Resolutions for writers, and why

Resolutions for writers, and why

Minor_Scale_test_explosionApart from sticking to deadlines for timely submission, what other useful habits could/should writers adopt to help workflow? Here are some habits that could help keep the words coming, and why they might help.

Inbox zero and muting the ping!

File this one under “removing distractions.” How many times an hour does that ping of mail arriving interrupt workflow? The answer is too many, so turn off the notifications. In addition to interrupting creative flow, checking emails throughout the day messes with your mood. According to a recent paper from UBC, checking your email less frequently reduces stress.1 In a two-week within-subjects study, Kushlev and Dunn (2015) found that when participants limited inbox inspections to three times per day, they reported lower stress levels than if they checked for new mail as many times as they wanted to throughout the day.

Focusing on email checking as a form of task switching, something already known to negatively impact well-being and increase cognitive load to the point of further distraction, Kushlev and Dunn used an exploratory approach in conjunction with self-reporting to assess participant mood. In addition to feeling less stressed during a week of limited email checking, the subjects also reported feeling less tense and less distracted, and felt marginally greater enjoyment. During the week of unlimited email checking, the subjects reported lower productivity levels, worse sleep and lower social connectedness.

So, don’t check your email so frequently (feel happier and write even more).

However, inbox zero might not be such a good idea if getting there takes over your working life.


I write, therefore I stand

Anyone who works at a desktop computer and keyboard all day, every day will probably be familiar with some sort of fatigue or repetitive strain discomfort. Setting up an ergonomic workspace takes a little time, but it’s very worthwhile. Little adjustments, such as setting a suitable screen height, enabling correct keyboard position and wrist support, and even opting for the right mouse device, can increase productivity and reduce pain.

However, your new working position should also incorporate standing up…at least for part of your working day. Apparently, sedentary is the new nicotine [clickbait], and as a writer I hear the tolling of the bell. A systematic review and meta-analysis by Wilmot and colleagues (2012) comparing highly sedentary occupations with those that were more active found a strong association between sitting still for long periods and poor health outcomes.2 Their work echoes the London bus driver study, which found drivers suffered more heart attacks than conductors and was the first to draw an association between lack of exercise and cardiovascular disease.

Setting up a standing desk can be inventive and cheap, or easy and expensive. There are a number of commercial standing desk options available for the professional writer these days, each featuring different specifications or customization options. There are also some inventive hacks using existing furniture and simple tools that give a homemade platform.standing desk with dog installed: afmaxwell

In my opinion, the holy grail of non-sedentary workstations is one that will rise or fall to the occasion, with motorized options or simple tilt and shift controls that mean you can stand or sit, depending on your preference. Until then, my Ikea workaround suits just fine.

Whatever you do choose, the goal is to get moving during your working day so that you spend less time on your butt (to put it bluntly). For this reason, it’s also worth investing in a dog, especially an old one who will sleep under the desk (standing or otherwise) but needs to go outside (to hunt squirrels) regularly.


Laugh a little (laugh a lot)

Who wants to slog away at a task without reward? Apart from a cash incentive for stringing the words together, injecting a little fun into the working day also has benefits. And anyway, Google is always right [see page 24].

According to Oswald and co-authors (2015), happiness does indeed make humans do more work.3 In their upcoming paper looking at the links between happiness and productivity, they found that putting workers in a happier frame of mind boosted productivity in paid tasks by 10 to 12 per cent.

Another paper, this time looking at the hospitality industry, also found this association between fun at work and better performance.4 However, the study also showed that when managers supported fun, productivity fell. In this second paper, Tews et al. (2013) suggest that delivering fun should be considered in the context of what exactly human resources is aiming for in terms of work outcome. In other words: what exactly do you need to achieve from the fun?

For a writer, this is a relatively simple question to answer: we want creativity and productivity. And here are some non-distracting ways to inject a little fun into the task at hand that could increase output and stimulate creativity.

  • Word count getting you down?
    Fire up Written? Kitten! to track word count, and be rewarded with a cute image every time you hit 100 words. The tool, “a warmer and fuzzier version” of Write or Die, even allows customization—100 words per dinosaur, for example. Make mine a llama.
  • Tired of the sterility of Lorem Ipsum?
    Try Hipsum, Bacon Ipsum, Yorkshire Ipsum (eh by ‘eckerslike) or the rather dodgy Borat Ipsum next time you need to generate some filler text.
  • Creative block?
    Take a hike! Getting back to the dog, there is nothing better than a breath of fresh air with a furry companion. Moreover, a recent study showed that taking a 30-minute lunchtime walk not only boosts aerobic fitness but improves positivity for the afternoon.5

So excuse me—I must boost my productivity and creativity by taking a hike with my dog.

Adieu, and happy writing!



  1. Kushlev, Kostadin, and Elizabeth W. Dunn. 2015. “Checking Email Less Frequently Reduces Stress.” Computers in Human Behavior 43: 220–228.
  2. Wilmot, E.G., C. L. Edwardson, F. A. Achana, M. J. Davies, T. Gorely, L. J. Gray, K. Khunti,  T. Yates, and S. J. H. Biddle. 2012. “Sedentary Time in Adults and the Association with Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Death: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Diabetologia 55 (11):2895–905.
  3. Oswald, Andrew J., Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi. (awaiting publication) “Happiness and Productivity. “ Journal of Labor Economics.
  4. Tews, Michael J., John W. Michel, and Kathryn Stafford. 2013. “Does Fun Pay? The Impact of Workplace Fun on Employee Turnover and Performance.” Cornell Hospitality Quarterly 54: 370–82. doi:10.1177/1938965513505355.
  5. Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C., E. A. Loughren, F.-E. Kinnafick, I. M. Taylor, J. L. Duda, and K. R. Fox. 2015. “Changes in Work Affect in Response to Lunchtime Walking in Previously Physically Inactive Employees: A Randomized Trial.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. doi: 10.1111/sms.12398.
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