productivity

One Essential Truth for Creating Anything

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

I hear it all the time…

Ryan, I’m not able to write the book, start the relationship, or build that nonprofit. I’m a busy person. Ryan, that might work for you, but not for me. I have unique circumstances…

I get it, you’re a special snowflake, and no one has faced the challenges you face.

But the reality is with creation we’re all in this together.

Humans are given twenty-four hours a day. We can only be in once place at one time. All of us have work, relationships, a need for food, water, and sleep. Not to mention the dog that needs food, water, and a walk.

The challenges are the same. We all need the same stuff and have similar responsibilities.

So how can we be more productive with the limitations and needs of daily life?

You start with the first thing.

Did you hear it? The first thing is always the next thing, next step, and most important step of creation. It’s so obvious that we often miss it and forget these foundational truths of creation.

The next step is always the next word, sentence, or detail in the project. Problems arise when we obsess over step nine, ten, or three hundred and thirty-nine. Those steps of creation will come later, much later.

Our situations are unique because we’re unique and our stories are unique. But the path of creation and writing and making things for the world to enjoy and doing work that matters is always the same…

Start here, and then go here, and then here, and here.

I’m sure woven into your story, and my story, are unique complexities and situations. Maybe it’s long hours at the office, a sick family member, or chronic illness. But wherever we find ourselves the truth is this:

The next step in your creative process, the next hour of writing your book, will be the same for you and me.

The path is always the first thing.

We have no idea what will happen after that. But that’s the beauty and fun and adventure of creation… only God knows where we’ll end up.

If you feel stuck and aren’t sure why the project isn’t going anywhere. Remember, just do the next thing. Don’t worry about step ten, worry about step one.

*Originally published on Medium.com.

George Carlin on the Danger of Visible Progress

Maybe the worst invention in the world’s history is the “like” button on Facebook. Or do you prefer: hearts on Instagram, claps on Medium, or favorites on Twitter?

These seemingly innocent inventions designed to validate one’s work whether it be a selfie, article, or recipe for Vegan Soup. A collective inter-webs high five to say:

you’re good enough, smart enough, and gosh dang it, people like you.

Now I may see the like button as a spawn of hell. But let’s not forget the power of change it can bring into the world. A click of a button can determine who’s on the right side of history. A simple retweet will show the world how much we love humanity or not.

Did they like that post? Why not? They must be a narrow-minded homophobe that hates puppies. How can Republicans, Democrats, Independents, or choose your political or religious affiliation, be so unenlightened?

All because of the like button.

But can we engage the dark side of the incessant clicking and liking and retweeting? Can we consider those on the receiving end of the likes, or no likes?

People like you and me.

Those brave souls that put out their blog post, article, book, or recipes for Vegan Marshmallow Pies hoping someone will validate our existence.

Will they like me? Do they think I’m pretty? Why is it crickets in here? The algorithm must’ve changed, and no one is seeing my posts.

When our best work’s done for the validation of others, we have problems. Spending absorbent amounts of money to snap a selfie on the top of a mountain hoping to get a heart on Instagram… we’re not doing it right.

When the work we engage, and the relationships we nurture, and the difference were trying to make is only for the approval and validation of total strangers… I’ll say it again: Houston we have a problem.

And besides, have you read reviews on Amazon, or comments on YouTube?

YouTube… Nice video, too bad you’re fat. Hey thanks for the video, I hope you die. What?

Amazon… My book wasn’t shipped on time, 1 star. They ripped the packaging, 1 star.

Yelp… the food was salty.

I’m not sure that’s the point of reviews and comments. The dark side of incessant validation of likes and hearts goes deeper still.

It’s The American Way.

The American Way is built on progress, power, money, and efficiency. We only do things if it can be measured, monetized, or counted. If a building is old, we tear it down. If a kid can’t concentrate in class, we medicate them.

Our kid’s take tests and the state determines if they’re intelligent based on a subjective number. High school students take SAT’s or ACT’s determining if they are college-worthy.

I took my SAT’s hungover after prom and it wasn’t pretty. I managed a 3.3 in college. What do these numbers prove?

The comedian George Carlin once said that America is obsessed with visible progress:

“It’s the American view that everything has to keep climbing: productivity, profits, even comedy… No time to grow up. No time to learn from your mistakes.” (from Keep Going, by Austin Kleon)

Our obsession with visible progress has crept into our art, work, and relationships. How many words did I write today? Did I complete my To-Do List? Did I spend enough quality time with the kid’s? Everything has a spreadsheet and a number to prove its value.

We obsess over website metrics, book sales, and eyeballs on our articles. Churches view attendance and dollars as the only metric of a healthy community. Everything has to climb or it doesn’t count.

By the way, I’m preaching to choir. I told my mother-in-law who knits these amazing scarves she should sell them. Open an Etsy store and make a fortune. She said no, I felt stupid.

Why can’t my mother-in-law just make the scarves for her enjoyment? For the joy of our kids when they open the box and see a new hat for winter? Why can’t we do anything for the sake of the process? Have we lost the sheer joy of creating, writing, making, and enjoying relationships, because we must measure everything?

What is the invisible ladder we feel we have to climb?

Our hobbies don’t have to be a side hustle. They can be simply for the joy of doing them and the healing it brings to our souls.

Carlin was on to something long before the like button. He saw something we all need to consider: can we write, create, work, and leave the results up to God? Does our validation have to come through Google analytics and claps on Medium?

I’m not immune to any of this and my obsession with measuring things is off the charts. But I want to change. I want to write and be alive and create from the true self.

