Competition, Community, and Cartels

The incredible opportunities available to people to share their creative work and build a tribe are unprecedented. Whatever your work, cause, or mission, you can use the web, social media, and digital publishing to spread the word. The gatekeepers have been shoved aside, and never before in the history of mankind have such opportunities existed.

And we’re drowning.

Rebellion of the sweets

photo credit: Wimena Kane, Creative Commons

There is a dark side to the wide-open digital world we’re living in. You have the opportunity and the tools to succeed, but so does everyone else. Odds are, someone is creating a project strikingly similar to yours. The competition is staggering.
This isn’t exclusive to the digital and creative fields, small businesses are growing, the local goods movement is fueling a new breed of Mom & Pop stores and restaurants. Competition is everywhere, and it’s fierce.

Therein lies the opportunity.

The first job I had out of college, we were in direct competition with another established brand. I can remember my boss saying,

Competition is fine, and we’re only going to get better because they exist. We will push each other to provide a better service to the customers, or we will go out of business. That’s all there is to it.

Those words have stuck with me, and I’ll always view competition as an opportunity. If you’re comfortable in the status quo, soaking in a monopoly, unwilling to serve the customer’s needs, then you need to be shaken up a little bit.

Build the Community

While the temptation to tear down your competitors may arise, resist! The market is now large enough to support each provider, assuming both are willing to serve, engage, and evolve. Don’t waste even one moment of thought to how you can attack the competition, because the social mechanisms in place will expose any breakdowns or poor service. In fact…

Embrace the Competition

In a culture of mass information, millions of blogs, and billions of tweets, there is more to consume and fight against than ever before. So, love your enemies (I remember someone else saying that once). Realize that if you successfully eradicate the competition, there will likely be a decrease in demand as well. To quote Jeff Goins,

Maybe the pie is bigger than you thought and the world smaller than you realized.

Think about the opportunity! Everyone is accessible, and there is enough to go around. Maybe we won’t all make millions, but I’m sure we will make enough to live comfortably, provide for our families, and do work we love. A community of fellow writers, creatives, and businesses working together will allow the market to grow, and facilitate a culture of improvement, service, and fulfillment.

People must band together and fight the status quo, not each other (click to tweet that).

Cartel Rules

This type of thinking has come full circle today. I’ve been thinking about the nature of competition and community for years, am reading The Unconventional Guide to Art+Money (from Chris Guillebeau), and finally read this announcement from Jeff Goins and Joe Bunting. There’s a cartel in the works, and the name of the game is collaboration, not competition. When a group of like-minded artists band together to encourage, edify, and share each other’s work, the world’s going to change.

What do you think about this shift in behavior? Share in the comments

Did you enjoy this post? Click here to tweet it out to your community, or use the sharing buttons at the top and bottom of the page.

Want to Create? Then Prepare for Pain – A Guest Post for Goins, Writer

Great news everyone!

Jeff Goins, author of the book Wrecked, and the brains behind the top writing blog, Goins, Writer, has kindly approved my guest post! Jeff’s writing has been instrumental in my own journey in to creativity, blogging, and the craft of writing.

You can access the article in the link below. I would greatly appreciate you reading it, sharing with a friend, or leaving a comment.

Want to Create? Then Prepare for Pain

While you’re on Jeff’s site, I highly recommend you checking out a few other articles. Here’s what I recommend:

You should also consider signing up for his email list, which in addition to updates, nets you his awesome little ebook, The Writer’s Manifesto.

If you found my blog from Jeff’s…

Welcome, I’m So Glad You’re Here!

The best thing to do is Start, but you can also check out the info below. Thanks for coming by!

Important Posts

If you enjoy my writing, sign up for email updates so you won’t miss any. I normally post 2 times per week. I will also send you my new workbook, Choose What You Love.

Click here to learn more about me and my journey as a writer.

Follow @mattragland on Twitter

Thanks again for reading, and let’s decide what really matters, then pursue it!

