Now that it’s a weekly habit, when I set about writing one of these here blog posts, it’s not usually happening in the heat of a ranty moment. I have to decide what to write about. That decision is based partly on what I’ve written recently, in case there’s a logical sequence waiting to be followed (like this one); partly on what’s happening with me in work or in life, in case I need a new direction; and partly on which of the available options leads me first to an idea about how to write about it. I wasn’t setting out today to write up another workflow. A fortuitous input led me there.


A fellow participant in June’s Problem Solving Leadership wrote me recently. I had told him during PSL that one of my goals there was to be less comfortable, because I default to comfort. He hadn’t shared that goal at the time, but recently attended a training session that perhaps changed his mind. “One thing I got out of it,” he wrote, “is that uncomfortable leads to growth.” So he had a question for me.

Have I been less comfortable?

Yes, in at least one way: since April, when I started my current streak of one new blog post and one new podcast episode every week, I’ve been uncomfortable every week.

One weird trick for writing faster and better

I have a hard time writing when I’m not clear on who I’m writing for. One trick I discovered in the early days of my online journal was to pick someone to write to, and immediately the words would come. Simply by emailing me a question and being his specific self, my PSL classmate solved my problem this week.

Would you be willing to ask me a question, either here as a comment or privately (by email, Twitter DM, etc.)? You’ll be doing me a favor!

Another weird trick for writing at all

Bring only my iPad (no phone, no laptop, yes Bluetooth keyboard) to a public place where people are having conversations and caffeinated beverages are available (coffeeshop, bar, etc.). Turn off WiFi and cellular networking. Insert earbuds. Open the Coffitivity app, just in case individual conversations are distinct and salient, just loud enough to make it fruitless to attend to any of them.

In short, be disconnected from Twitter, from the folks in my immediate vicinity, and in general from the option to do other things (or no things). Open Textastic or Drafts or even Notes. Sip awake juice. Listen for the faint signals in my brain, and write them down. Listen some more. Write some more.

I need this hack because it’s easy for me not to focus on one thing at a time, because I want my writing to be extremely clear, and because writing while unfocused goes even more slowly than usual and the outcome is crap. As a perfectionist and procrastinator, I need to engineer an environment in which it’s easier to focus than to not focus. You might think a quiet hotel room would do the trick, and sometimes it does, but it also affords me lots of options that aren’t writing. I don’t want to have those options until I’m done with the hard parts.

A WIP-limiting, flow-enhancing trick from programming

As I code, when I notice I’m about to gloss over something important, I drop an XXX (and maybe a few more words of breadcrumb) as a reminder to come back and think about it. I have the corresponding habit of finding and fixing all new instances of XXX before committing the change to source control. This trick lets me safely complete my current thinking-in-process before picking up a new line of thought.

As I write, I often think of references (previous posts, podcast episodes, tweets) I’d like to link to. I drop an XXX and keep writing. This interdisciplinary hack works especially well now that my writing also gets committed to source control.

A focusing trick from Agile in 3 Minutes

When I can write an outline first, and maybe even choose a title, the writing seems to go more smoothly. Sometimes that works. And sometimes the only way to find out what I’m trying to write about is to have written it.

What’s my next source of discomfort?

The process of writing still induces discomfort for me; no matter how many consecutive weeks I keep doing it, I’m guessing that’ll never completely go away. But it does seem to be getting better.

I try to finish my two weekly writings in my two or three evenings a week when I’m away for work, so that I don’t have to spend any of my precious minutes at home on that stuff. I often (not always) succeed. The during-travel-evenings-only timebox has pushed me to be more disciplined, but also to feel more pressure, but also also to notice that the feeling of pressure neither helps me get my writing done nor brings out my best thoughts. These last few weeks I’ve been practicing feeling less pressure and more pleasure. So I think that creating, following, and addressing my discomfort here has begun to pay off.

That means I’m ready to add something new. I’ve got something in mind that I’m uncomfortable just thinking about. I’m looking forward to seeing how I’ll learn to address it, and to sharing my learning with you.