opportunistically take advantage of short time blocks in a healthy, balanced way is a game changer for many writers.
Benefit 5/ Progress Sneaks Up On You
With long tasks it is common for writers to slog, slog, and slog some more without feeling like they are getting anywhere. With small tasks you pepper your days with completed work. Those tasks might feel small in the moment, but then BOOM! you wake up in a few weeks and realize, “Wow! This is all adding up.”
Small Task Resistance Is Real
Despite all these benefits, resistance to designing your writerly work into small tasks is real. For one, as noted above, you have to slow down to do this and it takes time. So it often seems to be easier and faster to just start working than taking the time to break down the work first. But that gets us back to the problem of trying to stuff a whole pizza into your mouth at once.
Another barrier for many writers is the realization that they don’t really know how to break down their writerly work effectively. The invitation in this situation is to practice Patience. Allow yourself to experiment and learn, and please remember that the goal of all of this is not that some day you break down all your work perfectly.
The goal is that you make progress. Small tasks—even if messy and imperfect—will always make getting your work done (progress) easier than “whole pizza” tasks.
All this talk about pizza reminded me of the song “That’s Amore.” One of the lines in it is, “When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet.” That’s the feeling to which all these benefits of breaking your work into small tasks will lead.
Instead of dragging yourself through your writerly work, you get motivational boosts, natural opportunities for breaks, more confidence, pocket time play, and progress that seems to sneak up on you. That all means easier, less effortful, and more delightful flow, which, yes, absolutely allows you to dance through your writerly work like you have a cloud at your feet. Wahoo!
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