Many of us don’t realize the kind of effect our immediate environment has on our productivity. So at the onset of NaNoWriMo, we’re going to have a quick conversation about your environment.

Have you ever had one of these experiences?

You’re a commonly kind and loving person. Bright. Warm. But when you’re in your mother’s house, you find yourself saying things you’d never thought you were capable of saying. It’s not quite the same when she’s in your house. (Insert other relative in place of mother, if it’s more accurate.)

At work, you are a brilliant, bright, capable worker, and on time for everything. But when you try to carve out time to write, you find yourself distracted and unproductive.

There are hundreds of other situations like these.

The words “best of intentions” come to mind when I think of these situations. We make plans, but we have a hard time executing them. And according to the book “Triggers” by Marshall Goldsmith, the biggest issue is our environment. And as we’ve learned over the last few months, the best way to see sustained change is to change one thing. So I’m going to issue a challenge, to anyone in this group who is interesting in a more productive November.

THE INDEX CARD CHALLENGE

The immediate environment you write in is the most important environment to control your productivity. But all the plans you make will not be enough to overcome what might be a distracting environment. One simple thing could be enough to keep you on track. Call it the “guard rail” of your November.

Here’s what I want you to do, each morning, before you start your day. (Only the days you write–no sense making yourself feel guilty on days when you can’t write.) Take out an index card, and write, in big block letters:

WRITE FIRST

Don’t use the same index card over and over again, either. When you’re done with your day, tear up the old card and throw it away. Force yourself to make a new card each day. Date it, if you can. This is your contract with yourself. “It’s Tuesday, November 1st, and before I do anything else, I’m going to Write First.”

Put this index card near your computer, where you can see it. Carry it with you when you go to the coffee shop. This index card is to remind you that you are not a Facebooker. You are not a Tweeter. You are not an Emailer. You are not a Time Waster. You are a writer. And writers write first.

Marshall Goldsmith told a story in his “Triggers” book about a group of his high-functioning (some Forbes 500 CEO) clients who all went to a dinner together. At the beginning of the dinner, he told them that anyone who made a demeaning or judgmental comment was going to have to put $20 in the kitty. Their goal was supposed to be to keep themselves from having to spend any money. But 16 out of 17 of those CEOs (at a casual, fun dinner) were not able to keep themselves on track, to stick to their plan of not making judgmental comments. SIXTEEN! You want to know what the secret of the one guy was? The one who succeeded? He put an index card at the top of his plate that said, “No judgmental comments.” Each time he looked down at his plate, he saw that card, and it kept him on track. It was his guard rail, keeping him on the road.

The point of the index card isn’t to say “no Facebook”. It’s to say that before you Facebook, write. And if you find yourself on Facebook too much, go back and write. You don’t have to do it for any specific amount of time. Just go back to writing.

Those of us who have a —P in the Myers-Briggs will find this strategy particularly helpful, because P’s are constantly taking in data. This is why P’s are also commonly ruled by their schedules and their environments, because they are always being responsive to the data that’s coming at them. This is an attempt to help all of us to keep our P’s focused on where our long-term goals are.

Remember the restaurant and the $20 bills. Imagine if, every time you went on Facebook during the day, you had to put $20 in the kitty. Or if every time you turn on Netflix or start doing housework when you’re supposed to be writing, that you had to put $20 in the kitty. Most of us would be broke by the end of the month. And again, this isn’t intended to keep us from ever doing anything but writing. It’s an attempt to help us be more intentional about our choices, and align to our goals more carefully.

And the reason I want you to write a new card every day is that the actual process of writing things down anew helps us to internalize them. So the goal is, by the end of the month, that the “Write First” mentality will be ironed into our minds. Tattooed on our brains.

Who’s with me?