Sometimes I think about variance. The question is most interesting when you've got a day that's totally free and not blocked off with any appointments or requirements, and you wake up in a highly creative, very healthy mode.
On that kind of day, you've usually got between 8 and 18 hours to really make a big dent in whatever is important to you in your life. But, what to do?
The first and most interesting question to me is, "Should you do something you know will produce gains if you do it, or should you do something more speculative?"
There's a lot of activities that you already know will produce predictable results for you. You might have email to answer, or thank-you notes you've been meaning to write, or fulfillment work that's already on-schedule but which you could accelerate on this sort of day, or whatever is in your backlog of stuff to do.
There's also things like trying to come up with new lead sources, new marketing campaigns or product offerings, trying to write an ambitious piece of writing covering a topic that's interesting but stil fleeting, trying to create something new or break into some group or sphere you're not into currently...
...and these sets of activities have vastly different predicted outcomes.
The first set, the well-defined stuff, is going to give you a solid predictable gain. If you put three hours into answering your email, your inbox will go way down. Presuming you've already covered the really leveraged urgent high-impact stuff, it just means you get the incremental gains from answering your email. Which is something, and it matters, but it's not huge in the way that discovering a new marketing channel for your business or services are huge.
On the other hand, you can get knee-deep in research and messing around looking for something new, and get nothin' out of it. It's also easy for a day where you start out like that to go off the rails.
It'd be nice if there was a good answer to this. Some sorts of activities give you guaranteed predictable gains, but also a chance of huge upside if you do a better job than normal -- creative work like writing, or getting in touch with people who have previously purchased from you, things like that -- and these activities could be good.
Sometimes, the answer really isn't straightforward though, especially if you're already on top of everything crucial and you're having one of those days with huge wells of energy and creativity, the kind of day where you would make a major breakthrough some percentage of the time.
How do you handle these days? Maybe we can get a good discussion going in the comments.
Just about any speculative activity will produce results on a long enough time line. When it comes to research or trying to break into a community it's really just about putting the time in consistently Within any of my projects I have a list of "neverending tasks" Things like "Become a presence in Forum X", "Write blog post", or "Go through entire sales funnel again slowly,find places to optimize". My free days are generally spent broken into a few hours on each.
To me, highly creative days are more conducive to risk taking whereas lower functioning days almost require specificity for any positive gain. I'm exploring this now by seeking definitive results in the form of knowledge & information rather than conducting my days around meaning & transformative experiences/relationships. Personalities always seem to be my obstacle, so when obligations are pulling and I'm not effectively connecting with people I will turn to the certainty of my personal craft or hit the books for satisfaction. When I'm incredibly on, it's way more worthwhile to utilize the spontaneity and intuition, especially when working with unpredictable &/or closed minded people.
"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:
Hard work produces near magical results, but we all have an absolute ceiling on how hard we work.
People usually start thinking about working smarter once they're near that limit and getting burned out. Once the realization sets in that you can't work any harder, you've got to get smarter.
To work smart, the first thing you need to do is figure out what you're already doing.