Design an environment to support your work. Prioritize creative work first, reactive work second. You have limited time and energy in a day or a week, learn to limit your to-do list and the commitments you make. Conditions to produce one’s craft are rarely ideal. The strategy is to have a practice to show up and do the work consistently. Your brain needs breaks, find a good stopping point on a project and schedule times to do nothing. To be creative, embrace uncertainties.
Everyone’s too busy doing stuff to take a pause and make some changes to how they do stuff.
The biggest problem with any routine is that you do it without realizing it. Bad habits creep in, especially as we naturally acclimate to a changing work environment, and we end up working at the mercy of our surroundings.
Through our constant connectivity to each other, we have become increasingly reactive to what comes to us rather than being proactive about what matters most to us.
You’ll likely find your work habits have drifted to accommodate your surroundings rather than to meet your preferences.
80% of success is showing up. How, when, and where you show up is the single most important factor in executing on your ideas.
The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and email off.
Manage to-do list creep. Limit your daily to-do list. A 3”x3” post-it is perfect—if you can’t fit everything on a list that size, how will you do it all in one day? If you keep adding to your to-do list during the day, you will never finish—and your motivation will plummet.
Train yourself to record every commitment you make (to yourself or others) somewhere that will make it impossible to forget. This will help you respond to requests more efficiently and make you a better collaborator. More important, it will give you peace of mind—when you are confident everything has been captured reliably, you can focus on the task at hand.
When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.
The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.
Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.
The challenge is that the demand in our lives increasingly exceeds our capacity. Think of capacity as the fuel that makes it possible to bring your skill and talent fully to life. Most of us take our capacity for granted, because for most of our lives we’ve had enough.
Sleep is more important than food. You can go for a week without eating and the only thing you’ll lose is weight. Give up sleep for even a couple of days and you’ll become completely dysfunctional.
At first, meditation will be uncomfortable, but you’ll get better at it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, and you’ll get better at being mindful, and being comfortable in solitude. You’ll also learn to watch your thoughts and not be controlled by them. As you do, you’ll have learned a key skill for focus: how to notice the urge to switch tasks and not act on that urge, but just return your attention to the task at hand. This is what you learn in solitude, and it is everything.
Blocking off time for uninterrupted focus, however, is only half of the battle. The other half is resisting distraction. This means: no email, no Internet, and no phone.
Find a good stopping point on a project—one that frees your mind from nagging questions—before moving on to another task. That way, you’ll find it easier to achieve mental closure and apply all your energy to the next challenge.
Waiting for inspiration to write is like standing at the airport waiting for a train.
Conditions to produce one’s craft are rarely ideal, and waiting for everything to be perfect is almost always an exercise in procrastination.
Self-control is not genetic or fixed, but rather a skill one can develop and improve with practice.
The idea is that one day a week, you need to get your mind in a different mode, you need to not work. Every week, your brain—and your soul—needs to be reset.
Diaphragmatic breathing, Buteyko breathing, martial arts, and yoga breathing techniques all have the potential to soothe us, to activate more parasympathetic dominance, and to help our bodies maintain a healthy, regulated autonomic response.
We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us. —Marshall McLuhan
Genius truly is “1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
But we cannot forget the flip side of that 99 percent—it’s impossible to solve every problem by sheer force of will. We must also make time to play, relaxation, and exploration, the essential ingredients of the creative insights that help us evolve existing ideas and set new projects in motion.
The creative act is inherently risky because it requires you to step out into uncertainty. When you have time scheduled for Unnecessary Creation, you create a safe space to experiment with new ways of working. You get to try and fail without dire consequences. You can create what’s in your head rather than adapting what’s in your head to someone else’s expectations.
The most successful creative mind consistently lay the groundwork for ideas to germinate and evolve. They are always refining their personal approach to hijacking their brain’s neural pathways, developing a toolkit of tricks to spark the mind like flint on steel.
The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. It’s the equivalent of the dream time, in your daily life, times when things get sorted out and reshuffled. If you’re constantly awake work-wise you don’t allow that to happen.
The human race built most nobly when limitations were greatest and therefore, when most was required imagination in order to build at all. —Frank Lloyd Wright
Our brain is so incredibly good at thinking in repetition. If you want to come up with a new idea, the first thing you can always do is think of something that you’ve seen before. So starting with someone, or somewhere, else is just basically a trick to fool the brain out of thinking in repetition.
Regardless of our patterns of behavior in the past, we can choose to act differently in the present—and that a conscious decision to not let perfectionism control us makes a huge difference in our ability to break through our limits and enjoy the creative process.
Influence the right people, which means beefing up your presentation, marketing, and networking skills. It doesn’t matter if you’re shy or introverted. If you want to succeed, you need to communicate. And grow a thicker skin. Show me a creative who’s never suffered a setback or a bad review, and you won’t be pointing at a superstar.
A professional is someone who can keep working at a high level of effort and ethics, no matter what is going on—for good or ill—around him or inside him. A professional shows up every day. A professional plays hurt. A professional takes neither success nor failure personally.
Receive the best content on productivity, money, psychology, and more—straight to your inbox—once a month. And get my free Output Journal templates as a bonus.
👆 Join 3,100+ leaders, creatives, and knowledge workers today.
Dean is a strong voice in the self-mastery space. His newsletter consistently delivers insightful ideas on how to become a better version of yourself and is the only newsletter that I always read.
Head of product and engineering