On a podcast I heard some time ago featuring Ray Romano (of Everybody Loves Raymond* fame) had the actor commenting on his writing and work process. He basically admitted he was addicted to various unproductive habits and activities. As a way of weaning himself away from these problems and impediments on his productivity; he would make bets with himself. If he did not do X today, he would not be able to play a round of golf the next day. If he failed to prepare a script, he would not be able to watch football that night. Ever since then I have wondered how important accountability and punishment is for productivity. Do we need to instill fear of the consequences to our own failure to ensure we move forward with our work?
When people get stuck in the research, there is not much that is simple that can be done to help you get unstuck. I personally go on long train rides in Scotland, an option I don’t think many (or any) of you have. Without these a functional methods of getting unstuck, accountability is about the only way to ensure success when mired deep in the pit of a writing, coding, or data analysis block.
One of my favorite methods to build in accountability is writing groups, either in person or online. Online writing groups force the person to write a note (to the group) in the morning about what tasks they will complete and then check back in later that day stating what they actually did complete. The rest of the group comments and supports the individual as they make progress. It is a wonderful method to ensure self accountability through peer support networks. Writing groups in person are even more effective in that you build personal bonds and these bonds help ensure that the support you get is more personal. An even better method is to setup a writing group meeting where everyone unplugs and writes.
Sometimes this does not go far enough. Some people (ahem arrogant college professors) do all they can to buck accountability and peer pressure. I think this is where punishment comes in. Maybe the only way to ensure success for certain tasks is to make sure there are consequences for failure to act. Through consequences, some of us might be able to force productivity.
Now this does not mean I suggest that method all the time or even think it is very viable. One of my favorite articles ever is an account of how to train a husband, using positive feedback methods the author learned training Orca’s. Professors are like Orca’s, they are big, scary, proud, and respond much better to positive feedback rather than negative feedback.
The point is to suggest that some negative accountability can be built into our writing processes. The World Cup is on this month, I need to watch it every night, therefore, if I fail to complete my daily writing tasks I cannot then watch the games. I have never failed when I build in these forms of accountability, and I don’t want to find out what happens if I do. This might suggest the method works, or it could be an utter failure. Trying to find a method that works for you is all about trial and error, just as is the process of research.
*About here I would link to a funny moment from the show but 15 minutes of intense internet research could not locate any.