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Find Your Atomic Unit of Production

written by JIBRAN EL BAZI |
TABLE OF CONTENTS

As I sit here, noticing that January has come and gone and that February is already halfway, I realize I had many plans regarding my writing for this year. I mean, like, elaborate plans. Specific topics to write about for particular days. Publish three times a week. Tack on a podcast, a video, a Twitter thread. All the works.

But now I see I'm definitely not producing all that. Maybe just a third of it?

So, what's up with that?

It is kinda busy in family and work life, you know, but I know those are just excuses. What is really up? The fear of failure is a big one I talked about last time. But another one is not having a daily habit of helping me stick with my plans. So I asked myself the question, "What is the minimal piece of work that I can do each and every day?"

So what is it that I can do without fail? Write for 5 minutes? Hmm, that feels too short. An hour then? I can probably do that on most days, but definitely not all. One Pomodoro? That fits! That's 25 minutes. (As a test, I wrote the draft for this post within one Pomodoro, which worked out pretty well, yay!)

Now, this is one unit of work that I can do every day! It is my atomic unit, atomic in the sense that James Clear talks about:

  1. tiny (enough),
  2. fundamental to the process,
  3. and of immense power (if done repeatedly).

So an atomic unit of production! (By the way, James Clear influenced me a lot on trying to fit all the ideas I had around habits into a neat structure.)

Let's quickly go into some examples of atomic units of production, then briefly on why it is essential to figure out what your atomic unit of production is, and lastly, how you can find your own atomic unit of production.

What are some examples of an atomic unit of production?

Before I list the examples, I want to let you know I differentiate between habits and units of production because a habit does not necessarily produce anything. So an atomic unit of production is a habit, but the other way around is not always the case.

So what are some examples of things that you can produce every day? Indefinitely? No matter the circumstance? Extreme situations like doing the laundry are not taken into account, of course...

Example of atomic units of production:

  • Writing (whether it is one word or a thousand depends entirely on your circumstance).
  • Composing/writing music
  • Making music
  • Recording a monologue
  • Painting portraits
  • Laying bricks
  • Doing push-ups
  • Picking weeds
  • Digitizing videotapes
  • Carrying water
  • Chopping wood

You get the picture, right?

Why is it important to find your atomic unit of production?

Life gets in the way of the many things we want. And like you saw me saying in the intro, we can make excuses for just about everything. So when you have a busy day, you might say to yourself, "I don't have time, energy, <insert whiny excuse>."

Now with an atomic unit of production, this won't be the case because you're going to define your unit of production as something you can do Each. And. Every. Day.

Remember?

When you don't have an atomic unit of production, you're more likely to fall off the rails and stay there beside the tracks. Waiting for someone else to do the laundry...

"An atomic unit of production rarely lets you fall off the track, and when you do, it's super easy to get back on."

An atomic unit of production rarely lets you fall off the track, and when you do, it's super easy to get back on. Why? Because your unit of production is so clearly defined, small, and familiar, the threshold is low to start again.

Okay, ready to figure out how to find your atomic unit of production?

How do you find your atomic unit of production?

TLDR: Through trial and error...

Sorry, that was kinda flippant, haha. But that really is the TLDR of it. But I will expand a bit with an example.

Say you just started out in a writing career. You're not sure how much you can write each day. Especially how many publishable words you can write each day is unclear to you. What do you do? Well, you choose a length of time as your unit instead of words.

Then you figure you'll write for, say, 20 minutes each and every day. At some point, say in a month, you'll have produced a body of work in draft form. Then you replace the 20 minutes of writing new stuff with editing for 20 minutes each day.

Again, after a month, check how many words you edited. This is the publishable content (both drafted and revised/edited). Let's look at a calculation for this:

  • Words drafted in 30 days = 300 words per 20 minutes x 30 days = 9000 words!
  • Words edited in 30 days = 450 words per 20 minutes x 30 days = 13500 words! (So you'll have edited those first 9000 words in just 20 subsequent days.)

This means you'll have produced 9000 publishable words in 50 days, i.e., 180 a day. This doesn't sound like a lot, but if you do that for a year, you'll have a ~66000-word novel drafted and edited!

Those atomic units of production are a key feature of creating any personal challenge in your life. And as you see, compounding the work can move mountains!

stones stacked on top of each other ona mountain

I'm curious what your atomic unit of production is. Is it writing? Strength training? Maybe something I haven't thought of at all? Let me know!

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