What to Do When Your Art Isn’t Working

I haven’t written in a week. Normally, I avoid the temptation to simply write about the emotions I’m having around the craft, because I believe it’s too easy and worldwide. “Oh, I struggle with the writing practice, just like a million other folks. Instead of actually writing about a topic that deserves attention, I will delve in to feelings and basically write about how terrible I feel.” But, I believe this is a challenge worth putting some words to.

Typewriter Man!

photo credit: starmanseries, creative commons

Because a week has passed between my posts, I had a gnawing fear inside. What scared me wasn’t fear that I had lost the desire to write, not at all, because I felt the need to write every day. The fear stemmed from thoughts which pervaded my mind, ready to pounce on my self-doubt.

You’re all washed up, good year with trying!

Nobody cares you haven’t written in a week.

The flip side: Everybody on your mailing list feels cheated because you haven’t written in a week. You said you post twice a week!

You’re not really going to write about what you’re feeling are you? What a cop out!

These feelings, the work of the Resistance, are the never-ending fight inside us to keep our art inside. For me, it’s writing, and for you art may be painting, web design, a golf swing, speech, or teaching. You will go through a dip, which may last a week, a month, or longer. Give the voices no quarter, and follow through. The gift you give the world by creating your art is bigger than you. Keep going.

Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, relays the story of a friend, who goes through the following ritual every time she writes.

My friend will spend 10 minutes writing about what a horrible writer she is, how she is worthless, lacks creativity, and has no business writing anything for anyone. After 10 minutes, she prints the page, tears it up, and picks up where she left off in her book.

Take comfort in the fact many artists and creators behave this way. The gnawing self-doubt and panic doesn’t really leave. If you believe in powers greater than your own (and I do), then you may also believe some are at work against you. These evil powers (whatever you have named them) take great interest in lobbing bombs at you whenever possible, and constructing vast roadblocks in your mind and even your physical life.

For instance, have you ever noticed that in the moment you’ve decided to take action for your work, the phone rings? Or you remember the clothes really need to be washed? Or you need to pay a bill? This is no coincidence, and likely, if you have put those chores off for this long, they can wait another 30 minutes.

When I’m feeling stuck, or without ideas, or I simply haven’t written in a while, here are 9 steps I follow to break out of the rut. You may find them helpful as well. Please share your own ideas and practices in the comments, or hit me up on twitter. Thanks!

1.  Turn my phone off

It only serves to distract me. I will inevitably receive a re-tweet which will drive me wild with happiness and keep me from writing.

2.  Set a time limit

I recommend 15-30 minutes.

3.  Write about anything

Mental state, what happened today, describe a happy day, painful day, a day in which “nothing” happened, the best/worst day of high school or college. Whatever, just write.

4.  Save draft

Schedule publication for the next morning. If you want to include an apology to your readers, go ahead. I know I appreciate a little honesty, and have never unsubscribed from a list because the writer told me they were having a bit of a creative crisis. Now, if I continue to have a crisis, and am providing no value, please let me know ASAP.

5.  Dive in to post ideas

I keep a running list of ideas on Evernote, ready to go when I need a post the next day. Since I’ve warmed up with a big pile of crap, I’m probably ready to create something decent.

6.  Set another timer

I recommend 30-60 minute this time

7.  Write on your topic

Write without filter, spell check, or worries. Simply get through it, as if you were told to run as far and fast as you can, and when you were totally spent there would be food and water at the end. Now is not the time for judgement, it’s time for writing.

8.  STOP

Give myself a pat on the back. I’ve won a small victory. Revisit the topic in the morning.

9.  Begin again

I hope you found this helpful, and if you are not a fan of my rambling post on feelings and writer’s block, my apologies. I would actually enjoy hearing from you, so I can know I shouldn’t get away with this self-indulgent writing. This post has been largely about me, which is a total no-no in relationship blogging, but I do believe this is a problem that afflicts most people. Again, please let me know if I’m wrong, and I will keep it to myself next time. Thanks for reading, I appreciate every one of you.

