One Sentence a Day

Like many folks, I’ve got a bunch of things I want to improve about myself, and one of them is to write more. So this post will be a bit meta, but don’t worry, it’ll be brief. I’ve had this goal, of writing more, for several years, and yet my writing pace hasn’t improved at all… until a couple months ago, after reading Atomic Habits. In the book, the author says that to make long-term progress that’ll actually stick, we shouldn’t put so much emphasis on our big goals. Instead, we should make compounding small improvements, with tiny habits that are obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. For me, I think the easy criteria was the hard one, the one I’ve been missing.

Write one blog post? 🤔

What I’ve had on my To-Do list for years is a monthly assignment: “Write one blog post.” But I’ve rarely met that goal, as you can see if you click my name and look at the gaps in dates between my posts. For me right now, "Write one blog post" isn’t easy.

There are probably a bunch of reasons why not, but I think one of the big ones is that it doesn’t let me see progress very often. If I look at zero progress on that assignment during Week 1, I can always tell myself “no worries, lots of time left!” Same deal for Week 2. But pretty quickly, of course, I’m down to the wire. And I have to be really motivated, and exert a lot of pressure on myself, to come up with a decent idea and get a post out the door.

Writing never feels that urgent for me, so it just doesn’t happen.

Write one sentence! 👈

For the last few weeks, I’ve given myself a daily writing assignment, and it’s kind of silly-sounding: “Write one sentence.” One sentence a day is certainly an easy commitment for me to make to myself. I write sentences all the time—in group chat, on email, in my note-taking app, and in shared company documents. It didn’t seem like it’d get me too far at first—a single blog post probably has more than 30 sentences, right? But that seemed OK to me, since I figured I could start here and build a harder version once the easy one was going well. Either way, even a post every two months (heck, even every four months!) would still put me in better shape.

It surprised me to find that often, once I’ve got one sentence written, it’s easy to keep going, and before I know it I’ll have two paragraphs written. And then on other days, like weekends when I just want to hang out with my kids, spending 3-5 minutes to write one sentence is still easy. It’s just where I choose to stop.

It’s not a perfect system. For example, if I don’t have a good structure or outline in place, I can find myself churning out sentence after sentence, day after day, that don’t go together and don’t lead anywhere. But so far, it’s better than nothing, and it's still easy.

What’s the difference?

So how is this working out in real life, as opposed to in a book or in my imagination? And does a sentence a day really add up to anything, or just a bunch of disembodied sentences floating around ready for Halloween? As I write this, I’ve published two blog posts in the last month, and I have two more sitting in our internal queue (we try to publish once a week, so we maintain a bit of a backlog). This is more posts than I’ve written in the previous year!

So writing one sentence seems to be breaking down a wall for me—call it writer’s block, procrastination, laziness, whatever you want. If you’ve been wanting to write more too, maybe you could give this a shot.

And thinking beyond the practice of writing, you might consider what kinds of habits might be analogous in other areas. What obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying habits do you want to build into your daily routine? Or to think of it another way, what tiny and atomic steps can you take, over and over again, to unblock your progress and continuously become the person, or team, or organization that you want to be?

Colin Jones, Chief Technology Officer

Colin Jones likes web performance, distributed systems, DevOps, and functional programming. He does not like bugs.

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