I flew back to Portland a week ago and it’s been a nonstop flurry of house hunting, settling in, and hustling hard on multiple projects (such as this one).
I’ve also managed to squeeze in a few nights out and brunches in with friends, and I’ve been popping in on a yoga class, which is a totally new thing for me. On top of everything, the CMC orchestra director called me yesterday and begged me to return. Apparently they’re desperate for Second Violins. The concert’s in three weeks. Guess I’ve got some practicing to do…
A lot of people ask me how I get so much done. Or more specifically, when you’ve got all of these scattered commitments in your life, how do you make sure that your passion projects happen?
Piecing together your own time management system
There are a lot of productivity strategies you can use, such as identifying your 1-5 priority projects, oscillating between focus and scanning mode, using ritual and reminders, the pomodoro technique, and even getting yourself some accountability partners.
If you’ve got kids to take care of, you can use some of Barbara Sher’s techniques that involve inviting your kids to take part in your projects, setting a “mommy gets one hour when she returns home from work” rule, or delegating chores. If you’re a total masochist, you can even try the GTD approach (not puttyapproved. 😉
All of these strategies can work, and you should try them out and put together your own system. However, I’ve found that there’s one super simple trick that works better than any of these…
Separate your creating from all other forms of activity
I’m using the term Creating broadly here. It might mean writing or making art. But it could also involve conceptualizing and outlining an idea, brainstorming, or writing an email to your community. What’s important isn’t the specific activity you’re engaged in, but the part of your brain you’re using.
When you’re engaged in the process of Creating, you’re using a very different part of your brain than when you’re answering emails or reading blog posts. Problems arise when you try to combine Creating with activities that use other parts of the brain.
The three Cs
What are these other sorts of activities besides Creating? Well, as is often the case when I come up with a cool idea, there’s already someone who has articulated that idea more fully. In his book Focus, Leo Babauta divides all work-related activities into three categories: Creating, Connecting and Consuming.
Connecting involves activities like responding to emails, tweeting and social media, replying to comments, etc. Consuming is any activity that involves research, absorbing, learning. This could mean reading books, blogs, watching movies, listening to podcasts, and so on.
Both Connecting and Consuming are really important for your own development. Human connection is what life is about, and developing your mind and exploring new interests? I’d say that’s pretty damn important too.
I will never tell you to shut off your email or avoid multitasking altogether. That stuff is great (necessary even, as it stimulates the multipotentialite brain). The key is to respect the combining rule.
The combining rule
Connecting and Consumption activities can be combined, but should never be combined with Creating.
This means that you can go ahead and check your email, read your favourite blogs, listen to podcasts, flip between books, and multitask to your heart’s content. But whatever you do, don’t combine any of these activities with acts of Creating. You’re lighting up two different parts of your brain.
The best way to induce a flow state
You know those rare times when the world fades away, and the only thing that exists is you and your work? You become totally entranced and come up with the most brilliant, inspired ideas. It’s magic. You feel like you’re channeling the creative gods.
Yogis refer to this state as being present. It’s the state where you’re deriving all joy, not from the fruits of your work, but from the act of doing the work itself. In fact, when you’re in a flow state, you’re completely detached from results. The work alone is the reward.
You want to learn to induce flow states as often as possible, and your best chance of getting into one quickly is by separating Creating from the other two Cs.
Time expands for you when you’re in a flow state
I only need one of these flow states per day to make serious progress on my work. And you know what? These spurts of work can be short! Some of my most inspired stuff has come out in twenty minutes (though usually I try to sustain a flow state for up to 40-90 minutes).
Often when a multipotentialite tells me that they have no time to work on their projects, it’s not so much a time management problem as it is an issue of learning to induce flow states so that time expands and the genius arrives.
Chances are, they’re trying to Create, while also Consume and/or Connect with others. But when you’re “in state,” you don’t need much time at all, because time slows down for you.
Try taking “connecting & consuming” breaks
Sometimes when I’m Creating, I’ll feel the urge to check my email or get on Twitter (though I usually forget about that once the flow state kicks in). What I often do is take short breaks between spurts of Creating, where I can do all the Connecting and Consuming I like. Then I put those toys away and go back to Creating only.
Experiment with these ideas for yourself and see if you can’t induce a flow state or two.
Have you tried separating your Creating time from other sorts of activities? Got any other tricks to induce a flow state?