How we work

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We easily become preoccupied in evaluating ways of working1: which famous author wrote standing up, and at what time of day, and did he take naps, and what is the best length of nap to take.

Through all the trivia of who uses what pens it becomes clear that all of these lucky socks are just support structures for immense discipline. These habits and rituals and preferences are the clothes we dress discipline in so it looks attractive enough to function rather automatically. Which is a monumentally unsexy idea because it is so simple and obvious.

There are certainly key patterns: Take away favorite coffee cups or notebooks and what remains is a general consensus that early morning and late evening are the most fertile periods because there is less distraction, less noise, less demands on our feeble attention. 2-4 hours seems to be the average productive period, and while they may engage in tasks around that, those 2-4 hours are the only ones that really count. The rest of the day is a sort of recuperative preparation. But the regularity of those 2-4 hours, that they happen every morning at that desk, rain or shine, with that cup of coffee or that cigarette, that is simply making intense discipline palatable through routine. In this way, of course, the existential dread is window-dressed away, or at least crowded out of the frame for 2-4 hours every day.

Unless you’re disciplined, all you end up with is a lot of empty wine bottles. All through my career I’ve written 1,000 words a day?even if I’ve got a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way.
J.G. Ballard

3 months into my daily practice I haven’t established a set routine, though I aspire to one. One thing you encounter with the loose imperative to make “a thing a day” is that it’s easy to slowly redefine what “a thing” is, and whether “making” involves half-assedly starting or actually completing, or some compromise in between. Worse though is the way that the imperative to make a thing a day begins to preclude more sustained effort on longer-term projects, projects that can’t be easily completed in one or two or a hundred sittings, or for which progress can’t be posted on a daily basis. It’s a delicate balance to strike between burning through the suck and actually trying to produce something meaningful. So I’ve had to add the provision recently that one “thing” a week must be sustained work on a long-term project. I’m still contemplating the necessity or viability of posting progress reports. My tendency is to maintain a more opaque presence.

1 See also: Daily routines