Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Thinking in Blocks of Time

By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 26, 2012

I’m just home from two weeks’ vacation—and gearing up to get back to work. The first thing I’ll do is stop myself from thinking in terms of immediate gratification.

Harry

Dirty Harry taught us, "A man's gotta know his limitations."

I will make myself think, instead, in blocks of time.

I will not put pressure on the first day, or even the first week. Resistance would love me to do that. Resistance knows that if I try to do too much too soon, I’ll fail. Resistance would love to see that happen.

So I will remind myself that the enemy is not time. The enemy is Resistance.

The wide receiver returning from injury knows he can’t run a 4.3 forty the first day back. If he tries, he’ll pull a hamstring. I will learn from him. When I sit down to work, I will think in terms, not of Day One, but of Week One, Month One, and From Now Till New Year’s.

I will not try to use the big writing muscles yet. I’ll stick to the little ones. I’ll transcribe, I’ll research, I’ll compile. I won’t try to do real writing for another four or five days and, when I do, I won’t go all-out.

What I’m doing is “building up.”

If I were a trainer working with a two-year-old colt, I would not let him run flat-out the first day back from a lay-off. I might not let him run at all. I might spend the first day working on entering the starting gate or being led to the paddock and being saddled. I will let him stretch his legs a little, but no racing, not even for fun.

When we think in terms of blocks of time, it takes pressure off the need for immediate production. We don’t mind going slowly the first few days because we know we’ll hit our stride in a week or two.

Starting slow does something else that is not often appreciated. It sends a message. A low-pressure Day One tells the muscles, “Wake up, work is coming.” It doesn’t make the muscles panic. It just gets them in the mood. When we up the pace on Day Two, the muscles get the picture. They start to prepare.

Our imaginary colt does not dread running. He wants to gallop. The trick, for us the trainer, is not to give him his head too soon.

So we zoom out. We push the horizon back. We think in blocks of time.

Week One, we accomplish X.

Month One, we accomplish X+Y.

By New Year’s, we have nailed X, Y, and Z.

I recognize that what I do for a living—writing long-form pieces—is not analagous to what many people do. But the long-run mindset is a valuable one to master, even if you’re in the business of git-‘er-done-now.

When we think in blocks of time, we acquire patience. We make time work for us instead of against us. Dirty Harry said a man’s gotta know his limitations. We can’t lose ten pounds in ten days. But we can lose ten pounds in a year.

Time possesses powers that are underappreciated in the world of overnight polls and instant gratification.

Start slow and build. Think in terms of blocks of time.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

13 Responses to “Thinking in Blocks of Time”

  1. John
    September 26, 2012 at 4:07 am

    Another great article. Your advices are valuable.
    Greece loves you Mr. Pressfield.

  2. September 26, 2012 at 4:18 am

    Always appreciate the great insight Mr.Pressfield. Thanks!!

  3. Basilis
    September 26, 2012 at 4:58 am

    Time…

    How we think about time in the beginning of our creating process can actually drive us crazy! Even now and I still think how much discipline is needed to tame somehow this factor. But I also think that work,thoughts,career moves e.t.c are like seeds in the soil. Furiously enough they seem to need time to grow, but later on it’s time again that makes them strong as they struggle to develop.

    (Well well, do I see a Greek out there? )

  4. September 26, 2012 at 5:22 am

    I read this just in time before starting on my “Day One” after returning home from 10 days of travel. I will work on X today, and build towards Y and Z.

    Thanks!

  5. September 26, 2012 at 5:33 am

    Great post. I’m not on Day One but I am coming up against a humungous amount of resistance at the moment so setting myself a block of time is very useful. Thanks for sharing.

  6. September 26, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Once again you’ve written exactly what I needed to hear right now. I’m starting back on a script that I haven’t worked on for years. Your insight helps. Thank you!

  7. September 26, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Thank you Steven.
    You are absolutely right about the instant gratification world we live in that tends get us worn out much more quickly.

  8. Govind
    September 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    You’re absolutely right, Mr. Pressfield. The horizon is long. Robert McKee noted in an interview that, “when I was at the university, I wrote…a number of short plays and I read them and I concluded: ‘this is the writing of a very immature person.’ But I was immature. And there was nothing I could do about that. So I put down writing for the next fifteen years before I picked it up again.”

    Fifteen years! Probably not a bad idea to spend the first week (or year) getting warmed up.

  9. September 26, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    Such great advice. Thank you!

  10. September 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    I love reading this insightful advice. Too many times I put pressure on myself to work and produce at all costs. It always leads to frustration. This takes some pressure off. Thank you!

  11. Amy
    September 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    From a mom who is hard-wired to “get-it-done….now” this is such a calming reminder of how real writing is done. I’m coming back to my writing after being ill for a few months, and this post is timely for me – thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  12. September 28, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    On vacation now, this is what I needed to read. Not what I wanted, mind you, because I’m chomping at the bit to get back at it. But a pulled hammie gets me nowhere. Thanks again Steven.

  13. January 19, 2013 at 9:05 am

    This is a great tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Brief but very precise info… Appreciate your sharing
    this one. A must read post!