Are You Telling a Story in Your Work?

Living a powerful story in your workWe all live your stories each day, alternating between lead character, supporting, and even an extra. But when we go in to work each day, what are we living in to each day? If we can be courageous enough to be vulnerable and honest away from work, are we showing the same strength while we are there?

It’s tempting to put on masks when we are around different people, we are caught up in thinking we need to be a certain way. This can be the case no matter what role we have in the company, CEO’s can be just as prone to thinking they must appear to “have it all together” as a new saleperson.

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian counsels new Pastors to get all their skeletons out of the closet as soon as possible, because it helps cultivate a community of honest sharing and trust (story taken from Catalyst podcast interview).

3 Questions to Focus Your Story

  • Am I being honest in my work, and with my co-workers?
  • Does my work resonate with my true self?
  • Does my work point to a greater good?

The question of resonance is important, and can only be an answer you provide. Dr. Sam Glucksberg tells us that intrinsic motivation, is one of the biggest indicators of worker productivity. This resonating call of how the story of work plays in to the greater story of our lives, is essential. Since the majority of our best years are spent working, it is incredibly difficult to live a meaningful life while working in a place that doesn’t matter to you.

The rest of your life is too meaningful (both to your own happiness and that of others) to poion it through toxic work stories. Do work that resonates within your true self. You can also watch Dan Pink’s TED talk on Motivation, where he examines the effect of intrinsic motivation.

Which leads to the 3rd question, does your work point to a greater good? I believe there are two ways of looking at this.

1. You can put the responsiblity on the company, expecting them to provide a clear story and mission for the work employess are doing every day. Hopefully, they do so, and the vast majority of your work is spent in full knowledge of the impact you are making and the good you are creating.

If you are in charge of a company, church, or team, do those you’re responsible for have a clear mission and story they can live by? This is a crucial question in an economy of trust and engagement. Because if your employees don’t buy in, neither will your customers. But as a manager, it’s not entirely up to you, because…

2. Even if you work for a company that tells a powerful story, the responsibility ultimately lands on you to live your story each day. My friend Eric works at a fast food restaurant, which ranks pretty low on the scale of inspiring workplaces. However, Eric has chosen to tell a story in particular way, regardless of what those above him have failed to accomplish. Eric told me,

“Matt, every day I have the opportunity to make someone smile, or at least smile at them and let them know the day has promise. I also provide them with food, which helps them move through the day, hopefully a little bit happier”.

I think often we look to others in authority to provide us with context and meaning in our own life story. We forget to look inward, regardless of our work or circumstance, and choose the route of gratitude and greater good. Outside of everything that is swirling around us, at home and at work, we can choose to live a powerful story, and allow our actions and character to teach others to do the same (click to tweet that).

Question: Do you have any examples of living a powerful story in your work, or being caught up in a mission bigger than yourself? Please, leave your story in the comments. Thank you!

photo credit to kaeska on sxc.hu

How Many Is Enough?

“Matt, I really enjoy reading your blog, I look forward to your posts each time”

“I’m so glad you’re writing about this topic, I wish I had realized it when I was younger”

“Your writing inspires me to take a chance in my life”

In the pursuit of large subscriber counts, high traffic, and monetization, I can lose sight of the reasons I wanted to start writing in the first place.

I Want to Write

I Want to Help Others

I Believe I Can

Right now, I have about 70 subscribers to my site, which is fine number. I do hope to grow it, and reach more people with my writing, but I need to step back and consider the implications. There are 70 people who have given me their permission to send them an essay 1-2 times per week, and care enough to read it. This is awesome, and humbling.

