Just Open the File – Series “Personal Productivity and Time Management”

To start off this series about personal productivity and time management for writers, I thought I would offer up a tip – or at least a phrase – of my own devising.

I call it Just Open the File (JOTF) and it’s such an absurdly simple idea that I hesitate even calling it a tip. But it has worked for me. And it might work for you.

How to Use

Just Open the File is exactly that – a personal mantra to remind yourself to open whatever it is you are working on – outline, revision, draft, character sketch, blog post, or whatever. Push past the feeling of boredom with your current opus, ignore the siren call of one more round of Splatoon 2, and leave aside the micro slam poetry battle on Twitter.

You open the file. It’s the smallest step you can take while making forward progress. Feel conflicted about where your story is going? JOTF. Got writer’s block and can’t decide what to write? JOTF. Hate everything and want to start over? Just open the file.

My Usage in Writing Fiction

I use this to trick my brain into using my existing habit of “working on what’s in front of me.” When I started learning about habits and habit forming (a whole ‘nother series) I kept hearing about “lowering the threshold” to the thing you wanted to do.

An example of lowering the threshold for a new habit: Want to work out more? Leave your workout clothes out and visible so you see them more frequently, so they’re right there waiting for you to put on as soon as you get home from work.

For me Just Open the File is an attempt to hack the routines and habits I already have. I’m the type of person that works on what I have open. If I see something sitting open in front of me, I start to “ideate” on it – little blips of thought of how or what comes next.  So, opening the file of my current project lowers threshold to actually working on it because, well, there it is, right there, in front of me.

When I am feeling decidedly bad and don’t want to work, I make a promise with myself that the only thing I’ll really push myself to do is to open the file. That’s all the will power I have to have. If I do open the file and I still don’t want to work, that’s fine. Good, even. I celebrate it. Look at me! I opened that file. Let’s send out a dance gif.

And then, almost invariably, I get this feeling that I could do just a bit more. Not much. Maybe a sentence or re-read a paragraph.  Even then, it might not be much. But it’s forward progress. It’s better or more complete than what I had.

And I do this over, and over, and over, until eventually, I don’t have to think about opening the file, I just do. I start.

Applications and Apps

I use this everywhere – personal and professional. Every time I feel myself resisting doing work I know I should be doing, I just re-state my little contract and open the file.

There aren’t really any apps per se – it could be opening an email draft or re-reading a text from somebody about something I don’t want to do. Anything where that sense of “Ugh, do I have to?” pops up. Use JOTF as a commitment to make forward progress.

Who It Might Not Work For

Type A, super-go-getters, major productive heroes. You lot already have this problem nipped.

Less tongue in cheek, I think this is something that could useful everywhere. Finances? JOTF. School homework? JOTF.

It’s all about making the first step so small it doesn’t actually feel like a step.


What other simple hacks or tricks do you use to get motivated to work on what you don’t want to do?

Leave comments below. I look forward to stealing seeing them.

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