Tackle Tough Long-Term Issues with Three Pages a Day

In Thinking Tactics, I teach a set of thinking procedures that each take under 10 minutes. They can be used to clarify most confusion, resolve most conflicts, and figure out the next step on most projects.

But not everything.

Sometimes you face a bigger issue–one that cannot succumb to a few minutes of targeted thinking. Maybe you are considering a major life change–a change of career. Or maybe you face a long-term health issue that has scrambled your priorities. Or you’re just trying to determine a long-range strategy for your business or your life. With long-term, complex issues, you can’t expect to address all the issues in just one focused thinking session.

In these cases, I recommend a practice I learned from Julia Cameron, which she calls “morning pages.” Every morning, without fail, fill three pages in a notebook with “thinking on paper” If you have nothing to say, write anyway. Use this time to reflect on what’s happening in your issue, what’s not happening, or what you want to happen. There is always another angle to explore.

Elsewhere I’ve explained the benefits of “thinking on paper.” [See Note.] The added benefit of “3 Pages a Day” is that you give yourself a structure that helps you systematically reflect on difficult issues, without being overwhelmed or pressured for a solution. Three pages is short enough that you can sit with any unpleasant thoughts for that time. And there is no pressure to answer right now, just to fill the pages. But it is also long enough for you to make a little progress in each session, and each session builds on the previous. That means you can take the space to get the closure or clarity that you need.

This kind of frankness with oneself is invaluable. Your friends may get tired of discussing your issues, but you never do. Cameron reported that after she wrote three pages a day for a while, she got angry that the same problems came up again and again. That motivated her to solve those problems, once and for all. Me, too. After a while, the problems sound like whining, and I decide to do something about them.

“Three pages a day” or “Morning Pages” is a helpful technique when you don’t really know where to start fixing a situation. You don’t have a plan–you just have a general dissatisfaction with how things are going. It provides emotional support, and a structure for sorting out an amorphous blob of issues. It’s an excellent practice to use in difficult times–regardless of what makes them difficult.