Recently I was feeling down, that I put so much effort in to my writing, and only see the numbers tick up, one by one. I wanted more, to break 100 subscribers, 1000, 5000! A small army of readers to engage on important issues and build a community around. Each of the quotes above have been spoken to me in the last month. I also have seen LP on my cousin’s top sites, printed out by my grandparents, and picked up by larger blogs. It’s cool to watch.

1000 is the median number of true fans a person/business/brand needs to survive. With a thousand true fans, buying everything you put out, you can make a living. Your number might be higher or lower, based on your services and pricing models. But a thousand is a good place to start. Read Kevin Kelley’s groundbreaking post on 1000 True Fans.

The danger is that no number will ever be enough, and you’ll constantly hunger after more fans, more readers, and more traffic. However, this is not the answer. Writing for the sake of readers and eyeballs isn’t the way. Write the truth, what needs to be told, and attract the people who need what you’re writing (click to tweet that).

If you would have asked me last year if helping a small group of people is enough, I would have said yes. 70 people seemed far away then, and I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way. Whatever the number grows to, I need to keep being honest, keep shipping, and give-give-give.

Drip, drip, drip – it adds up

Thanks for reading this post, if you liked it, please share with your network or comment below. Have a great day!

[Check out my guest post on TentBlogger, John was very kind to use my mammoth study on productivity and how it works. Be warned, it's not easy]

photo via mzacha

If Only…

One of the slyest ways the resistance will sabotage human creativity, even happiness, is by inserting the thought “Well if only I had this”.

There are countless variations on this mindset, thinking:

“If only I had these friends”

“If only I dated that person”

“If only I had some venture capital”

“If only I had the new MacBook Pro”

“If only I could get a book deal”

“If only I lived in Silicon Valley”

“If only my restaurant was in a better section of town”

Then everything would fall in to place, and I would be happy, productive, rich, famous, in love, and all would be right with the world.

This is a Lie

There will never be a better time to start than right now, today. Once you go down the slippery slope of “If only”, you will find no end to it. Instead of applying yourself to the work you’re called to do, you will vainly chase that which does not matter, and ignore a world waiting to be impacted.

Consider these examples:

  • 37Signals has never taken VC money, and is based in Chicago, far from Silicon Valley.
  • 12 Bones is on the fringe of Asheville, open just 5 hours a day, and has a line down the block, every day.
  • Jeff Goins blogged his way to a book deal, by giving away his first books for free, gaining the trust of thousands.
  • Sweetwater Brewing began crafting beer 10 years before it became a national sensation, and thousands of miles from the “right place”.
  • Sam Ovens knew nothing about property management, before making millions on property management.

Once you begin, I believe you will find what is needed to keep going, and growth will happen where you didn’t expect it. Success does not come from making sure everything is perfect before you begin, but in making thousands of little adjustments and learning from the experience.

So take what you have, both internally and externally, and begin. The World is waiting.

photo credit to catalin82

Are “Great” Ideas Sabotaging Your Productivity?

Do You Ever Feel Like Tom?

Many of us feel like we have great ideas in our minds, and if we could just make them work, life would be good. Then we get another idea, then another, and another, and before we realize our predicament, we are drowning in a sea of half-finished ideas. I can identify with Tom, coming up with lots of ideas, and executing few (if any). Here’s a list of recent ideas…

  • Blogger/Writer
  • Public Speaker
  • Software Designer
  • Open a Coffee shop in a VW van
  • Open a Coffee shop anywhere
  • Open a Breakfast cafe
  • Learn How to BBQ like a pro
  • Outdoor Professional
  • Photographer
  • Filmmaker
  • Musician
  • Football Coach
  • Lacrosse Coach
  • Naturalist Poet
  • ER Nurse
  • Carpenter
  • Powerpoint Slide Designer
  • Craft Beer Master
  • Outdoor Education Leader
  • Small House Builder

I Could Keep Going!

