Scott Young writes about creating under there’s-no-turning-back constraints by forcing himself to only focus on one project every 30 days:
We’ve seen examples of this in folklore, Young points out. Like when Ulysses tied himself to his ship’s mast to prevent himself from succumbing to the Siren’s Song. Sometimes the “mast” is your desk and the “siren” is Twitter. Those who employ this strategy often say they are “burning the boats” – a reference to Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortes burning his boats so his men weren’t tempted to turn back. It’s an extreme measure, but one that produces results.
Among the subscribers to this mindset, Louis C.K. prefers to do away with his previously existing material every year (NSFW). “Get rid of all your best weapons,” he says, “then you have to get good.”
Getting into the zone takes time. Every interruption takes its toll; research has shown that on average people take 23 minutes to regain the level of focus they had prior to an interruption.
You can minimize the amount of time spent regaining focus by implementing a rule where you spend half your day alone. Naturally, you can host meetings or chat with co-workers and collaborators during the other half. Collaboration software company 37Signals (authors of the bestselling nonfiction book, Rework) write:
Set up a rule at work: Make half the day alone time. From 10am-2pm, no one can talk to one another (except during lunch). Or make the first or the last half of the day the alone time period. Just make sure this period is contiguous in order to avoid productivity-killing interruptions.
This type of practise isn’t necessarily restricted to the workplace; rather, this is even easier to implement (and perhaps more effective) for freelancers. By spending less time regaining focus, and you’ll have more time to build awesome things.
The image of a scientist usually comes with a rigid, rigorous work ethic and technical, logical, and rational mind. It can be difficult to picture a scientist as an extremely passionate violinist.
However, Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Albert Einstein was known for his love of music and the violin. Not only did it serve as a hobby he enjoyed immensely, it also helped to train his intuition and would contribute to his conception of the theory of relativity.
Violinist and educator Shinichi Suzuki captures Einstein’s thoughts on music and the violin on page 90 of “Nurtured by Love. A New Approach to Education“:
The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition. My parents had me study the violin from the time I was six. My new discovery is the result of musical perception.
In addition to sharpening his intuition, playing the violin also enhanced his persistence: it served as his outlet when he ran into tough problems. While our professional work may not be as technical or quantitative as Einstein’s was, may this serve as a reminder that our hobbies can be training tools for our other work.
For more information about Einstein’s passion for music, check out Brian Roemmele’s extremely comprehensive answer on Quora.
You know that weird state your brain is in right after you wake up?
Your creativity is enhanced by the transition into consciousness, and is uninhibited by the mundanities of everyday life. Additionally, this is often the freshest part of your day; it’s when events haven’t attempted to take our awareness away from us. We have full control of our brains for a short time.
These are the reasons why writer and editor Robert McCrum suggests writing in bed:
Writing in bed is not just about convenience or comfort. I think there’s a psychological advantage, too. If you write in bed in the early morning (as I do occasionally) you occupy an intriguing part of consciousness, somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness. Part of you is still in the shadowy cave of dream world; part of you is adjusting to the sharp brightness of reality. The mixture is fruitful and often suggestive.
While this may sound a bit odd (especially for people who have heard that they should separate work and living spaces), legendary writers like Marcel Proust, Winston Churchill, and Mark Twain all wrote in bed. Have you ever tried this? Or do you keep a notebook by your bed?
James Murphy walks us through his aimless twenties. Murphy describes how there was no “spectacular failure” but he found himself unexcited, lazy, and threatened by the success of his peers. This kind of quiet failure plagued Murphy until he made a sudden change.
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Ambition is arguably a very important component of doing well in our work. It helps us take on new challenges, grow our skills, and advance in our careers. However, it’s possible that ambition comes at a cost of our relationships. Long hours can keep us away from our families, competition among colleagues can fray friendships, and a focus on achieving the next “step” at the expense of all else can be borne from ambition and negatively impact our well-being.
Allow work to be a vehicle for well-being, not an obstacle to overcome on the path to well-being.
Ryan Holiday, best known for his work as the Director of Marketing for American Apparel and his bestselling book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, shares his system for doing book research. It’s the same method employed by one of his guiding mentors, the great French writer Montaigne:
Montaigne kept what he called a “common place book” — a book of quotes, sentences, metaphors and miscellany that he could use at a moment’s notice. I keep a more modern — but still analog — version of this book. I write everything down on 4×6 note cards, which I file in boxes. (You could do this digitally, I suppose, but the physical arrangement — being able to lay them out on a desk — is critical to my work).
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical book — it could be a text file or a Word document. Holiday handwrites the quotes on several 4″ x 6″ index cards, a system shared to him by bestselling author Robert Greene. Greene describes his method more thoroughly in this Reddit AMA.