Binge Working, Pt. 2

binge.jpg I struggled with how best to illustrate how to prepare for a binge session, and I landed on the notion of using a couple of examples of how I specifically approach things. So while the details may not apply directly to you, I believe that the principles of the following examples can be considered universal.

Lest I misrepresent myself, figuring out all of the above didn’t just happen overnight. It’s taken several weeks in order to get this far. It’s been a much more organic process than it might look, what with all the concise bullet points and lists. But that’s okay, because this sort of thing isn’t always as cut and dried on the front end. There’s been a lot of trial and error, lots of time spent making no perceptible progress. But that’s just the nature of the beast, I think.

Preparing for the binge

I don’t like to work hard, and historically, I’ve never really been able to binge and effectively string together several hours working on the same project. I never really did big cram sessions in school, and I’ve never forgotten to eat because I was so deep into whatever I was doing. I’m just not wired that way. But since my situation has changed, presenting new obstacles, I’ve had to learn how to take advantage of the time that I had.

As I’ve stated previously, the goal of the binge is to break off a largish chunk of time, achieve a state of Flow, and do a lot of work. So the best thing you can do to complete a successful binge is to set yourself up for Flow. And the way this is accomplished is by doing everything you can to ensure that you have everything you need in order to prevent having to break your concentration. This means being aware of a few things:

  • what do you need to do?
  • what can be done before the binge starts?
  • how much time, energy and concentration does the project require?

What follows are two examples of how I prepare for a work binge.

A regularly occurring binge: Blogging on Saturdays

I regularly use my Saturday binge time to write the posts for the Q-Burger blog. As I’ve said, I hit the coffee shop at 7:00 or so, buy a beverage and carb infusion, bust out 3Jane (my laptop), and by 11:30 or noon, I walk out of the coffee shop having typically produced 3 or 4 posts of varying lengths and subject matter (and quality?).

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve generated these posts from scratch right then and there…but it has happened on occasion. I’ve walked in with nothing and come out the other end having met my quota. But this leaves me feeling pretty tired and with sore hands from typing so much so fast, and the rest of the day is largely spent on the couch.

I took some time to break down the components of what I was trying to accomplish. What is required in order to write 3 or 4 blog posts a week?

  1. Time to develop kernel idea for each post
  2. Time to write outline for each post
  3. Web access
  4. Reference material and links to same
  5. Time to draft posts (at least several hours, because I write slow)

After creating this basic list, I examined each task with an eye toward these three criteria:

  1. What is the time requirement? How long will it take to complete this task?
  2. What is the energy requirement? How much energy/alertness is needed in order to complete this task?
  3. What is the concentration requirement? How focused do I need to be in order to complete this task?

After going over each item in the list and asking these three questions, I determined that for the first four items in my list of tasks had low requirements across the board.

During the week, I don’t have hours to string together or a lot of energy to dedicate, or the luxury to focus my concentration on writing my blog posts.

But what I do have on hand most days are as follows:

  • A couple of computers that can be used in a variety of locations and situations
  • internet access
  • A well-managed collection of RSS feeds and Google Reader for fast scanning
  • Evernote to allow easy collection and organization of source material
  • OmniOutliner to aid in brainstorming and outline creation
  • several 10, 15 or even 30 minute chunks of time over the course of the week.

Only the actual composition and drafting of the posts requires large amounts of energy, time and concentration.

Knowing this, I’ve worked to install a few little habits with the intent of making it easier for me to complete the first four tasks of the project during the week.
* Creating a new Q-Blog outline file every Monday morning * Doing a quick brainstorm on possible post topics and taking a shot at roughing in some of the outline right away. * At least once a day, open the outline file and start to fill in more detail * Read my RSS feeds and consume entertainment always with an eye toward gathering inspiration and source material

So now, after putting in the planning and prep work, it’s a rare week when I don’t walk into the coffee shop on Saturday with a relatively complete outline and all source material captured and documented. The end result is that I spend my Saturday binge time as efficiently as possible.

A one-off binge: The wife and kids go out of town

It’s easier to get into a rhythm when you can set up and maintain a process for a fairly regular weekly binge. But the one-off binge is a pig of a different stink. I had a chance for some spontaneous binge work a couple of weeks ago when the wife and kids left me to my own devices for a few days. Wow! 48-plus hours to do whatever I want! But the truth is with total freedom comes paralysis. It would have been pretty easy just to retire to the couch and watch TV or fire up Civ and completely sink my free time there.

Erin’s trip was announced without much lead time, so I didn’t really have much time to put together an,intricate game plan like the one above, but I do maintain a regularly updated list of tasks and projects I want or need to do. So it wasn’t difficult at all to figure out what needed to be done, quickly break each project down into its component tasks, and chalk up my calendar accordingly.

Drawing exercises on figure fundamentals
  • Computer
  • Wacom tablet
  • Big monitor Time Requirement: Mid Energy Requirement: Low Concentration Requirement: Mid

I like to draw in the early morning, and I like to draw using my desktop machine with the larger monitor, so it wasn’t tough to figure out when and whereto schedule this.

Dissect “Ratatouille” screenplay, a la John August’s suggestion

DVD Player Scrivener (for notes) Large monitor to have both video and Scrivener window open at same time. Time Requirement: Mid Energy: Low Concentration: High

Because I needed to concentrate, and I needed a large enough block of time to run the movie with plenty of stops and starts, this was done after dinner, around 6-ish for what turned out to be a couple of hours a night.

Reread “Story” by Bob McKee

Book

Time Requirement: Low to Mid Energy: Low Concentration: Mid

I could have put this in the time slot behind I chose to do this in the mornings, after I finished drawing and had breakfast. But since I knew that the material in this book would get me charged up creatively, I wanted to do this right before I started the next project, so I packed the book in my saddlebag alongside my laptop and brought it with me to the Caribou down the road, so that I could set the book down and immediately take advantage of the ensuing inspiration and enthusiasm. I’m still doing this now because I haven’t finished the book, and the technique is very effective in kickstarting my creative writing.

  • Begin snowflake writing process for graphic novel Computer Scrivener A change of scenery

Time requirement: Mid Energy: Mid Concentration: High

Since this is the most resource intensive activity, I gave this project the prime slot of 9am to 12am. I kickstarted the process by getting out of the house, getting to a nice, comfortable location, and by reading inspirational material before starting.

By doing this, I really had no urge to procrastinate or fritter away the time (despite the call of Civ), because these projects had been sitting on my list, waiting for me to have the time to do them. These are all fairly broad projects that would lose their value if I were to try to do them in the little bite-sized chunks I had available to me. But since I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew how much time I had available, I was able to make the most of my time and got quite a bit accomplished. And the time that I spent on the couch watching THE PICK OF DESTINY (which was surprisingly entertaining) and EQUILIBRIUM (which I shut off after 15 minutes because it was heavy-handed horsecrap), was time that I had specifically set aside to do so.

Are binges the best way to accomplish your goals when time is scarce? Next week, I’ll wrap up the binge conversation by highlighting some of the benefits of binge working and some of the downsides to this strategy.