I could see myself doing any of these jobs as a way to have fun, work with people, and make money. I didn’t even include what I’m doing now (summer camp director), but I love it as well. Now, our ideas are usually not as outlandish as “make a phone that smells good”, but we constantly are coming up with new ideas, enthralled by their intrigue and possibility. I talk with people all the time who are mentally running around saying “Oh! A new idea!” Then running off in pursuit of it, leaving a half-formed idea spread across the desk. Ideas from last week seem outdated and silly, or the new ideas just crowd in to the creative space of our mind, squeezing out old ones.

Here’s the rub, and why these ideas are so powerful in our minds

Because they’re good, and we know how to make them work

I honestly believe I could do anything on that list (musician is least likely), but to do it well and make a life out of it? Well, it would take a big chunk of my life. The danger of all our ideas, especially great ones, is they can restrict us from seeing just one through to completion!

This is not a sustainable way for us to create and do our best work. The solution lies in a limitation of ideas and practice, of quieting our busy mind to focus on what matters. Spend a week writing, taking notes, and listening to what really speaks to you. Take longer if you need the time. Then focus on just a couple of tasks, and dedicate a year to them, at minimum. For instance, I know that from the list above, writing and speaking is what is the best use of my time and energy. Everything else is on a lower level of importance, and only hinders the performance of my writing. Films and pictures can be a related part of that, but only when it supplements the writing by helping to tell a story.

After a year, reframe your focus and see what has happened. How far have you come? Do you still feel this is a way for you to pursue a passion, a way of life, and contribute to the community? If the answer is “YES!” then keep going, you have something worth dedicating a life to. Even if the answer is a tough “Yes”, the kind which has been a struggle, but deep down you know is still the right move, even better. You’ve hit a dip and come through, confident in your work. Maybe it’s time to pivot, to change, to do something else. Just be wary of that you’re not refreshing that old feeling of the shiny new idea taking hold. There’s a good chance you’re first instinct was the right one.

I hope this helps you realize that it’s ok to have ideas, especially great ones, and roll them around in your mind. The discipline comes in whittling away to what really matters, and pursuing that. Ideas will pop in to your head every day, and you can almost watch them as boats floating down the river, as you casually wave from the shore, giving special attention to the idea you’ve given your life to.

Even if it is contact lenses that display text messages.

Did you like this post? Click to Tweet!

video from the NBC show “Parks and Recreation”

Are You Willing to Fail?

When you start a project, think of the initial meet-and-greet like picking up a person from the airport. Your project is happy to see you, wants to get started, and excitement is high! Unfortunatley, your project’s luggage was mishandled, and won’t show up until later. Right now, know that it has a carry-on bag with it full of pain, failure, and embarrasment. If you can’t accept this, better to leave your project at baggage claim and wait for someone else to pick it up.

This project can be anything. It can be a friendship, marriage, physical goal, blog, or business. It can be a hundred other things. The vital aspect you have to keep in mind is that it could all fall apart. Your project can fail, you are not so special that people will flood your store, restaurant, or blog on launch day. Relationships will not survive if you do not invest in them, and be willing to share the parts of yourself that complete the wholeness of your being.

When you accept this, you can move forward. You need to make the choice that your project is worth the failure, because the rewards are so great. A blog can help people make sense of their lives, the choices they make, and the priorities they set. A marriage can break you down to your deepest, scariest self, but can also build you back up to wholeness. A single person can make a difference in small pocket of the world, or an entire country. When enough people begin making a difference in their communities, we’ve got a movement on our hands.

As I read inspiring stories of people who are doing what they love and making a difference in the world, I am struck by the fact they encountered significant failure. People who were fired, rejected, unread, and told their work wasn’t good enough. For many of us, this is a crippling fear. We don’t want to be told these things, better to stay in the corner and keep to ourselves. By the way, some of those dark corners can still be lavished with very pretty things, but they don’t serve you well.

