Let me tell you about my work day. I do so because I wish to make a point. My mornings begin at my computer, preferably before 10 am. I practice this ritual 7 days a week. Monday through Friday, I compose essays that will appear later as one of my blogs. Composing occupies me until 1 or 1:30. Then, I break for an hour and a half to exercise and have lunch, lunch being my main meal of the day. Afterwards, I return to the computer and edit one or two blogs already in my queue and set one of them up to be published.
If all goes well, I complete my tasks by 4 or 5 in the afternoon, leaving me free to read material for future blogs or review a novel for an upcoming YouTube segment of Just Read It, the 10 minute book commentary I cohost with writer Susan Stoner. In the evening, over dinner, I catch up on the news. Then I watch a flick on DVD and by 9 p.m. I’m in bed, reading until I turn off the light somewhere between 10 and 10:30.
My days are busy. That’s why the three most devastating words to my routine come from friends who suggest, “Let’s have lunch.”
My obsession with reading and writing might seem strange, but studies show, if I wish to excel as a writer, intensity is critical. (“A better way to work,” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, excerpted from Natutil.us in The Week, May 12, pg. 40-41.) Darwin and Dickens and all those who mastered their fields showed the same propensity to focus.
Focus is what Buddhists would call “mindfulness”: being alert to each success or failure during any practice. Going through the motions without focus leads nowhere. But focus is hard to retain for more than a few hours. Research shows an individual working 20 hours at problem will likely gain no more insight than one who has given the matter 5 hours. (Ibid pg. 40.)
Dickens and Darwin instinctively knew this limitation. They made it a habit to work no more than 4 hours a day. My day is longer, but I don’t keep to the same task. Effort that requires intense creativity, I reserve for the morning. The remainder of the day, I spend refining earlier drafts of essays or I read to fill up on other people’s ideas.
A night person might work in reverse. What matters is that a period of intensive effort should be followed by diversion. Oh, and there’s on other secret. Like the geniuses, I suggest an afternoon nap.
(First published 5/23/17)