"Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here." -- Inscription on the Gates of Hell, Dante Alighieri's "Inferno"
The worthy detour? I think I've got a formula for "High Creative Mode"... just it's not particularly consistently effective yet, and it's playing a pretty high stakes game. On Day Seventeen, I made my first crack at applying it, and had an incredible day. I wrote a 5000-word piece, that after editing and getting the ending right, I think could be amazingly fantastic. Just writing it was a joy.
Following from that, I was walking on air for the rest of the day.
In Day Eighteen, I attempted the same thing, and fell short. This was maddening, and the whole day was aggravating. I think I've got a rough formula for High Creative Mode, but it doesn't produce 100% results. And when it fails, it's pretty ugly, at least so far.
I kept detailed notes on both days, much more fleshed out than usual. There's more stream-of-consciousness. They're... honestly, a little weird. You can evaluate for yourself:
Day Seventeen: A Massive Success --
Awake: 12:30PM (6 hours)
Missed a 10:30AM call -- the supplement mix I took knocked me the hell out, the alarm was still going off when I woke up two hours after the call. I feel god damn awful about this, but only for a moment. I'm going to try to focus my creativity as high as I can today.
Normally, I'd open my computer first thing. Not today. I slow down, listen to my body. I'm sore in a few places from weight training, and I slowly stretch. No food here I can eat, so I have water, vitamins, supplements. Take a slow shower, cut my fingernails and toenails, spend time grooming myself. Got dressed up today in my finest, rare since I've no meetings.
Decide against shaving. About to put on my leather boots, but I've got a blister, so I put on my running shoes. I look ridiculous I think. I don't care, I've got important things to do and want to max out the chances of it happening. No self-consciousness.
2:20PM: All this morning toiletries have passed. I grab a taxi to 7-11, I want the hot food they serve there and there's a cafe near there I want to work at. Interestingly, the taxi for a moment felt like a luxury instead of walking, but then I realize (1) taking it net saves cash over just eating at a more expensive place nearby, (2) it costs like a buck fifty USD, (3) and any creative outpourings totally overwhelm that. That said, a real danger of pure creative mode is that money management gets damn poor, so I'm not going to do that "ahhh, fuck it, it's net worth it" thing again. It is actually, but having a cashflow crunch hit and winding up with $63 in the checking account despite being surrounded by a bunch of nice stuff really really sucks. If on a creative run, I'm going to be more diligent with money. Yet, this one is a no-brainer, and differs from my normal grind-it-out workflow, I'm taking a taxi the opposite direction of my office which I live near.
At 7-11, I get chicken, vegetables, and grilled eggplant, along with a bottle of water, green tea, and two packs of salt-and-pepper peanuts. Cost is around $5 USD. They serve the chicken/vegetables/eggplant on rice, and I have a minor crisis of really wanting the rice. It just hit all of a sudden. Damn that. I manage to throw the rice in a big trash can ASAP, eat a pack of peanuts after the chicken/vegetables, have water and tea, and I'm good.
I was sitting on a bench outside of a high end exotic hair salon. They were playing a mix of pop and electronic music, after eating I stayed and appreciated it for another 10 minutes or so, as well as admiring some of the beauty of the girls working there. I'm not in a hurry. I mean, there's a lot of things I want to do, but being outside of my own, immersed, understanding music and beauty… this is what will get me there.
2:35PM: At the cafe. Ordered a coffee. Here comes the moment of truth… I'm opening my laptop up.
Before I type in my password, I think: (1) rapidly close everyhing on my desktop except Spotify (for music), and Evernote (to update all my time tracking, which is the next thing I'm going to do). I say, NO WEB BROWSER, NO WEB BROWSER, NO WEB BROWSER. I know there's probably interesting things loaded up in the browser, so I rapidly close all of it except an article on Theodore Roosevelt's schedule which I leave open for later. I manage to avoid opening my email (no doubt, there's some urgent stuff in there, as well as exciting stuff… fucking dangerous).
2:50PM: I'm doing it, I'm really doing it… I'm generating high creative state consciously, chosen, on pure will, by directing my focus. Oh my God, if this can be sustained… I think it can. I think, with practice, this can be a regular occurance. I'm writing, I'm making notes, I'm outlining, thoughts are coming lucidly. Low-quality thoughts come, are discarded. The self-consciousness is gone.
