Patterns for writing
According to Thomas Basbøll, an academic writing consultant, the standard scholarly article is about 40 paragraphs, in eight sections of five paragraphs each. One should schedule 30 minutes for each paragraph, and use that time and only that time to write the paragraph. Writing is a process of mastery (or getting into shape), and the path is writing every day, between 30 minutes and 3 hours per day. Given these constraints, one can calculate what writing goals to set over the course of the 16 weeks of a semester.
Since grade school, I’ve forgotten the notion of using the paragraph to express one idea. I just kind of start writing and hit enter a couple times when it feels right. After checking out Basbøll’s blog, I tried writing a class paper by outlining it paragraph-by-paragraph and found the process very satisfying.
I’ll try the goal-setting to plan out my paper due in September. To get to at least 30 minutes a day, I also plan to schedule a 30-minute block to free-write about any topic that crosses my mind and seems to warrant further fleshing out (not limited to a single paragraph in this case).
Another advantage of the 30 minute block is taking breaks from sitting after.
I plan to use my wiki as the base for this writing as well as a collection tool to (re-)replace Evernote. As you can see, I redesigned the template for minimalism. Eventually I’ll reinstate the search and a way to get back to the home page.
The advantage over Evernote is mostly in the hypertext nature. It feels much less like a black hole to be able to link to things within a category by writing about them on a category page rather than just having a big list of stuff in a category.
I’ve already been shaping the wiki environment to meet some of my other goals. I moved “to read” papers over from Shuff, as well as links to frequent websites. My “recent changes” is divided into recently read papers and other changes, so that both can be reviewed for the weekly review.
There are still problems. The biggest is finding the balance between having a good structure and being able to quickly add things. Right now I’m trying to keep important things on the home page, but I don’t have process for preventing that from getting overwhelming or outdated.
Persuasion, habits, goals
These have been imminent topics the last couple weeks, especially attending the Personal Informatics workshop at CHI. There are several problems with the persuasiveness of personal informatics tools: 1) the goals of the designer may not match the goals of the individual, or even be socially desirable, 2) persuasion generally requires the user to take action, but habit change is difficult, 3) the suggestions to the individual may not take into account enough local information about the individual.
All three are deep problems. The first and third are related to the idea of legibility in the book Seeing Like a State, which I’m currently reading. A gross simplification of the idea is that optimizing a single variable can ruin a system because it ignores other things that turn out to be important. Brynjarsdottir et al., 2012 had an amazing diagram for this in their CHI presentation, but sadly I can’t find it! Anyway, more later.
The Power of Habit (Duhigg, 2012) addresses the second problem. The first thing to know is that habits, as defined in the book, are unconscious and affect our behavior extensively. Basically, they are anything for which we have an automatic response to a cue. That response generally gives us some kind of reward, which is what ingrains the habit so deeply. (Actually, this sounds a lot like procedural learning in general, where I guess correctness is the reward.)
The book gives a framework for habit change, which I’ve repeated in my notes. (The isolation of cues and rewards is vaguely related to some writing I did today on memory and context.) Habit/routine creation is another means to behavior change (similar to the ideas in that other “Power” book, Loehr & Schwartz, 2006). For myself, I think this is a potentially bountiful avenue since so many things that I do that should be routine aren’t. The writing blocks are a start. Changing the environment seems like a powerful way of changing cues that wasn’t really addressed in the book.
Goal-setting may also be an important mechanism for habit change, and, in some cases, goal achievement could be thought of a habit itself. One of the findings in a major review by Locke & Latham, 2002 is that part of the goal process is not just using the goal as feedback on progress but also setting a further goal once one has been achieved. That seems to be the process of setting up a new reward. In Visible Learning (Hattie, 2009), goal-setting was found to be a powerful intervention for education. I plan to write some more about this next week.