I think when we allow climbing, measuring, and analyzing into our creative and work space… we miss the joy of being alive and making something beautiful. When we worry about the reaction of others before we write for ourselves we can’t write free.

That’s what I’m thinking about right now.

Before you go, please leave a clap or two, my self worth depends on it.

*Originally published on Medium.com

Two Questions for Better Writing Productivity

Parkinson’s Law says: work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Give someone twenty-four hours to complete a project and watch them use their time efficiently and wisely. Give them a week and suddenly the project is perceived as complex and they spend half the week messing around. 

Don’t believe me?

Why does the average person work eight hours a day and forty hours a week?  Nothing is magical about these numbers. Do people actually need that many hours to complete their assigned tasks? Maybe. What if you gave them thirty hours to do their work? Would they complete these tasks and have ten hours to spare? Most likely. Parkinson’s Law.

 What does this have to do with writing?

Many writers live under the illusion that if they had more time to write they'd have more success. The full-time writer is where it’s at. But what about Parkinson’s Law?

If you had eight hours to write would you spend that time wisely? Not likely according to Parkinson’s Law. You'd mess around on social and playing games instead of doing the work. If you only have two hours to write you can use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage. 

Tim Ferris in his book The 4-Hour Work Week asks some hard questions about our productivity.   Actually you only have to ask two questions:

1. Am I being productive or just being active?

2. Am I inventing things to avoid the important?

Am I being productive or just being active? 

Busyness for the sake of busyness is laziness. Endless outlines, research, and tweaking your website and social media profile is not productivity. These aren’t bad things and might be necessary sometimes. 

But are we just doing things to do things? Living by the adage: look busy in case the boss is watching. 

Activity doesn’t always equal productivity.

Here’s a question: did your activity lead to more words on the page? Are you moving your writing project forward or not? 

If no, you’re active and not productive.

Am I inventing things to avoid the important? 

Wow, a hard one. How often do I mess around doing mindless things instead of engaging the hard thing? If I had a dollar for every time, I said: one more episode on Netflix before I work on my book. 

The invention of tasks to avoid the most important projects is the sly tactic of the Resistance-Demon.  That still small voice that says: yeah, create a new website, instead of work on your book. You should watch another Ted Talk instead of meditate or call a friend. 

Parkinson’s Law is alive and well. I’m going to invent all kinds of tasks to avoid doing the most important tasks. The important work. 

But here’s the deal and don’t lose heart. When we invent stuff to keep us busy and avoid the hard thing. Listen to your life.

The hard thing that we're avoiding is what we have to work on. It’s the most important thing. 

Whatever is scary or hard is most likely what needs our undivided attention. If our writing project is easy and breezy, it’s probably not pushing us enough. 

If we have an idea that keeps us up at night and scares us to death… we know what we have to do next.

So, ask some hard questions and take inventory. What am I doing that's just busy work? Stuff that gets more words on the page? Does it move the project forward?

What am I inventing that’s a replacement for doing the hard thing? Whatever you’re avoiding is exactly the thing you need to work on next. 

Hope this helps. 

*originally published on Medium.com.

Turn on the Faucet- Advice on Productivity from Louis L’Amour

The process of creation can be a mystery. Do ideas come first, and then we create, or do we create and ideas come? Chicken before the egg? The question of all questions…

I think it can be both. Sometimes ideas seem to fall from heaven beginning the creation process. Other times we work our way into an idea.

The longer you spend creating anything the more the creation process becomes a mystery.

Louis L’Amour a prolific writer of hundreds of novels and short stories knew the creation-mystery well. I imagine after writing a hundred novels you might run out of ideas. Here’s what he said to do when the idea well runs dry:

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Keep Your Writing Time Sacred

Most humans use a calendar. We schedule our meetings, appointments, social events, and anything of first importance. These commitments once scribed with ink or digital application aren’t up for negotiation. The time allotted for these meetings only rearranged in dire circumstances.

What if we treated our writing time with the same sacredness?

If you’re a professional writer and slinging words provides your livelihood, I’m sure your calendar is your friend. But for those who write, want to write, or want to take their writing to the next level, your writing time must become sacred.

Only under extreme circumstances will we allow an outside invader come and steal time away from our writing date. I’m not a legalist, and know things happen, where writing isn’t our highest priority.

But what if we flipped the narrative on our writing goals and dreams? Instead of fitting in our writing time whenever the calendar allowed (which never happens). Instead of squeezing in a few words here and there while the kid’s sleep.

Why not put our writing time on the calendar and treat it like every other appointment? Why not give the kids away for adoption (not really, just seeing if you’re paying attention)?

Know Thy Self… Know Thy Writing Season

A lot of writing advice says to write every day, write at the same time and place, and hit certain daily word counts.

Not bad advice if life was static and our seasons never change. What do I mean?

I’m a dad of four children, that eat all my food, and spend all my money. I’m not mad about it, it is what it is. My season of life.

My children span from one to twelve. They go to bed early and the two younger ones still take naps during the day. When they become teenagers, their bed times will be later, and with more late evening commitments will shift our family rhythms.

I also have a wife I like. And would like to say married to. What I know about my lovely bride is that she goes to bed early. Has for the last eighteen years. I’m more of a night owl.

My writing time is mostly late in the evenings when everyone is off to bed.

I’ve tried early mornings, but my biology says no thank you, and with little humans waking up at the wee hours, it’s not workable.

The point?

Know thy self and know thy season of life.