This is a lesson that I've had to re-learn repeatedly. I'll find myself, about mid-semester, having a hard time squeezing any writing into my schedule, and it will only slowly dawn on me that the situation is being worsened, if not created, by the fact that I'm starting my day in crisis-management mode, which is a mode I can never get out of once it's set in.
On the other hand, if I start my day with thirty minutes of writing, I'm far more likely to be able to return to the project in some random free block of time later in the day.
So I discipline myself: I climb out of bed, brush my teeth, feed the cats, make the coffee, and then sit down at the computer -- and do not open my email. Instead, I open whatever document I'm currently writing in and set a timer for thirty minutes. And I spend that thirty minutes focusing exclusively on that document.
Because whatever new crisis my email is going to bring me that morning isn't going to get any worse in the next thirty minutes, but getting my focus back once I've allowed the crisis into my morning simply will not work.
This post has stuck with me, even though a lot of bloggers (myself included) have talked about setting aside writing times before. Although some of the commenters say that you can block out any 30 minutes in a day, it's not as easy to shut off your mind as it is to close the office door and turn off the internet.
Fitzpatrick's post reminded me of this study:
She [Winifred Gallagher, author of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life] recommends starting your work day concentrating on your most important task for 90 minutes. At that point your prefrontal cortex probably needs a rest, and you can answer e-mail, return phone calls and sip caffeine (which does help attention) before focusing again. But until that first break, don’t get distracted by anything else, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to do the equivalent of rebooting after an interruption. (For more advice, go to nytimes.com/tierneylab.)I've noticed this, too: my attention span shortens throughout the day, until it lengthens again in the evening and I can concentrate once again.
A side note: I like ProfHacker, although my reaction is often "hey, I wrote about that a while back/have been doing that for years." What ProfHacker posts on productivity do, though, is remind me of this: if you've written about this before, why aren't you following all those precepts you've been writing about for years?