By: Ethan Maurice
Our most important tasks are often the hardest to accomplish.
They're often undertakings that require focus and active thought. Or maybe wield a paralyzingly large impact on our lives. They're easy to avoid starting in favor of easier, more mindless pursuit and even harder to actually successfully finish.
For me, my focus intensive, important work is writing. I'll have a great idea that I get excited about, but actually producing an article about it is difficult. I have to fully grasp how I want to present it, outline the article, and then write the rough draft which I often proceed to heavily edit and rearrange. It's a difficult process and easy to put off when less important tasks arise.
I've been writing consistently for a bit over four months now. I've come to realize it's important to cultivate the right mindset to do this difficult and focus intensive work. When I'm inspired to work and in a state of mental clarity, what I end up producing often comes out faster and better.
Since I noticed this, I've been experimenting with how and when I do my most important work. Each day is not only an experiment in writing and thinking, but also an experiment in the conditions I set for myself to write and think.
Here are five simple ways I cultivate a creative frame of mind and tackle my toughest work:
1. Start first thing in the morning. It's surprisingly easy to focus in the morning. There's a certain untarnished clarity of mind possessed before catching up with the rest of the world. I find myself very objective and calm, able to assess the quality of previous work and contain the willingness and insight to take it in another direction if needed. I value this clarity so much that every morning, I dive into my most difficult or pressing task within fifteen minutes after waking up.
2. Exercise. I cannot overstate how important exercising has become for shifting my frame of mind over the past couple months. If I'm antsy or having trouble overcoming a problem, I go for a run. I yank my running shoes on and fly right out the front door. Running for just fifteen minutes can take me from frustrated and confused to impassioned with a desperate need to get home and put my thoughts down on paper. I'll often go straight to my desk panting and sweating while fiercely scribbling down an inspired idea. I actually thought of this article while running through the desert a few days ago and did exactly that.
3. Change physical location. While sitting down at my desk works great for the first few hours in the morning, I often have to go elsewhere to accomplish much afterword. There's something about changing your surroundings that's not only refreshing, but inspires newfound focus. I'm actually writing these very words at a Starbucks right now.
4. Do something completely different for a while. Sometimes when our most important work isn't going well, it's best to just step away for a while. To do something completely different and not even think about the sticking point or problem we're trying to solve. Many times your mind seems to unconsciously solve the problem, or a solution will just dawn on you while doing something completely unrelated. When you get stuck or off track, do something else.
5. Read The War of Art. If your work requires active or creative thinking, it's necessary that you read this book. It makes abundantly clear why you need to do your most important work and lays out simple, yet profound guidelines for doing it. It's been recommended by many writers and thought leaders I personally follow (Joe Rogan, Leo Babauta, Ryan Holiday, and Tim Ferriss to name a few). They don't just say it helped them, they're buying their friends and colleagues copies too.
Whether we start first thing in the morning, exercise, change location, or shift any other variables, the point is we are shifting not what we think, but how we think.
How we think is the vine that produces the fruit of what we think. By changing how we think (our mentality or even the parts of our brain we're using) we can change what we think (the ideas or solutions invented).
I'm in two completely different mindsets writing first thing in the morning vs. running through the desert in the afternoon. By changing our mindset while examining the same situation, we're viewing it from different perspectives.
When you get stuck on a tough project or have trouble actively thinking through an important task, remember, a shift in your body produces a shift in your mind.