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by • April 18, 2014 • FoundersComments (3)939

Stress and daily writing

I used to think I “carried stress well.” But it turns out that stress is actually just easy to ignore (for a while) thanks to all the fun and booze and distractions available. But it builds. I’ve broken down from it a couple times now, which basically kills whatever project I cared deeply enough about to get stressed over.

Startups are made out of people. Taking care of the business means taking care of yourselves. The big change I made–which I know sounds trivial–is to start each day by writing a couple pages of stream-of-consciousness garbage; whatever’s in my mind goes onto a piece of paper. I’ve been doing it for a bit under a year and it’s become the cornerstone habit of my personal and professional lives. The perks have been profound across the board. I’m setting better priorities, spotting subtler opportunities, and finding ways to seize a little extra glee from the average day. But here I want to talk specifically about what this habit has done to my stress.

Maybe you also get a sort of focused tunnel vision when you’re heads-down and working hard on something. When I’m in that state, major new stresses can creep up on me undetected. And eventually they pile up and create enough friction to bring my progress to a sudden (and unpleasant) stop.

The writing teases out these stresses while they’re still distant and harmless and makes them easy to pre-empt–for example with a simple team conversation or a bit of admin. And if the stress gets close enough anyway to sink in its claws (which does happen, of course), the writing is how I get to the root cause and decide how to untangle it.

To date, I’ve never re-read any of the pages I’ve written. That’s not what they’re for; don’t worry if they’re illegible or unintelligible. Famous folk publishing their journals has done a great deal of damage to the practice and now we all feel in the back of our minds that we need to write something “good” instead of just writing. But we don’t. It’s never meant to be read. Writing it is just how you find out what’s on your mind. It’s been the biggest improvement to my life in the past year and I credit it for the vast majority of my progress. Maybe it will help you too.

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3 Responses to Stress and daily writing

  1. Awesome write-up, as I’ve kind of gave up on trying other solutions. I’ve tried multiple things over the last couple of years, from changing my caffeine habits, learning meditation, yoga, doing more, doing less, but they all had little to no effect so far.

    Good to see the daily writing works for you too. Although I’d like to spend less time on it, doing a braindump like this by handwriting is the one and only way for me to let my mind unwind and calm down.

    I can spend up to 30-60 minutes writing this stream of conscious, and I then feel totally present, and stress is removed. I’m ready for action. Right now I do this before bed time (as my mind will bring me lots of new information after a few hours of sleep, keeping me up from 4AM). Going to sleep ‘empy’, helps me sleep.

    A good flowing ink pen (I like the Stabilo Bionic) and a college block with nice satinated paper helps me smoothen this habit. When you’re done, you can simply throw it away.

    The shower is a perfect place of solitude and stepping back in the morning. I write out the little bit of extra garbage after sleep, and am conscious about my most important activities for the day. Love my AquaNotes to help me calibrate my day.

    • robfitz says:

      That waterproof notepad is exactly what my life needs ; ). I heard from a couple other people via email with similar stories… seems like there’s a certain sort who just needs to put pen to paper. Mine runs about 30-60 minutes as well. Some days less, but it’s worth it. If I have an early morning meeting, for example, I feel much sharper if I spend my morning time writing whatever as opposed to preparing for the meeting. Gets the head in the right place.

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