A Regime of Reading and Writing

Six weeks ago, I made a conscious decision to adjust my way of life to be more productive with my work.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been rather productive, but I’m not as productive as I would like to be.

I’m trying my very best to publish something this academic year. This is the goal I’ve set for myself in my final year in NTU before I move on to further my studies. But in order to do that, I need more time to do this additional work on top of my existing responsibilities.

One of the first major changes I made was to wake up early at 6am every morning, including most weekends. But of course, there are some days where I treat myself nicely, allowing myself to wake up a little later.

In my undergraduate days, I used to be able to work all night long until dawn. These days it’s almost impossible. I think working life has conditioned me to be productive only in the day. If I try to work at night, I often find myself “photosynthesising” in front of the screen.

The first week went pretty well. I felt alive and very very productive. The weeks after that was a different story. There are days where I’m extremely productive, and there are days where I’m barely able to concentrate and work.

The problem? I don’t always sleep early. No, let me correct that: I rarely sleep early.

Here’s the problem I have with sleep. If I sleep too much, I suffer from some kind of sleep-hangover, and I have difficulty concentrating. But if I sleep too little, I’ll be too fatigue to the point that I can’t even concentrate. What I’ve been doing is to cultivate the perfect state of having just barely enough sleep, thus being in this semi-meditative state where I’m neither overly-active nor exhausted. This is the ideal state where I have the most focus and concentration, and I’m able to get a lot of work done.

This sounds silly. And of course, sometimes I think this is just a myth I create for myself to justify my lack of discipline to sleep early.

That said, I do find myself unable to think clearly whenever I have 7 or 8 hours of sleep.

I am a strange person.

Anyway, I do like the idea of waking up early. I don’t like how lunch time in the office is fixed at 12pm. Work officially starts at 8.30am for me. By the time I’m warmed up and ready to write something substantial, it’ll be 10+am, and I’ll be force to stop my work just to have lunch. It’s barely enough time to get much thinking done.

Now that I wake up at 6am, I reach the office at around 7.30am. I have sufficient time to warm up, and plenty of time to work before the lunchtime interruption.

If you’ve noticed, in this past six weeks, I’ve blogged more frequently than before. It’s my way of keeping the writing engine in my mind always running. I find that when you don’t write frequently, the inertia to start writing is greater. If you write daily – even if it’s something nonsensical – it’s relatively easier to start writing something seriously.

Last week, I learnt from one of my professors a good habit. She learnt that at the start of her graduate studies from a professional writer and have since cultivated this habit in her daily schedule. Her day is divided into two parts: she writes in the morning before lunch (at least 500 words), and reads in the afternoon after lunch. I guess evening is the time where she contemplates on the thing she reads.

Reading and Writing: Where, oh where does one find the time do to it?
Reading and Writing: Where, oh where does one find the time do to it?

That sounds like a great idea! You read something in the afternoon, that gives you some food for thought for the rest of the day. And by morning, you’ll have more than enough material to write out substantial ideas before lunch. Now that’s productivity!

I guess, this is how some academics get much of their writing done too.

In fact, I think it works very well for her. I’m told she publishes very very frequently, she has new publications released almost every other week!

I decided to try this out since the middle of last week. While I’ve not been faithful in doing this every single day, I think I’ve experienced a huge improvement in productivity.

However, this schedule of reading and writing is somewhat problematic. I have other duties and responsibilities in the office after all. So where do I find the time for that? Gee… I don’t know. So far, I usually sacrifice the reading slot. But of course, there are days where I’m forced to give up the time for writing. I hope that doesn’t become a bad habit. (This is why I’m forcing myself to write something after dinner, despite a long and busy day today)

The experience of intensive reading and writing, coupled with waking up at 6am every morning has been rather interesting. Firstly, this has resulted in me not talking very much throughout the day. I think this (and the tiredness from waking up early) has led me to have a lot of difficulties speaking. It’s as if the speaking engine in my mind has gone cold. I’ll speak very incoherently for a while. And it’s only after I struggle to speak for some time that I finally am able to speak coherently.

Like I said, I’m a strange person.

Well, let’s see how this goes. I’ll try to stick faithfully to this regime. Not sure how this will turn out. But I really should try sleeping earlier at night.