How to balance newsletter writing and daily work

Wednesday, my writing habit broke down. I had to replace it by a new, more systematic one to achieve inner balance.

Matthias Bohlen
4 minutes reading time

I was writing and publishing one piece every day. Until Wednesday this week.

In January 2022, I had decided I wanted to become more consistent and prolific in writing because I had seen some people do it flawlessly. Therefore, I attended a writing course that contained a challenge: Learn to write one piece every day, for 30 days.

In the course, I learnt about an important concept: The sacred hour.

It’s a period of time when you’re both awake and unavailable to other people or tasks. To become a consistent writer, you reserve such an hour in your day, and the only thing you allow yourself to do is: write and push the “publish” button. You need not do it, but you allow yourself to do either this or nothing.

This worked perfectly, for 40 days. This week I ran into problems with that.

Conflict and desire caused pain

My usual jobs that I have are these two: A trainer for software engineers, and a solopreneur with two software products that I’m building (News Bundler is in alpha, GetTheAudience is live and kicking).

The daily writing habit caused a conflict with these two jobs.

Software development in itself is deep work, just like writing is. Suddenly, I had two deep work things to do each day which was totally exhausting. I always felt I was falling behind on one of the two: not getting enough software out to my dear users, or not getting enough written and published.

The other effect was my desire to write long form and more meaningful pieces. The “daily write and hit publish” habit produced pieces of 300 words maximum, and I had the feeling I wouldn’t be able to split everything into these small chunks, only to concatenate them later into blog posts, newsletters, or even an e-book.

The conflict and the desire combined created the need for a new system to balance daily jobs with writing.

My new system to achieve balance

I asked myself: “You wanted to become consistent and prolific, okay, but does this mean you have to write every day?“. The inner answer was partly “yes” because I had already noticed that if I stop writing for one or two days, resuming it would suddenly cost more energy to sit down and get started again.

The next question was “What if you took notes each day and wrote a newsletter about them on the weekend?“. This sounded much better. It would keep up a light-weight writing habit, taking notes every time I stumble across something interesting, challenging, painful, or joyful. It would also allow me to write more long-form and meaningful pieces like this one over the weekend, without the constraint of finishing in only one sacred hour slot.

This sparked the next idea: “If I create a system that balances day job and note-taking, why not extend that system to balance deep work with shallow work in general?“.

You won’t know about this but it touched a pet peeve of mine: My age-old, ongoing conflict between building the software (deep work, perceived as rewarding) and marketing the software (shallow work, perceived as a chore).

I took out a few sticky notes and wrote down a list of things that I needed to do every day, with the intention to make them small, recognizable and doable.

Every day, when the thing on the sticky note is done, I take an erasable pen and make a check mark next to it. Each morning, I wipe out yesterday’s check marks and start with a fresh list.

Here they are, sorted from morning to evening:

  1. Review yesterday’s notes
  2. Build 1 software feature and make it run
  3. Write new notes about thoughts and learnings on the way
  4. Add 2 newsletter listings to News Bundler and share about them
  5. Invite 2 newsletter authors to add their listing to News Bundler, too
  6. Tweet about what happened that day
  7. Visit author communities on Discord to learn more about an author’s needs
  8. (only on weekends) Look at the notes and write a newsletter.

It turned out that when I rise out of my rabbit hole of deep work each day, it’s mostly around the same time: 15:30 to 16:00 (or 3:30pm to 4pm as you would say in the U.S.).

Software that I write after that hour of day tends to be worse than the software I wrote earlier. So it makes total sense that I stop at 16:00 at the latest, leave “The Zone”, and proceed to points 4 to 7 on the list above. The checkmarks on the whiteboard clearly show me how many points are still to be done for that day.

That’s my new system. Let’s see for how long this will work!

Question: What’s your “thing” that you have to balance with writing?

What do you think about this new experiment?

If you’re a paid newsletter writer, do you also have such a “different thing” that you have to balance with writing, too? Tell me! Please reply to this newsletter, or DM me on Twitter at @newsbundler. I’m curious, and maybe I can help you with that.

Here’s to the success of your newsletter!

Matthias

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