I am very good at convincing myself that I will do things that, realistically, I am unlikely to do. In a recent episode (112 - Pick a Uniform) of the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth talked about how we tend to overestimate how long it takes us to do things we don’t enjoy, and underestimate how long it takes us to do things we do enjoy. I think they are absolutely right, and that my personal tendency to do just that has led me astray many times.
I don’t like to think of all the times I have eagerly made myself promises that are completely unrealistic. You’ve likely heard the advice to make one or two small, manageable changes at a time and build as you go. I know this advice is good, and it’s worked for me before, so I’m implementing it now with my writing habits.
I’ve learned that word count targets don’t work for me, and besides, I want develop habits, not reach targets. I’m not promising myself a novel by a given date, or a number of short stories, or any specific, numbered goal like that. Instead, I’m simply adding daily writing back into my day. Since I recently got up extra early for work during crunch time, I’m continuing to get up early and devoting that extra time to writing. I’m shifting a recent habit’s purpose, rather than starting a completely new one.
The “ooh, shiny!” factor
“Amy, your post’s title promised an ‘ooh, shiny!’ factor,” I hear you complaining. “We’re nearly halfway through this post and you haven’t mentioned a single shiny thing!” Slow down, you beautiful magpie, you. I’ll explain.
I have been struggling along on a late-2008 MacBook for some time. She (her name is Lucy) has been an incredible companion for many years. She got me through my entire undergraduate career, she has edited countless videos, and she saw me jump when I was writing “The Room Alone,” and someone came home and I was too scared to go to the bathroom because I didn’t know how the story ended yet.
(As I type this, her trackpad has just given out, and won’t stop selecting everything. I can’t click on anything anymore. That’s new. I think she heard me. I’m sorry, Lucy, I still love you.)
I’m not ready to replace her yet, even though she’s missing her i key cover, she can’t do simple tasks for very long at a time, and her battery life is a distant memory. MacBooks have changed since 2008, and they’re expensive, besides.
The “ooh, shiny!” factor comes into play because I recently ordered myself a chromebook. It’s relatively lightweight (under 3 lbs), supposed to have a good keyboard, and durable (I got one with rubber all around the edges and a spillproof keyboard; it’s meant for schoolkids). Ooh, shiny!
ChromeOS is set up to be a minimalist system for people who can work entirely online. My new chromebook will let me do all my work in the cloud, update this blog and site, tweet, do research… and I won’t be chained to my desk anymore, as I basically am with Lucy. Chromebooks are known for their battery life.
The trouble with the “ooh, shiny!” factor
You’ve probably guessed by now, or maybe read on my twitter feed, that the “ooh, shiny!” factor is that I have it in my head that once the chromebook arrives*, it will magically make me more productive. I will have a shiny new toy and it will make me want to work, so I will work more. That’s true to a point, but not for the long term. In my opinion, it’s a productivity trap.
I need to change my habits now, before the chromebook gets here, so that when it arrives, I can enjoy not waiting 20-30 minutes to start working and only having up to an hour to work at a time before my computer slows down to a crawl. That way, I can harness the “ooh, shiny!” factor – which will give me a temporary increase in motivation – to make my new habit stick, but not have a sudden drop in productivity when the excitement wears off.
I want a real daily writing habit, not a fling with a chromebook. I think I’ve got the right approach, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens when the chromebook arrives.
Have you ever encountered the “ooh, shiny!” factor? What have you done to avoid or harness it?
*NOTE: My chromebook arrived yesterday, one week earlier than expected! I wrote this post over the weekend, but my site wasn’t set up yet. Fortunately, I started changing my habits last Friday, so here’s hoping!