I am reminded of the Teddy Roosevelt quote, “Man in the Arena”

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Your life is better served in the light you are called to shine on others. Do not allow the potential failure of your project to restrict you from taking it home and working on it. Your project may have some early happiness stashed in that carry-on. Eventually, the rest of its luggage will show up, bringing more recognition and success with it. But first, you need to be willing to accept the potential failure of your venture. Once you do that, you’re free to work. You will find more oppprtunities to learn and serve in our darkness and brokenness than if we spout happy tidings all the time. There is a balance, we live in a fractured world that is pleading for the fullness of your work.

Please don’t leave your life’s work sitting at baggage claim. Take it to your personal arena, and start creating. Amen.

Click to Tweet this Post

image by cobrasoft

How Deep Is Your Well?

Last week, I wrote about beginning your day as a producer. The ability to wake up in the morning and create something is invigorating. I say this because my day can really become bogged down by consumption, especially the mindless grazing of email, analytics, and social media.

But, not all consumption is bad, in fact we need to consume other information sources to become great. The key is the source and quality of your consumption. You’re likely not inspired when the first thing you do each day is check email. Sometimes I check email before I even get out of bed! This does not inspire me.

is your creative well running dry?

Think of Your Creativity as a Well

If all you ever do is draw water out, day after day, without refilling, you will run dry.  There needs to be a source of inspiration and new ideas which are daily replenished! If not, you will find your writing stale, and you may be re-gurgitating the same old ideas that have already been offered to people. We need to work towards a deep well, filled with constant sources of fresh inspiration and hope.

Quality of Consumption + Intentional Production = Great Work (click to tweet this)

How Do you Fill your Well?

The easiest way to figure out how to fill your well is to answer the question, How am I feeding my readers? and work backwards. For example:

  • Writer: Read books
  • Painter: Visit art museums
  • Athletic Trainer: Exercise your own body
  • Outdoor Gear Reviewer: Go backpacking
  • Musician: Listen to music (especially live)

If this seems to simple, it is! That’s the beauty of it! We tend to overcomplicate things, when the answer can be in front of our faces, jumping up and down for attention!

I know how I feel when my well is running dry. The muse is making a tremendous ruckus in my head, saying I need to step away from the keyboard and read something, go exercise, or be with human beings. I shove her away, insisting “I don’t have time for that, I need to write!” What I really need, is to get out of my own head and listen to the wisdom of others for a while.

Quick Note: Be sure the voice asking you to step away is the muse, and not the resistance, who wants to keep you from your work. Yes, it’s a pain to figure out which one is which, and you’ll have to decide every day for the rest of your life. The best trick is to see how far you’ve come in your work that day. If it’s 700 words, you’re probably ok. If it’s 70 words, probably not. 

The next question to ask yourself is,

How Am I Inspired?

Once you answer the question, go do it! Besides reading, I feel inspired when I’m outside. I could be running, hiking, kayaking, driving, or just sitting and looking at the beauty of the mountains. I often carry a small notebook (Field Notes work great) to jot down ideas as they come, and the well begins to fill up.

Here are a few of the books and sites that have been a fresh source of ideas and inspiration.

  • The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield (what a kick in the butt! highly recommended)
  • $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau (great storytelling combined with practical advice and actions)
  • The Gift: Poems by Hafiz (just sit back and know you are loved)
  • TentBlogger (my latest favorite blogger site, and in Atlanta too!)
  • Zen Habits (simply a classic)

A few other ways to fill the well

  • Attend a conference
  • Road trip!
  • Listen to a speaker you admire
  • Host a meetup, tweetup, or hangout

So, while we shouldn’t put off our creative work, it’s also important not to be so single-minded that we are not being inspired ourselves. As writers, artists, and creatives whose calling is to serve and inspire others, we must also be inspired.

Don’t Let Your Well Run Dry

Question: Did this post resonate with you? Have you ever become so caught up in your work that you weren’t being inspired yourself? How did you break free and fill your well? I would love to hear your thoughts!

