It was as if a hypnotist snapped his fingers releasing me from a hypnotic state of broken daily routines and toxic digital distractions. I felt a sense of renewed vitality after reading the final page from 99U and Jocelyn K. Glei’s Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus and Sharpen Your Creative Mind—an actionable book packed with powerful insight and wisdom from a collaboration of 20 great creative minds. The quick and concise chapters hammer you with fundamentals and basic strategies to help you revive current routines, regain focus, and return to your creative workflow.
Sometimes getting back to the core basics is the prescription we need when our focus and daily creative habits begin to crumble.
Here are five key takeaways from Manage-Your-Day-to-Day t0 put into action starting today.
Rhythm is Gonna Get you
It’s all about finding your rhythm throughout the day.
Start with the rhythm of your energy levels. Certain times of day are especially conducive to focused creativity, thanks to circadian rhythms of arousal and mental alertness. Notice when you seem to have the most energy during the day and dedicate those valuable periods to your most important creative work. -Scott Belsky
Biology tells us we function on a wave of circadian and ultradian rhythms within a 24-hour period.
The circadian rhythm is a series of biological processes that occur within one 24-hour cycle. There are periods throughout the day when we feel charged up and mentally indestructable. This time needs to be geared toward the work that is most important to us.
When the energy tank is running on empty, perform “reactionary” tasks like checking email or brainless administrative work.
Everyone’s circadian time clock is different so it’s critical to nail down the times throughout the day when you experience boosted levels of energy. Channel these brain power boosts toward creative mastery.
Example of typical circadian patterns from Wikipedia
Ultradian rhythms are smaller recurrent cycles that play out over the day. Each cycle tells us that our performance starts to degrade after about 90 minutes of consistent activity. Make sure to take breaks throughout the day nearing the end of your ultradian cycles. Go take a walk, ride a bike, nap, meditate or do cartwheels. Give your brain the needed time it needs to replenish itself.
Stop Waiting for Inspiration. Build an Unbreakable Creative Routine
I have a friend who only writes when she “feels inspired.” She’s been working on a romance novel for the past five years in her spare time. The writing thus far is fantastic. She’s deliriously happy when she finishes a chapter.
Her art is then buried for weeks, sometimes months at a time until that defining moment of inspiration strikes again. At this snail’s pace, she’s on track to finish the manuscript around the same time her social security checks start rolling in.
There’s nothing wrong with pouncing on delightful moments of inspiration, but these may be few and far between. Force yourself to create inspirational moments through scheduled activities and daily practice.
Cultivate a daily practice in order to achieve greatness. Seth Godin writes:
Because 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.
Working regularly will manufacture inspiration regularly according to Gretchen Rubin.
Do not wait for moods or for inspiration to miraculously appear on your front doorstep. Force yourself, even if only for 15 minutes a day, to sit and work on the stuff that truly matters to you.
Stage One is simply being able to sit down and work, if only for a single hour. Don’t laugh. Ninety-nine out of a hundred can’t do it. This stage is entry-level. It’s kindergarten. Still, I confess it took me seven years of hell to reach this stage, one night in a Manhattan sublet many moons ago. –Steven Pressfield
Embrace Soulful Solitude
Mr. Miyagi’s words of wisdom will forever resonate with me:
Daniel-san, when you feel life out of focus, always return to basic of life: Breathing. Breathe innnnn, ouuuutt, innnnnn, ouuuuutt.
A study of 200 people using computer and smartphones concluded many were breathing shallowly while engaging with technology. Linda Stone calls this “screen apnea.” Poor posture also contributed to the restricted breathing. Picture those kids at the mall hunched over, gasping for air, with their faces implanted into the screens of smartphones.
Get in touch with your inner spirituality to combat daily distractions and chaotic work schedules. It doesn’t have to be some tedious, over-the-top ritual with candles and incense, but more of just a “simple solitude practice” according to Leo Babuta.
Find a tranquil spot to sit and focus all of your attention to breathing. The goal is to calm your mind as it continues to get slammed with outside thoughts fighting for your attention. Babuta recommends acknowledging these thoughts but don’t engage with them. As your mind wanders, fight to return the full attention back to your normal breathing pattern.
Along with meditative and breathing techniques, it’s also important to take time out to play. Take a solo trip to the mountains, go surfing, rent a dune buggy, play ping-pong, anything that will break the monotony of the daily grind.
Or simply relax and do nothing.
The difficultly 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. -Brian Eno
Finding Focus in a World of Digital Distractions
But the heroes of the next generation will be those who can calm the buzzing and jigging of outside distraction long enough to listen to the sound of their own hearts, those who will follow their own path until they learn to walk erect—not hunched over like a Neanderthal, palm-gazing. Into traffic. -James Victore
Resist the dinging and buzzing smartphones and computers when it’s time to get down to business and make things happen. The Internet is rewiring our brains. Be cognizant of how your digital devices may be destroying your attention span and stifling creativity.
Set Boundaries for Social Media
Tiffany Shlain emphasizes the importance of scrutinizing your social media activity. Are your posts providing value to your followers? We must also be careful of the types of people we follow and choose to let into “our stream of consciousness.”
We have welcomed technology so fully and lovingly into our lives that we no longer take the time to stop and question the relationship. -James Victore
Do Not Let Perfectionism Destroy Your Creativity
If you manage to force yourself into producing at the level you envisioned in your head, you feel on top of the world. If you can’t measure up to those standards, you’re crushed. This pattern can lead to you abandoning your creative pursuits because of the toll they take on you physically, mentally, and emotionally. -Elizabeth Grace Saunders
I have battled with bouts of perfectionism since I was a little schoolboy unable to loosen my death grip on final drafts handed over to the teacher. There’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection but do so cautiously. Stop obsessing over every little detail to the point when nothing gets completed.
Can’t Stop Won’t Stop
Sean “Diddy” Combs struggled with depression and an addiction with his phone. He attributes one retreat to the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona as the cure for his depression and phone addiction. Diddy returned home re-energized with new ideas for music. The bad boy for life may have something in store for us in the future. I hope it involves a Mase comeback.
I’m heading to Sedona next month to unplug. I plan to bike the red rocks, write 10,000 words, meditate to clear my mind, and read three books while applying many of the lessons learned from Manage Your Day-to-Day. I plan to return with a fresh set of ideas to put into action.
Can’t nobody take my pride, can’t nobody hold me down, oh no, I got to keep on movin.