What if I told you that…
There aren’t any perfect conditions to start.
That you don’t have to wait for ideas and creativity to just happen to you.
To wait for a jolt of inspiration to unleash your creative flair.
That you don’t have to wait until ‘you feel like it’ to start working.
To wait for some chance emotion to propel you to work.
“You’ll likely find that your work habits have drifted to accommodate your surroundings rather than to meet your preferences.”
-Scott Belsky, Manage Your Day-to-Day
It’s important for your work to happen on your terms. Don’t respond to other people’s work agenda.
You know. Emails. Texts.
“Hey man, do you have a sec?”
You know. All these things vying for your attention.
Other people’s work agenda. Not yours.
These are the things that will distract you from your work and force you into reactionary workflow.
“We need to rethink our workflow from the ground up. Paradoxically, you hold both the problem and the solution to you day-to-day challenges.
No matter where you work or what horrible top-down systems plague your work, your mind, and energy are yours and yours alone.
You can surrender you day-to-day and the potential of your work to the burdens that surround you. Or, you can audit the way you work and own the responsibility of fixing it.”
-Scott Belsky, Manage Your Day-to-Day
You are an active participant in life. Don’t fall into passivity.
How do you take full reign of your workflow?
You can use certain psychological tricks to get you into that state of productivity.
In this post you will learn the tools that will help you dictate your workflow.
You will learn how to work on your terms.
The Solution – Professionalize your art
“There are many ways you can signify to yourself that you are honing your practice.
For example, some people wear a white lab coat or a particular pair of glasses, or always work in a specific place – in doing these thing, they are professionalizing their art”
– Seth Godin, Manage Your Day-to-Day
1. Put some clothes on!
Scott Adams, author of the comic strip Dilbert, has a habit of putting on his sports clothes before he gets in his car and drives to the gym.
On the podcast with Bryan Johnson, he says that whenever he puts on his sportswear his body starts vibrating and foot can’t stop tapping.
Scott’s body committed itself to the habit. So much so that the pre-game routine of putting on clothes sends a signal to his brain. The signal is that it’s time to start exercising.
Scott says that he’s moved his ‘gym-going’ from the realm of thinking about it to the realm of habit, where his behaviour is automatic and no longer subject to the rational mind.
2. Use tiny rituals and routines to talk to your body
Sometimes tennis matches can last for a few hours at a time.
How do tennis players stay focused and at peak performance for that long?
Here’s what Olivia Fox Cabane said on the Art of Charm podcast:
“High-level athletes direct[ed] their brain to either peak performance or recuperation mode through specific routines and rituals.”
Olivia gave the example of world-renowned tennis player Joe Mcenroe.
Between each point, Joe would use tiny rituals and routines to tell his brain and body to either ramp up for peak performance or ramp down for recuperation.
How does this look like in practice?
Before each point, Joe would tap the ball with his left hand 3 times and fiddle with his racket. This set of rituals signalled his brain and body that it’s time to go into peak performance mode.
After each point, he would wipe the sweat of his brows with his left hand, which signalled that he has only a few seconds to ramp down and recuperate.
That’s why regular breaks are important in anything you do.
When you take a break, you totally disengage. It’s your way of telling your brain and body to ramp down.
3. Make your environment tell you what to do
A perfect example of someone who professionalized their art was successful copywriter Eugene Schwartz.
That was his copywriting system.
Using this very system, he wrote 9 books – including the seminal Breakthrough Advertising – dozens of successful ads, and countless articles.
Eugene created a powerful trigger with his immediate environment. Whenever he sat at his desk, everything was the same.
The context in which he would work was identical every time he would sit down to work.
Think of it like a puzzle.
In Eugene’s case, one piece is his desk. The other is the cup of tea to the left. And yet another piece are the pens to the right. The pieces ‘desk’, ‘cup’ and ‘pens’ have already been put together.
All you need to do is add the missing piece – that’s your work. And it fits right in. Every time.
When you manufacture a environment to always be the same, your performance in that environment will also be the same.
You just need to teach your brain to associate hard work with that specific context through repeated exposure.
You will need to associate productive personality traits with that setting.
You will need to anchor emotional states like enthusiasm, ambition, determination, and confidence to that workspace.
And when you do, you will have created a contextual trigger that brings out the best in you.
4. Create a pre-game routine to fight through the moments when you’re not feeling it
Do you sometimes show up to the gym but quickly realise you’re not quite feeling it?
You show up but you’re not feeling too motivated and you know you’re not at your peak.
Or you make the trek to get to the library but can’t concentrate and do your work?
You’re sitting there, staring at your laptop or you just can’t muster the focus and will to get started.
I can’t even count the number of times that’s happened to me.
To avoid/overcome these situations, create a pre-game routine.
Mood follows action. By acting and behaving, your body literally summons certain emotional states.
Allow me to illustrate this point.
When you smile, your brain will start creating dopamine to make you happy.
When you straighten up, expand your chest, breathe deeper, and take up more physical space – guess what happens.
Your testosterone levels will increase and your cortisol levels will decrease. Expect a post about this in the future (sign up for updates).
By creating a routine, you’re telling your body to start acting in a certain way.
Let’s go back to our earlier examples:
If you’re at the gym but can’t be asked – do what you always do to get started.
Do what you always do to get things moving in the right direction. That might be jogging on the treadmill for a few minutes, doing stretches, or warming up using light weights.
This sort of pre-game routine will send signals to your brain telling it – it’s game time.
If you’re in the library – do what you always do. Either type a sentence to start your essay writing. Or read a mere sentence from a textbook. Then another. And another. And so on.
Eventually, you start a self-perpetuating chain that you can’t stop. You lock in and you’re in the zone.
Worked example: my personal safe haven for maximum productivity
Is there a place you go to suddenly feel a newfound vigour and energy to tackle your work with?
For me, it’s a coffee shop 10 minutes away from where I live.
I head there whenever I want to get down to work (contextual trigger).
I walk through a park where I zen out and try to be in the moment. It’s like a forgotten pocket of green and calm; a far cry from the city noise (pre-game routine).
Once I get to the place I order a decaf flat white and sit by the window (tiny rituals and routines).
I chill out and soak in the vibe and atmosphere of the place while waiting for my coffee. I get my coffee, spring out my laptop and get to work.
I usually work for 50minute sprints and take regular 10 minute breaks (telling my body when to ramp up/ramp down). Check out my earlier post on why this is a good idea.
Sometimes I’m tempted to go for longer. In the long run though, this burns me out quicker than if I just took regular breaks.
This always works for me. Sparks start flying, I experience a surge of energy, vigour, and creativity, and everything just clicks. I zone in and I’m in flow.
In a nutshell – professionalize your art
The power of context
- Manufacture an environment that you associate with passionate work and effort.
- Associate that setting with personality traits that will help you get your work done.
- Anchor certain emotional states that will propel you to success.
Tiny rituals and routines
- Tell your body when to ramp up for peak performance and when to ramp down for recuperation.
- Work in focused sprints and take regular breaks.
Create a pre-game routine
- Mood follows action. Tell your body what to do.
- Run your routine to jump start you body into the desired state.
What pre-game routine do you have?
Do you have any associative triggers?
Let me know in the comments.
P.S. Thanks for reading! If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more life-optimising stuff.