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Stay on Track with a Treadmill Journal

Stay on Track with a Treadmill Journal
Stay on Track with a Treadmill Journal

Nobody knows more tricks and hacks to keep themselves working towards their goals than writers! From getting fired up to start to knowing when to quit — and all the struggles to keep on going in between — writers need every dollop of motivational help they can scrape up.

One trick that some writers use is a “treadmill journal”. Unlike a typical journal, a treadmill journal is a single-purpose journal that records only a few scant piece of information per entry: the time and date, how much writing you plan to do that day, what specific thing you plan to work on, how it went, what you plan to work on tomorrow, and when and for how long you’ll work tomorrow.

Gregory Martin, a writer who teaches treadmill journaling in his writing workshops, describes its purpose like this:

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I call my daily writing journal a “treadmill” journal because I like the analogy to exercise. It’s hard to romanticize a treadmill. But you can’t get in shape if you jog a few miles every few weeks, and trying to write a meaningful piece of literature is like training for a marathon (“Want to Be Productive?” The Writer, April 2007).

Treadmilling for non-writers

The treadmill journal is primarily a motivational tool — looking back, you can easily see your progress (or lack thereof) and feel either inspired or shamed. Either way, you’re driven to work to keep up your progress, and by making a commitment to doing a specific task at a specific time tomorrow, you’re reinforcing that drive.

It’s also an analytical tool — you can see fairly easy where you’ve historically had difficulties. If a writer finds that there’s missing days after every entry saying “tomorrow: work on characterization” or “revise tomorrow”, they’ll know there’s something blocking them that they need to work out.

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As both a motivational tool and an analytical tool, the principle behind the treadmill journal seems readily applicable to the kinds of projects that non-writers do. So long as you can break your project into clear actions (and if you can’t, it may not be a project you are ready to tackle!) you can use a treadmill journal to keep on track and highlight problem areas to work on.

“It’s hard to romanticize a treadmill”

The beauty of a treadmill journal is its ugliness. This is not a place for pouring out your heart and soul in elegant prose. Instead, a treadmill journal is a workaday thing, a bookkeeping tool. It says simply, in plain, unadorned language “This is what I’ve done, and this is what I will do.” Like a treadmill at the gym, it’s a way to keep in shape, not a way to show off your chops. Just like there are no extra points for style when you’re working out on your treadmill, there are no bonuses to be gained for having a beautiful treadmill journal.

Grab a notebook — the Moleskine if you want, but a 10-for-a-dollar back-to-school-sale spiral notebook will work just as well — and start writing. Create a separate journal for each project you’re working on — having two or more in the same journal will make it hard to see at a glance if you’ve been keeping on track with all of them. Each entry should contain the following entries:

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  1. Today’s date.
  2. The name of the project you’re working on. No need to get fancy here — an abbreviation is fine, so long as you know what it means.
  3. What you will work on today.
  4. Start time. The time you start working on your project.
  5. End time. The time you finished working on your project.
  6. How it went. A quick evaluation of your day’s work.
  7. What you’ll do tomorrow. Your plans for the next day. You might not end up working on this — maybe inspiration takes you in a different direction. But you should have a clear idea now of what you intend to do tomorrow.
  8. The time you’ll start and stop working tomorrow. This is a commitment, so make sure you select times where you have no other commitments and expect minimal interruptions.

For instance, here’s what you might write if you were working on a big business proposal:

Feb 28, 2008
Proposal for Sloan Co.
Create PowerPoint presentations
Start: 2:15pm
End: 4:45pm
Finished slides, but need table from Jim for slide 8.
Tomorrow: Insert table from Jim, send presentation to Beth for approval. Write up index cards for presentation.
Will work: 2 – 4pm.

Getting nowhere?

If you miss a day here and there, that’s probably OK. If you find, though, that several days have gone by and you haven’t made a new entry, you need to recommit yourself — or figure out what the hold-up is. Although sometimes we really can’t move forward (we’re waiting for information, resources, or materials that we can’t go on without, for example), usually we get stalled because of some self-created sticking point — we’re nervous or apprehensive about some aspect of the project that makes us resist working on it.

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Gaps in your treadmill journal should be read as pointers to explore what it is, exactly, that we’re sticking on. Since you’ve committed to a particular task, what is it about that task that you are resisting? In some cases, the answer might be to simply create a different task to commit to, but if it was important enough to write down in the first place, most likely you’re going to have to take on the old task eventually.

Ideally, your treadmill journal should read like a treadmill runs — no ups and downs, no big hold-ups, just that steady, unstopping flow of entries, day in and day out. The treadmill should, really, go nowhere — even as you run and strain towards your goals.

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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why We Procrastinate After All?

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

Is Procrastination Bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How Bad Procrastination Can Be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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Procrastination, a Technical Failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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