The power of the split screen

Years ago, when I was making my living mainly from freelance writing, I tried an experiment to help me cope with my brutal internal editor. (The one who was immobilizing me, oh, every third word or so.)

I opened a separate window on my computer screen, just for writing down what I was saying to myself every time I got stuck.

For the next few hours, I toggled back and forth between manuscript and self-talk. Turns out (no big surprise) that when I got stuck, it was usually not just because I was struggling to find the right words.

I was also saying to myself things like, “This is impossible.”  “I don’t have enough information.”  “It’s hopeless.”  “I can’t finish.”  “It will never work.”

Trapped in my mind, those thoughts typically drove me into the kitchen for a sugar fix, or pretty much anywhere other than the computer where I was mired in the apparent, and repeated, hopelessness of the situation.

When I wrote those thoughts down, on the other hand, and looked at them on the computer screen, they became less intractable. They were problems to solve. “I don’t have enough information” became “How much more information do I need? Where can I get it? How could this work with the information I have?”

I saved myself hours of mental cycling. I got the article done with a lot less trauma than usual.

And it was months before I tried the split-screen technique again.

Living with awareness is hard.  It’s a good hard—it moves us forward, or deeper, or both—but reverting to habit is so much easier. Zoning out is so much easier.

In this blog, I’ll be exploring what happens when we pay attention. What gets in the way. What balance means. How we can be more forgiving of ourselves, and at the same time more intentional. How to bring a spirit of friendly curiosity and self-study to our habits around time. What other people are saying about ways of relating to time. And a lot of other things I haven’t thought of yet.

Thanks for joining me.


  1. Michelle Russell says:

    Janet, out of everything you wrote, this speaks to me the most:
    “Living with awareness is hard. It’s a good hard…but reverting to habit is so much easier. Zoning out is so much easier.”

    The split-screen technique is genius. Funny that you said it *saved* you time rather than taking up more time, which is what you’d expect typing a second whole document would do. One of those seemingly everpresent self-awareness paradoxes, I guess.

    Congratulations on the new blog and website! I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve got to say!

  2. For reference, I’m here via @havi.

    This is one of those ideas that, once you’ve read it, feels like it ought to be self-evident, and yet you’re the first person I’ve seen suggest it. I’ll try this the next time I’m stuck!

    Thank you for sharing this. I can’t wait to see what you share with us next. 🙂

  3. I freaking LOVE this. Writing down what the stuck has to say is so much more effective than trying to make it shut up or go away.

    As you said, once you know what it is you can interact with it, argue with it, use it … it stops being the enemy and it just turns into information. This is completely brilliant.

  4. Working with you – and learning to be more compassionate and conscious with my time – has made a world of difference. Our work changed my relationship with my business, but more importantly with myself – for the better without a doubt.

    I’m sooooo delighted you’ve found your place in the blogosphere. Your voice is needed, Janet.


  5. flippin’ brill 🙂

  6. I love your technique of recognizing and overcoming your negative self-talk. I look forward to reading more posts in the future!

  7. great post! I had a similar idea when writing my thesis. I thought it’d be funny to have two columns in my microsoft word document. In one column I’d write the actual thesis. Next to it, I’d write things I notice I’m thinking or (not) doing. For example, I was writing about the importance of moving our bodies in order to jumpstart our creativity. And yet I’d be sitting for hours and hours NOT moving and NOT peeing and NOT eating…and mulling over the same damn sentence for hours. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually try my idea; if I did, maybe I would have spent more time actually moving, peeing, eating, and writing more efficiently.

    Interestingly (I say “interestingly” because I never quite noticed the connection until just this moment), I’ve now invented and am marketing a product that gets writers (and other people who focus hard at the computer) to choose to move when they’re feeling–as Havi calls it–stuckified: If you want me to send you a free set, email me your address! They seem right up the alley of “mindful time management” and I’d love to hear what you (honestly) think of them.

    Rock the blog!!! Congrats on getting it started.

  8. Susan Wenger says:

    The “Living with awareness is HARD” bit was my favorite. I can’t believe it’s as difficult for *everyone* as it is for me, but it’s nice to know I’m not completely alone here. 🙂

  9. Loved the idea of the split screen and I plan to use it. It sounds far safer than my “composing while driving” trick. I “write in my head” when I’m behind the wheel. Any trick in the book to get unstuck. Thank you for the great post. I look forward to seeing others. Definitely following you on Twitter.

  10. Liz S says:

    I’m here via a tweet from @havi. I’m already in love with your blog. Have you been reading my mind?

    Definitely adding you to my favorites.

  11. Ananga says:

    Brilliant. What an excellent exercise in self awareness. Havi pointed me your way and I’m glad she did – I’ve just stumbled this post and I’ll be following you on Twitter too.

  12. […] was written by Janet Bailey of the Mindful Time Management Blog – a brilliant […]

  13. Fantastic piece of advice, the split screen thingy, I’m so going to use it!

    I love it when living with awareness is made just a little bit easier with REALLY practical tools. This is gold dust!

    thanks for sharing Janet 😉

  14. Janet Bailey says:

    @Michelle – Ah, those self-awareness paradoxes! It’s true, for me the mental cycling takes so much more time than just slapping it down on the page and looking at it.

    @Chris, @Joyce, @Liz, @Ananga (and @Havi!) – Great to see so many Havinauts here! Thanks for the warm welcome.

    @Jennifer – *blushing*—happy it’s had a lasting effect 🙂

    @Maarten, @Rick – yay, glad it’s helpful!

    @Gretchen – Your MuseCubes sound fab. I don’t take enough breaks either. Grateful for anything playful that can get me moving.

    @Susan – Not alone at all.

    @Vickie – I’m all for mindfulness on the road, definitely!

  15. Julie Stuart says:

    This is brilliant Janet, thank you!

  16. Here, here! The alchemy of Awareness which leads to Acceptance so that then you have Choice. Great way to turn inward in order to bring your brilliance out.

    I’m going to share this one…

  17. Lauri says:

    It was nice seeing you last nigth at IABC. I just looked at your blog and what a great idea about the split screen! Like your other commentors, I appreciate that it’s so practical and instantly implementable (split screen comment to self, “you’re making up words?!”). I’m looking forward to checking in often and seeing what other gems appear.

  18. Janet Bailey says:

    Thanks @Julie, @Soleil, @Lauri — good to see you here.

  19. Char Brooks says:

    Brilliant technique Janet and I love how you write. Really spoke to me. Thanks.

  20. amanda lee says:


    This was amazing. This technique made it possible to write what I’d been wanting to write for a long time. I’ve subscribed to your blog and I can’t wait to hear more. 😀

  21. […] out how to begin a post on money. Personal finance, for you Ramit-minded readers. I was trying this awesome technique where you deal with your writing issues by writing them in a separate document, and I was writing […]

  22. Janet Bailey says:

    @Char, @Amanda – I’ve been using the technique more often myself, since writing this post. 😉

  23. Francis Wade says:

    Wonderful idea. I also recommend The Work of Byron Katie as a way to deal with the thoughts as they come up.

Leave a Reply