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The Productive Sprint

In the past two weeks, I’ve written more than 45,000 words, including 10 posts for Zen Habits and Sea Change and 30 chapters in my new book.

That’s a lot of writing.

I don’t usually write that much — it’s an unusually high output for me, and I’m not usually that productive. The biggest motivator is that I’m going on a trip today for two weeks with Eva, and I needed to get my writing done before the trip.

I call this kind of high-powered output before a vacation my Productive Sprint, and I do it probably 4-5 times a year for various trips and other events. Other people do that kind of feverish churning out of work before major deadlines, which is similar but imposed by others. I prefer to create my own motivation.

Let me tell you about this most recent Productive Sprint, and then make some suggestions for doing your own.

My Recent Productive Sprint

These last two weeks have been some of the most productive writing weeks of my life, and the major reason is that I’m trying to get the draft of my new book done before this trip I’m taking.

I’m pushing to get this book self-published and crowdfunded by the end of this year, which means I need to get the draft to an editor and then a designer and then a printer in the next month. And smack dab in the middle of that process, I decided to take two weeks off to travel (hey, a guy’s gotta have some fun too!).

I usually write my Zen Habits posts in advance, before I travel, so added to the book writing was advance post writing.

So here’s what I did:

  1. Started waking between 4-5 a.m., making a pot of French press coffee, and writing as soon as I could.
  2. I would get up every 30 minutes, stretch, walk around, get the blood circulating.
  3. I would write all morning, and some of the afternoon (I reserve some time in the afternoon, and all the evenings, for my family). I discovered I can write three book chapters a day if I work like this.
  4. I promised to send my book chapters each week to an editor and a friend, so that I know they are waiting for my writing.

It’s an amazing feeling to write 4,000-plus words in a day, I have to say. You feel superhuman.

The combined pressure of having a book to write and an upcoming trip were enough to motivate me to get up early and start writing immediately. I’m also writing a book that has to do with overcoming procrastination, so putting the book’s principles into practice is a useful way to test them out in the wild.

How to Do a Productive Sprint

I don’t think you need to have high output every day of the year, but if you have a big chunk of work to get done, a Productive Sprint can be very helpful.

I also do short writing sprints (most recently with my 21-year-old daughter) to make writing fun and focused. But the longer, sustained bursts are something else entirely.

Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Create the time pressure. Schedule something a week or two in the future, like a trip or a book celebration party, where you have to get your work done beforehand. If you don’t want to do a trip or event, just make a big public promise to friends that you’ll get your project done before a certain date or you’ll have to do something really embarrassing and they can film it. You won’t want to be embarrassed.
  2. Map out your work. I had each day planned out (loosely), so that I knew how much I had to write to get done before the trip. On days when I would slack off a bit, I knew I was putting more work on future Leo, and that future Leo would be mad about that, so I tried to do that as little as possible. Future Leo was usually grateful.
  3. Carve out your productive time. What time will you get the work done? You can’t leave this vague, because there are lots of other things you can be doing, distractions that come up, emails to answer. Block off a specific time and make this time sacred — nothing else should be able to be done during this time.
  4. Work in smaller sprints. If you’re going to work for a 4-hour block (for example), I recommend doing shorter sprints in this block, like 30 minutes each. This allows you to take breaks of about 5-10 minutes, and makes the 4 hours more doable.
  5. Tell people about it. At the end of each day, I really enjoyed bragging to Eva and the kids about how much writing I’d done. “I wrote more than 4,000 words today,” I’d exclaim with pride, and they would try their best to look impressed. I also had two people I had to send my chapters to each Friday, and I didn’t want to look like a total loser to them (well, not more than I usually do).

The huge pot of French press coffee is optional, but if you’re a coffee drinker, you’ll love the combo of high-intensity writing with thick coffee. Tea is a great alternative. And no, sports drink isn’t necessary.

May your Productive Sprints be filled with joy and a wild, towering passion.

The Mindful Productivity Habit

If you’re interested in forming a productivity habit in a mindful way, I invite you to join my Sea Change membership program, where we’ll be working together on the Mindful Productivity Habit.

In this habit module, we will:

  • Have a habit plan and several articles on the topic
  • Have optional daily reminder emails
  • Hold a live video webinar midmonth with me, where you can ask questions
  • Host an accountability forum you can use to stick to the habit

You can join the Sea Change program here.

