On the computer side of things I have this thrown together and very poorly written Perl script, which you can find below. Every minute it totals the number of words found in all the files within Scrivener's document store. When you're writing, that number should be going up, of course. The script tallies the number of new words and uses it to maintain a running average of your words per hour. The color and intensity of the light is set according to that. It uses the nifty arduino-serial command line app to handle communications with the arduino.
You may scoff, but the effect has been impressive and immediate. You may ask why should a slightly different color of light make any difference to your creativity or your productivity. I can answer that in one word: feedback. We humans may be the peak of reason within the animal kingdom, but we’re actually still pretty darned bad it it. We can fool ourselves into all sorts of fictions.
“Just one cookie won’t make that big a difference.”
“I only smoke when I’m stressed.”
“I’ll just work on it extra hard tomorrow.”
“Just one more level. “
The first day I hooked up the light, I found it was giving direct and very helpful feedback. I was writting for a bit, and had driving the light through the red, and was getting some quite sharp shades of green, when a text message came in from Mrs.'Struction with some questions about shopping, child drop off, etc. I switched over to chat and started a conversation. Aa we chatted, the light lost its greenish hue and started falling back to red. “Chatting is fine,” it seemed to be saying, “but there’s writting to be done.”
You might think that getting that message would be a source of stress, but in fact it was quite liberating. I didn’t have to constantly have some ticker running in the back of my head. “What if I’m chatting too long. Will I be able to catch up? How will I even know?” Instead I could watch the light go red and start to dim knowing that as long as I didn’t let things go too far, I would catch up, and it was all being tracked for me. At the same time, I knew that the longer I waited, the longer it was going to take me to win back the green, and maybe power through to the blue.
It was even more useful when it was time to do some research. “What were the different sizes of ale barrels called?” Wikipedia is a dangerous place, and it’s so easy to get lost in an orgie of learning, but now if my excursion to the browser takes too long, there’s a subtle reminder that maybe I’ve spent enough time and it’s time to get back to scrivener.
There are a lot of possible improvements I can see. Maybe an OS X native app. Maybe something that can just monitor keyboard input directly so it's program agnostic. How about a hot key to add info to the logs, or something that can log what I'm listenning too for later corolation against productivity. I see a lot of possibilties, but I should get back to writting. I've spent more that enough time work-crastingating.