You Are Enough – My Guest Post on TentBlogger

Exciting News!

I have a guest post being published today on TentBlogger! John Saddington has kindly approved my post, and you can read it here: You Are Enough – Do You Believe It?

TentBlogger has become one of my favorite resources for learning great strategies for content development, growing an audience, and monetizing your blog. I highly recommend it! John writes in a friendly, down-to-earth way, and has complied an impressive resource of FREE content to help you. Learn more about John here.

Here are a few articles I recommend:

If you found my blog from TentBlogger…

Welcome, I’m So Glad You’re Here!

The best thing to do is Start, but you can also check out the info below. Thanks for coming by!

Important Posts

You can also receive each post via Email or by RSS

Click here to learn more about me and my journey as a writer

Follow @mattragland on Twitter

Follow Matt Ragland on G+

Thanks again for reading, and let’s go after what really matters!

Begin Each Day as a Producer

How do you start your day? Normally, I wake up and check my email. I make coffee, and hope I woke up early enough to carve out a little quiet time. But I may also check my RSS feed, blog metrics, twitter/facebook messages, or read the sports. If I’ve slept too late, I rush out the door and hope for the best.

Creative Commons via Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

It’s not the Best

The most important article I’ve read this week comes from the Information Diet, titled 500 Words Before 8am. It really struck a nerve with me, since I am continuously trying to develop a morning practice. Friends, the question is,

Do You Begin your Day as a Producer or a Consumer?

Clay (post author) is mainly talking about his writing, which speaks to me and many people who read this site. But it doesn’t stop at creative pursuits. Instead of filling your first waking moments with other people’s email, news, scores, expectations, and desires, why don’t you spend 30 minutes each morning producing?

Ways You can Produce

  • Make coffee (hooray!)
  • Cook breakfast, prepare lunch
  • Exercise: stretch, walk, run, pushups, yoga
  • Plan your day
  • Personal journaling
  • Write 500 words (about anything)
  • Pray

What is this post driving at? A narcissistic desire to make the day all about us? Not so. I’ve arrived at a place in my life where I’m trusting my gut more. When I wake up and make a conscious desire to create something meaningful this world can use, I feel better. When I wake up and spend my freshest moments consuming and reacting to outside information and events, I feel a little off.

My old excuse was “I’m still waking up, give me 20 minutes to have coffee and read some blog posts, then I’ll be ready.” Once you begin creating from what’s inside, you’ll learn (as I have) that a production mindset wakes you up and gets the juices flowing. Lately, all I have done before sitting down to write is make coffee (still producing). While it’s brewing, I let my dog out, say a few prayers, and then get down to production, be what it may.

The crux of the decision comes down to choosing what is important. I’ve made excuses about writing for too long. I either had to make writing and blogging a priority, or shut up about it. There are several things that are still very important to me; family, friends, exercising, being outdoors. But I need to be ruthless about the time I am writing.

Tips for Early-Morning Focus

  • Write 1 goal down, and place it where you will see it
  • Turn off the internet
  • Go somewhere quiet
  • Pray, & take deep breaths (the resistance is strong)
  • Just start

Having a realistic expectation, something you know you can do, is the best way to start. Instead of 500 words, write 100. Do 10 pushups, make 1 sandwich, or plan half your day. You may look at such tiny goals and think “that’s too small”, but don’t underestimate the power of completion. After a few days of success, increase the goal. You have your whole life to complete goals, you don’t need to build Rome in a day. Disclaimer: Parts of this paragraph are credited to Leo @ Zen Habits, and his great little book The Power of Less (aff link). 

Not all consumption is bad, and you may feel differently (go ahead, it won’t hurt my feelings). For me, production works. I’m a 3 on the Enneagram (Performer/Achiever), so I thrive on a feeling of accomplishment. You may be totally different! Besides feeling I’ve already done something with my day, I know the only time I truly control is early in the morning. So I’ve made writing and reflection a priority during my first waking hour, with the hope that I am acting on the world, not the world is acting on me.