Zen Habits

Leo Babuata
Neither Averting Nor Craving in Each Moment How Taking Care of My Finances Changed My Life Tips for Traveling with Kids My Grand Travel Experiment The Parent I Aspire to Be The Best & Less-than-Best Motivations for Learning The Miracle of Suspending Mis-Belief 7 Strategies for Dealing with Toxic People Finding Motivation on Important But Non-Urgent Tasks Learning Tips for the Top 8 Learning Challenges The 30-Day Learning Challenge The Place Where You Are Feeling Determined to Change Practicing Non-Judgment Hold Your Own Feet to the Fire Don’t Waste Your Opportunity How to Beat Procrastination with Daily Training The Time When We’ll Be Present & Content A Simple, Powerful Self-Compassion Method When Others Frustrate You Your Internet Habits Create Your Reality The Case for Replacing Exercise with Play Leave Yourself Wanting More Fail Faster at Habits The Anti-Bucket List Getting Started with the Discipline Habit The Case for Caring About Your Work Questions of Priority The Futility of Always Pushing Myself to Be More Pare Down with the Declutter Habit You’re Not Doing Life Wrong Getting Lost in Just Doing An Addict’s Guide to Overcoming the Distraction Habit The Source of Contentment Savor Discipline: Merge the Interests of Your Future & Present Selves What You Can Say Instead of “I Don’t Feel Like It” The Things That Get in the Way of Doing The Girl Who Saw Through the Illusions A Gradual Approach to Healthy Eating Unconditional Acceptance of Yourself My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive The Contentment Habit The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books In Praise of Limits The Art of Being My Dad 5 Ideas to Create an Amazing 2015 Essential Zen Habits of 2014 Karate Chop Practicing Slowness & Being Present Overwhelmed by All the Changes You Want to Make My 2014 Successes and Failures Finding the Motivation to Change Your Entire Life When You’re Lonely The Brain’s Fast Mode 5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays The Zen Habits Holiday Gift Guide The Four Hidden Habit Skills The Power of Delay Overwhelmed & Rushed? Do a Stress Assess Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book Please Support the Zen Habits Book Are You a Lift or Drag Force? When Resistance Smacks You in the Face When Your Plate is Too Full The Quickstart Guide to Quitting a Bad Habit The Zen Habits Book is Almost Done A Quick Guide to Gaining Confidence When You Socialize The Empty Container The Realization A Guide to Changing Self-Destructive Behaviors Pushing Past the Terrifying Dip in Motivation It’s Not Too Late to Change Bad Habits The Smart Way to Stick to Habits My Most Effective Learning Tools What I Do When I Fail How to Put Your Writing in Public The Productive Sprint The Biggest Reasons You Haven’t Changed Your Habits Seized by the Thunderhold of Fear What to Eat for Fat Loss The Heartbreaking Cruelty of Comparing Yourself to Others A Brief Guide to Overcoming Instant Gratification How to Get Motivated After a Vacation 7 Strategies for Facing Your Internet/TV Addiction How to Breathe 7 Discipline-Mastering Practices 7 Rules That Keep My Life Simple An Education in the Majestic Sierra Nevada The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes How to Believe in Yourself Don’t Waste a Moment How to Find Your Life Purpose: An Unconventional Approach How to Be Great Making Yourself Work Inhabit the Moment How to Master the Art of Living The Delusional Fantasies We Live With Each Day Living the Simple Life How to Be Prepared for Anything Turn Toward the Problem The End of the Day Philosophy The Painful Beauty of Impermanence How to Change Other People Pursuing Happiness When It’s Already Within You The Quickstart Guide to a Decluttered Home Parental Zen: How to Keep Your Cool as a Parent Looking for Love How to Stop Your Habit Changes From Getting Derailed Why We Have Regret The Essence of Fatherhood: 6 Simple Lessons A Call for Revolt: Advertising is the Anti-Minimalism The Frustratingly Slow Pace of Making Changes My Struggles with Eating Boring Food The No Procrastination Challenge Creating a Lovely Morning A Father’s Manifesto: Raising Young Men Who Respect Women Turn Inspiration Into Action Coming Back From a Setback The Gift A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life No Excuses: Minimalism with Kids How to Make a Marriage Work Love Notes Flavorless: My Month of Food Boringness The Letting Go Ebook, Free The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit How I Tackle a Big Writing Project The Habit Action List The Reality of This Moment Confidence in Your Business 10 Ways to Do What You Don’t Want to Do On Making It Through Tough Journeys The Hard Stuff Often Matters Most What to Think About During Exercise You’ll Be OK The Most Important Two Minutes of Your Life A Call for Compassion for the Defenseless The Cure for Your Distraction Syndrome You’re Not Worse Than Other People Being Mindful of Your Stress What if You Didn’t Have to Worry About Yourself? The Universe of a Single Task Simplifying Is Painful Becoming Emotionally Self-Reliant How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life The Busy Person’s Guide to Reducing Stress My Month Without a Smartphone What I’ve Learned as a Writer What the Exercise Habit Did For Me Fear is the Root of Your Problems This Moment 36 Lessons I’ve Learned About Habits The 3 Do-What-You-Love Conundrums How I Conduct My Business Constant Task Switching The Habits of Five Amazing Founders The Incredible Importance of Sleep for Habits & Motivation What Really Motivates Us to Stick to a Project? I Tried to Quit & It’s Too Hard! Unwired: A Month With Limited