An acid test, of sorts, will be if I can write the process up. One of my metrics is to write "one excellent piece per week, by my standards" -- can I write the piece, hmm, what should the working title be? "Cracking High Creativity" -- ok, that's awful, but it's good enough for now and I can change it later. Can I simply focus and write Cracking High Creativity? I have the loose collection of thoughts, now let's see if I can put it together.
3:30PM: Flow state and high creativity achieved. Amazing mood, high creative… I just had a blip, self-consciousness is rising, I want to disengage and do something else, and feel a slight headache. How to mediate and get past this?
This is the distraction element I was worried about. It's entirely to be expected and normal, but if I start googling headache cures (lol), I'm going to get distracted from my writing. The headache isn't a real issue, it's a minor and trivial thing. I don't think more food or water would help, I don't have any painkillers or anti-inflammatories (and prefer not to take them anyways)… okay, I need to mediate this and continue my work. Inhale, exhale, focus…
I stand up, take some breathes, stretch my muscles. Stretch my legs, roll my shoulders out, crack and roll my neck out, wrists, fingers. I drink an entire pitcher of ice water, half of the coffee that's been sitting untouched on the table, and change from minimal techno to electro. Okay, rock and roll, I just slayed distraction like a dragon. These physical sensations are no match for human thought.
(For good measure, I drink another half pitcher of ice water. It's delicious.)
4:15PM: Phew, good writing. Not done. Started to feel a little tired, which I think is real this time. It's not my mind playing tricks on me, I'm really burning hard right now. Nevertheless, I'd like to get an accomplished/complete part of the piece so it's done in rough form before stopping, and then I'm going to cycle down for a few hours. I'll get a massage and/or hit the gym after I finish here. I'm going to close my eyes and just listen to music and chill for 5-10 minutes until I feel recharged, then finish this piece, and then cycle down, and look to do good business in the nighttime, repeating the High Creative Process (hopefully I'm not being greedy!)
4:45PM: Recharged, skimmed some of my old writing looking for good affect. More water, ate peanuts, another big coffee, lots of water. Get back into it.
4:55PM: A good ten minutes of work, then almost accidentally fired up the web browser just on muscle memory. I opened Chrome and clicked over to news.yc, but closed it in time.
5:55PM: Doing amazing writing and putting great connections together. This is amazing.
6:40PM: Excellent piece written. Wow, great.
Plan for rest of day --
1. Cycle down and rest/recharge.
2. Grab some food on the way back.
3. Quick blog post outlining yesterday.
4. Brief short discussion with Stepan about high creativity. Not too long, even if it's great, since we need to...
5. Finish the marketing campaign.
6. Review all current clients, especially MN's new invoice. Follow up all.
7. Then evaluate and see where I'm at.
8:30PM: Got a one hour massage, ate food, etc.
10PM: Realized I had client calls at 9PM and 10PM -- had forgotten those on my notes… need to push the 10PM back to 11PM for Stepan, since he thought it was a 5AM call originally. That pushes back the other stuff a bit. Did first call.
10:35PM: Some email, some reading hacker news / distraction, put up the day's blog post, etc.
4:35PM: Tons of client work, with sales mixed in. Both busy and quite productive. Solid.
Day Eighteen: An Attempt To Repeat High Creative Mode, And Failing At It --
Awake: Approx 2:20PM. (10 hours sleep)
2:50PM: Got up slowly, grooming, dressed. I kind of laid around in bed for a while half-asleep, so maybe I was up before 2:20. It was pleasant though, I was running possibilities through my head. My body is a little sore, but I'll lift weights today. I'm going to start with a clean-ish diet for the morning, but I'll do cheat day later in the day. If I can do really good work until, say, 7PM, I'll probably take the rest of the day off.
Playing with fire -- I'm making a quick important phonecall, let's see if I can stay focused and on-track after it. No answer. Ok.
Got the GGW business plan in front of me. Note my feelings: It feels overwhelming and like I'm not up to the task. That's interesting. That fits in with the High Creative Mode theory…. the important stuff generates self-consciousness, the self-conciousness generates procrastination, desire for distraction, escape, etc. What to do? I think just inhale, exhale, refocus. Attach no unnecessary value to it. It's just something to be done. Also, there's a lot of pretty girls walking by the cafe, so it's nice to look at them.
3:10PM: Ordered breakfast, it came, I ate without surfing the net. Nice. Omlette with vegetables and chicken, salad with vinegar, white bread with butter. Going at the coffee slowly. Also ate a pack of peanuts on the way over.
Kind of hazy and daydreaming… the task in front of me seems unscalable, which is probably why I've procrastinated it for two weeks or whatever it was.
