1. Use scent and sound recognition to cultivate muscle memory.
Every time you’re really starting to flow on whatever project you’re working on, light the same candle, put on the same playlist or song. The details will fade from your awareness, but on a subconscious level, you’ll start to associate them with productivity.
2. Get out of the mindset that this one project, this one article, this one interview, this one moment, is the only moment — the defining moment — of your career.
It’s so easy for us to extrapolate the moment, imagine that what we’re doing now will somehow define and create what’s going to be forever, and proceed to freak out when we can’t function out of fear that we’re going to be judged by whoever-the-hell. The idea that one thing — a project, assignment, day — could be the end-all-be-all of your career and life (and that what transpires within it defines some part of you forever) is the most dangerous to get caught in. Simply because you’ll never get past it.
3. Structure a routine on differentiating time blocks.
The most important thing about routine — especially when you want to be creative — is to break it. There’s a sense of calm and control that comes with knowing what’s going to be, but that’s not often how inspiration comes through. Structure your routine around time blocks (as in: today, I’m going to do [this project] exactly between 1-3, then I’m going to forget about it and come back to it tomorrow at such-and-such a time, as opposed to: everyday between 9-2, I do everything I have to do then I go home and that’s it.)
4. Don’t get unknowingly paralyzed by someone else’s standard of perfection.
“A career contribution isn’t made in a single ideal moment… it is a collection of good and great moments that add up over time.” (Psychologist and author Art Markman.) The thing about “doing your best work” is that most people, at one point or another, have to redefine what their “best” means. Often, it doesn’t look like the unrealistic, comparatively created standard in your mind. It’s usually not a matter of not doing the best that you can, but not doing the best that you think someone else expects.
5. Forget the task, focus on what it will feel like when it’s done.
So goes one of my favorite quotes: “Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics.” (Einstein.) Point being: if you consistently focus on the task of doing, you’ll remain feeling as though there’s always something to be done. Imagine what you want the end result to feel like, and you’ll get there faster and with less stress.
6. Don’t forget to count the ordinary among your “to dos,” it creates momentum and the energy will keep flowing.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but all it takes is striking one or two things off your proverbial “to do” list before you feel like you really start feeling like you can tackle everything else. All I usually have to do to get momentum flowing is complete like, three completely rote tasks and all of a sudden I just want to keep going.
7. Schedule fun stuff.
Here’s a little life hack for you all. You usually cannot change any part of your life without replacing or restructuring it. You cannot expect change without replacement. You won’t get over someone until you’re distracted by someone, or preferably something, else. You won’t stop thinking about work, or even really allow yourself down time, unless it’s nearly demanded of you. Don’t let it get to the point of utter necessity. Schedule things you enjoy. Your life shouldn’t be a never-ending list of feats to conquer.
8. Stop pushing for stability.
The reason most of us don’t get more done is simple: comfort. We naturally want to do that which makes us feel the most within our element: eat what’s most delicious, do what’s most immediately, instantly pleasing, etc. Eventually we all realize that you cannot keep forcing yourself into placidity. The very act of “force” will be enough suffering for you to deal with. You’re supposed to go up and down. You’re supposed to, you know, have feelings. Don’t fight off anxiety, work with it. Don’t avoid things that aren’t immediately “fun.” If you didn’t have anxiety over a looming deadline you’d be a psychopath. Stop berating yourself for feelings. You’re not a robot.
9. Stop using nonideal circumstances as a deflection tool.
I believe in creative rituals. I believe in doing your absolute best to cultivate a lifestyle that inspires you. I do not believe in waiting for ideal circumstances to act. I did this for a long time: I wouldn’t write until there was absolute silence, until I was in such-and-such a place, until I realized that more or less, my actual work wasn’t affected by where I was, it was simply my mindset about where I was, that meaning, it was only ever a matter of getting past the mental block that I could only be productive at such-and-such a time, in such-and-such a location… you get the picture. When you really get into flow, it doesn’t matter where you are — you tune everything else out anyway.
10. Stop working.
The best ideas come when you least expect it, so don’t be afraid to step away from your work to clear your mind. The thing about inspiration is that you usually cannot seek and find it, nor do you usually even know where to look when you need it. The best thing you can do is have somewhere to start looking, and I suggest a file on your computer of links to your absolute favorite articles/essays, photos that make you think, sites that interest you, etc. and pull from these, even just as a healthier distraction than say, Facebook. But these means don’t need to have an end every time. Sometimes the wonder is in letting the wonder just do it’s thing without you being conscious of it. Often we find it where we least expect it, but it’s still a good idea to have somewhere to start.