Internet, & Now No Cell Phone Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem Letting Go of Judging People Don’t Scratch the Itch Become Happy in the Face of Physical Misery How Repetition Can Kickstart a Habit Zen Productivity When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation The Child That Holds Us Back Stateless Mindset My Month of (Almost) No Internet 12 Changes for 2014 Essential Zen Habits of 2013 The Fear of Being Alone The Calm Approach Things Every Man Should Own Family Gatherings: The Ultimate Mindfulness Training Ground Letter to an 18-year-old on the Career Path Less Traveled A Method to Find Balance 16 Surprising Lessons from My First 50-Mile Ultramarathon The Simple Fitness Habit Holiday Challenge Struggles with My Morning Internet Fast Surrender, Mindfulness & Entrepreneurship How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating, & Love Letting Go Finding Focus When You Run Out of Ideas The Necessary Art of Subtraction Jealousy & Suffering How Creativity Works, & How to Do It Self-Discipline in 5 Sentences Make It Your Job Developing Selfless Compassion Lyrical Learning, & Why We Learn Habits Wrong A Month Without Sugar Why I Read (+ a Dozen Book Recommendations) 12 Indispensable Mindful Living Tools Burn Down the Farm My Most Minimal Travel Setup Yet The Exquisite Habits of the Founder of Blue Bottle Coffee 3 Little Tricks to Deal With People Who Offend You My Healthiest Travel Routine Yet Startup Founder Megan Casey’s Habits of Priorities My Pursuit of the Art of Living A Month Without TV or Video The Way of No Debt Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One The Way to Be Ramit Sethi’s Entrepreneurial Habits The Time to Shut Down The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes 8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator Zen Mountain: Leave It All Behind Overcoming the Social Costs of Being Different Finding Quiet and Mindfulness Through Food My Failed Month of ‘No Sitting’ The Thinking Habit That Changed My Life Liking Healthy Foods is a Choice Unschoolery: My New Blog on Unschooling My Advice for Starting a Business Creating Your Habit Environment Travel Lessons with My Family Easier Decision-Making: Conduct Experiments Simplify: Let Go of Your Crutches The Fear of Being Found a Fraud The Flexible Mind Declutter Your Life A Month Without Coffee The Healthful Vegan Diet Living the Quiet Life The Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully Why Fear of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life The Habits of Happiness How to Keep Habits Going During Travel A Year of Living Without The Key Habits of Organization I Failed Vegan Guide to San Francisco The Futility of Comparing Yourself to Others A Secret to Dad Greatness Habits: A Simple Change in Mindset Changes Everything The Worry That You’re Doing the Wrong Thing Right Now 6 Steps To Being More Creative How I Finally Faced My Weight & Debt Problems Working with the Obstacles in Your Path 9 Rules for a Simpler Day The Little Book of Contentment The Obstacle is the Path 5 Lessons in Contentment from Billionaires Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger Smile in Each Moment A Guide to Practical Compassion 6 Steps To Healing Yourself The 7-Day Vegan Challenge Why You Should Write Daily Achieving Without Goals Flowing with the Stresses of Kids (or anyone else) Habit Mastery: Creating the New Normal Defeat Distraction: Refocusing with Purpose Expanding the Envelope: A Method for Beating Anger A Guide to Practical Contentment The Practice of Work Mind & Vacation Mind, Simultaneously How to Eat Real Food Without Spending Hours in the Kitchen Quitting Your Habits The 38 Best Methods of Successful Exercisers How To Make It Impossible To Fail The Not Knowing Path of Being an Entrepreneur How to Change Your Life: A User’s Guide Getting Your Family On Board with Life Changes How to Stick to a Habit When Life Falls Apart Zen Mind in the Middle of Chaos & Stress Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart Meditation: The Most Fundamental Habit Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For Tremors of Psychitude: One Little Trick to Find Purpose and Motivation Create the Habits of Being Lean, in 7 Years Walled-in: Life Without Facebook The 7 Habits of Calmness The Four Habits that Form Habits Advice to My Kids My 10 Essential Email Habits The Daily Checklist Sticking to a Habit: The Definitive Guide The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring The Power of Habit Investments Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe The Most Successful Techniques for Rising Early Do Less: A Short Guide How to Savor Life What We Lack in a Hyperconnected World Simplify the Internet 12 Rules to Live By The New Rules of Fitness for 2013 52 Changes for 2013 The Unprocrastination Month, and the Relaunch of the Sea Change Program Essential Zen Habits of 2012 The Other Person is Never the Problem The Do Plan, or Why We Know But Don’t Do 28 Brilliant Tips for Living Life The Clutter-free Holiday Guide The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better Tim Ferriss vs. Leo Babauta Showdown: On Whether Goals Suck The Work You Love is Waiting For You The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing The Buy-Nothing Holiday Survival Guide Challenge: Buy Nothing Until 2013 How to Learn Anything Shaken By Life’s Beauty, Shaken Untrack: Letting Go of the Stress of Measuring 15 Great Excuses Not to Form the Fitness Habit How to Make Health Insurance a Bad Bet Why the Fitness Habit is More Important Than the Plan The Willingness to Think Differently Create a Superhealth Community A Vegan Tour of NYC