----------> THIS IS KILLING ME, I WANT TO PROCRASTINATE INTO SOMETHING ELSE, BUT I'M REFUSING TO DO SO> ARKJNDGFKJSNFKSDJNFLKSDMFLSKDMFLSDMFLDSKMNGL:NSEIPT"ERFNSD:FNSDF:LKSDNFKSDF:SDMKFL.
Thank god for electronic music. It makes it easier.
I understand why high performers are often substance abusers, go whoring, etc. Focusing on self-identifying import tasks is awful. I really want to throw up.
3:20PM: In my notes on creativity, I called this period preceding high creative mode -- "hyper-selfconsciousness". It's funny looking at time tracking, it's only been 10 minutes or so. But it feels like an eternity, my mind wants to escape and hide. Silly mind. Ok, keep having fun.
I should start doing martial arts again. Or boxing. I want to get hit repeatedly, and I want to hit something.
Jeez, my mind is all over the place.
3:35PM: Wound up re-reading the piece I wrote yesterday. Not so terrible, as far as procrastination goes.
I've got an inquiry from a contract I did a couple years ago in my inbox. I'm thinking about it. I want to answer it. But, I shouldn't, because this is more important. Stay focused, have fun.
3:45PM: Just re-read the whole part I'd already written. Almost jumped into procrastination again. But, keep going.
4:10PM: Ok, did a bit of writing and made some gains, but I'm dyin' here. I'm giving in and taking a break for a bit.
7:10PM: A mix of distraction and general stuff. Some totally wasted time, some answering emails, some general stuff. (Paying bills, canceled Basecamp since moving to Asana, etc.)
7:35PM: Got my workout clothing, changed cafes.
9:55PM: Dinner, wasting time.
4:55AM: Couldn't sleep, got up, sleeping again.
7:10AM: Couldn't sleep, got up, did some really good work. Trying to sleep again.
I think I'm by and large onto something. More to follow over the coming days.
Ahahaha! I am fiendishly delighted to see my process written out like this. I have "DEAR GOD I MUST PROCRASTINATE" moments all the time, but particularly when I've cleared the decks of non-important stuff, and there's only important stuff left, and then the mind just FREAKS THE FUCK OUT. Like sticking a fork in a light socket.
I'm thinking, "This is want I get for clearing the unimportant shit out of my life. Complete fucking mental paralysis. Good job, Shanna, you dipwad."
The trick, I've found, is to catch the impulses, and then study them. What are they? What do they want? Why do they want it?
I think they're basically a mental flinch. "ZOMG, this is important! *flinch*" The ball is coming at you; you can either catch it, or dodge. But when you catch it, then what do you do with it? It's your responsibility now, and you want to do well with it, and THAT, I think, is the essence of the flinch.
After Day Two was off the rails entirely, I wanted to rest and recuperate a little, so I set my benchmarks low. Okay, I'd rather gear down and be Conan the Barbarian with a big ol' sword, but it didn't work out like that.
Here was my plan, emphasis added --
Wake 5:30PM (7 hours sleep… hmm). GGW call scheduled for 6PM.
GGW call concludes… 7PM?
Right now I'm waiting to start a video interview. I called in early, but my friend who is doing the interview wasn't ready, so I've got five or ten minutes to kill before we get started. My first inclination was to catch up on email. I only had a couple to write, so I finished them quickly. Still some time to kill. I took a look at a SETT bug that's high priority, but the solution wasn't the obvious one that I thought it might be. I'll have to take a deeper look when I have more time. Still have a few minutes before we start. May as well write a blog post.
I think that there are two basic modes that a productive person's mind can be in. There's that mode where you're going to get your work done, but you'll fight yourself every step of the way. When you're in that mode, your reticular activation system, the part of your brain that is constantly scanning, looks for non-work things to do. Ooh, five minutes before the call-- why don't you browse Facebook? I call this the distraction-first mode.
I've been in distraction-first mode plenty of times, probably spent most of my life there, but today I'm not, so when I have a few minutes of downtime, my default is to find something productive to do. Email, SETT, blog post. Productivity-first mode. It's not that I force myself to fill these minutes with something productive, it's that it's what I actually want to do. That's the magic of it.
Being in productivity-first mode is beautiful. It's like living your life in a flow state, executing task after task without the mental toll of having to cheerlead yourself into doing. Emails finished, open up my code editor with no hesistation and start poring through the source code. Determine that it needs more time than I have, and before I can even think, I'm two sentences into this blog post.