Question: Are you a producer or consumer? Which practice do you believe works best for you and your mindset the rest of the day? I would love to hear your thoughts!

How You Can Choose Between Good Things

The most difficult part about setting your priorities can be deciding what is really important to you. I’m not talking about making easy choices, i.e. “should I write this morning, or browse twitter?” Granted, I still may not even be able to make that choice some days, but I know the clear choice (for me) is to write.

My friends, the difficult part is to choose between the good parts of life. The actions, opportunities, and relationships which are healthy and serve our true selves. When you begin to choose how to prioritize those aspects, is when life gets really confusing. But press on! Making these tough choices means you are moving closer to doing work that matters.

Which Path Will You Choose?

What is Good?

While we could spend all day discussing the spiritual and moral implications of the question (I have a great story to illustrate it), here are several things I consider “good” in my life:

  • Spending time with family & friends
  • Running & Exercising
  • Cooking
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Travel
  • Work
  • Sleep
On any given day, I need to choose what’s most important to me, and get it done. Leo Babauta teaches to pick 2-3 MITs every day, and do those 1st, before anything else. Concentrate on these tasks and complete them before anything else. Doing this gets the monkey off your back, and frees you up to be more present with the many interactions that will come up each day.

What about the inevitable good but tough choices that come up? When we’re sitting down to work on our newest blog post, podcast, or course offering, and a friend calls and says “Want to go mountain biking?” Both are good things, right?

Calmly thank your friend, decline, and ask if he would like to go later, or another time. Take a deep breath, they’ll understand. Your friend is being a good friend, but right now he’s unknowingly working for the Resistance, trying to rip you away from your work. Make the choice, and do the work.

For me, I can be a people-pleaser. I thrive on the compliments and good graces of other people. On the Enneagram, I’m a 3 (Performer-Achiever). Many of the times I choose something which is still good, but not what’s needed; it is because I want to make other people happy, or not deal with their frustration.

How can we create the space to do meaningful work, and have time for other good things? Here are 3 rules to follow:

Create Boundaries

Give yourself time to do your work by scheduling it in to your day. I work on my site for 30-60 minutes each day, and I have found giving myself a healthy time frame to work in really helps. The days where I sit down and think, “Well, let’s see what happens” are not as productive as knowing I have 30 minutes to produce. You can also schedule in batches, for instance write 3-4 days a week, then spend 1-2 on maintenance, marketing, etc.

Communicate Your Schedule

Once you’ve created those healthy boundaries for your work, it’s time to communicate them. Create a shared calendar on Google, and have your main events listed. I don’t have mine down to minutiae, but people can see when I’m at work, writing, spending time with others. Family, co-workers, and friends can view and see I’m busy. This helps cut down on how often you’ll have to say “No, I need to write”. You’ll probably encounter some resistance early on, because it’s hard to grasp why a person would sacrifice sleep or parties to sit at a desk and pour everything out. But it’s ok, they’ll understand (or they’ll move on).

Be Consistent

Start small. Write for 30 minutes a day, 2-3 days a week, about anything. Establish a rhythm of work. Don’t pile so many expectations on yourself that you’ll burn out after a couple weeks. If after a couple of weeks you find yourself consistently leaving your desk with more to give, add a day. Create draft posts with outlines so you can remember what was percolating in your mind. Give yourself goals, say 500 words a day, or 2000 words per week. Try the SMART goal system. Have a deadline for your bigger projects, and break them down in to little daily tasks. Again, start small!

Friends, this is one of the most difficult types of Resistance we will encounter. There is nothing wrong with going to dinner with friends, exercising, and reading. They are all good things! What we have to be on the lookout for is when these good things consistently get in the way of our great work, which we have been called to do.

Question: How have you seen your creative work fall by the wayside for other good activities and actions? How have you combated these things and broken free to do your work?