Happy People Make More Meaningful Work

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar:

You’re stressed out at work, because there’s a big project coming up. The deadline is looming. So you cancel your plans Friday night and work late. You go in to work on Saturday and Sunday, working over the weekend. And then come Monday you stay all through the week.

Why is it that when things get tough and work needs more attention, we so quickly deem everything else as less important? In order to do our best work as fast as possible, we cut out relationships, rest, exercise, etc. Yet these are the very things that give us energy, clarity, and keep us sane.

In her book, ‘Inner Excellence’, Carol Osborn (co-founder of Overachievers Anonymous) writes: “There has to be something more in in life than success born at the expense of your personal and spiritual needs and values.”

Anxiety and stress over time decrease our ability to perform.

* * *

We hear a lot about work life balance: that having meaningful relationships, eating healthy, exercising, getting rest and taking breaks from work, learning, having fun, etc.

This is what “Thriving in the Midst of Tension” is all about. It’s about having a support system in place, having health in our whole life, and finding joy in the journey.

If we tell ourselves that I’ll be happy once I can meet “ABC” goal, the problem is that the goalposts are always moving. You got a nice car, now you have to get a nicer car. You have 1,000 twitter followers, now you have to get 2,000. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades. Etc.

Or, our happiness is dependent upon the state of our inbox and to-do list. When there’s a stack of emails to go through, we’re low. When we have inbox zero, we’re high.

How many of us are putting off rest and happiness until we buy just one more thing or accomplish just one more goal?

People say find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. But I love to work. Find a job you love, and you get to work every day of your life.

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor makes the case that success doesn’t bring happiness. But, rather, happiness will lead to success. And not just that the happy person feels successful (which they do), but that the happy person also attains the levels of success for which others are clamoring toward. Meaning: The Happiness Advantage is that happiness gives you and your team a competitive edge.

Put another way, if you think that once you attained a certain level of success in your career or finances that then you’ll be happy, then it’s likely that neither will happen. But if you choose to be happy now, then you it’s likely that you’ll also be successful.

* * *

In our “choose yourself” economy, many people are looking to build an audience. And I think especially so within those of you who are listening to this show.

I’m a huge proponent of Kevin Kelly’s idea of 1,000 true fans — it was how I was able to make a living writing and publishing my websites.

But when you seek to build 1,000 true fans you’re also quite likely to get 10,000 haters along the way. Well, it just seems like 10,000. The vocal minority who think what you do is a waste of space, is noise in the system, is unoriginal, uninspired, or just plain bad.

The haters are going to hate. And if we base our mood on their feedback then it will rob us of joy and happiness in the journey of doing our work.

In short, doing our best creative work is frightful. It could fail. People could reject it — or worse, be apathetic about it.

And yet, the secret to doing our best creative work is to have fun. To delight in the journey. To work from a positive state rather than neutral or negative.

Back on the 5th episode of this show, I had my friend Patrick Rhone on as a guest. We were giving advice for people wanting to build an online audience for their writing, and one of the foundational principles we both agreed on was the immeasurable importance of having fun.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, publishing your creative work to the internet for all the world to see is often a very not-fun thing to do.

How do we have fun? How do we increase our baseline happiness levels? How do we use that to our advantage to create meaningful work?

Well, I’ve said before that isolation, ambiguity, fear, anxiety, shame, doubt, comparison, and disillusionment can all stifle our creativity and choke out any fun from our lives.

And then things like community, clear goals, trusting your gut, experience, rest, and diligence can boost our ability to do our best creative work.

Moreover, we need whole-life health. Or work/life balance. Things like rest and meditation, exercise, generosity, meaningful relationships, acts of kindness, meaningful experiences, and more. These give us perspective on life, raise our baseline mood of happiness, and ultimately they make it easier for us to dance with our fears and do our best creative work.

Staying Balanced When We’re Hyper-Focused on a Particular Project

Raise your hand if you can relate to this statement:

“I can easily get so caught up a project that it becomes the only thing I think about all the time.”

Examples:

  • You’ve started a new personal project, and when you’re at your work or when you’re with your family, all you can think about is when you’re going to get back to working on your project.

  • You’re buying a house, and it’s all consuming.

  • You’ve just met someone special and he or she is all you can think about. (Not that a person is a project.)

  • You usually “bring work home with you”.

* * *

I know that for me, my tendency is to do a project in sprints. I’ve usually got one or two major work projects going on at a time. Each one takes between 1-3 months to complete.

George Leonard, in his book Mastery, might call me a dabbler.

The Dabbler approaches each new sport, career, opportunity, or relationship with enormous enthusiasm. He or she loves the rituals involved in getting started, the spiffy equipment, the lingo, the shine of newness.

Or an obsessive:

The Obsessive is a bottom-line type of person, not one to settle for second best. He or she knows results are what count, and it doesn’t matter how you get them, just so you get them fast. In fact, he wants to get the stroke just right during the very first lesson. He stays after class talking to the instructor. He asks what books and tapes he can buy to help him make progress faster.

There is also the hacker, who, after sort of getting the hang of a thing, is willing to stay on the plateau indefinitely. Meaning, he or she doesn’t bother going to conferences to learn more; in tennis she is the player who develops a solid forehand and figures she can make do with a ragged backhand; etc.

While I know that I certainly have little bits of all of these traits, I feel like I’ve taken my “dabbler” and “obsessive” characteristics and put them to good use on the overall-path of what Leonard calls “mastery”.

Meaning, my 1-3 month project sprints fit in line with my big-picture goals for my life (in business, relationships, and personal).

I’ve always been like this. And I think it’s one of my greatest strengths. Being able to have a laser-sharp focus on just one or two things means I can quickly build something that is high-quality, interesting, fun, has a lasting value, and I can actually complete the project through to the end.

But at the same time, this has its disadvantages: namely, that the tendencies of a dabbler and/or an obsessive — with that laser-sharp focus on just one or two things — means that I am oftentimes thinking mostly about the top idea in my mind.

* * *

In last week’s episode of the Weekly Briefly, I talked about rest and workaholism. That healthy work can keep our mind invigorated — especially when it involves learning and expanding our skill set.

But workaholism is also an addiction.

In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey writes about how our roles will sometimes become “imbalanced” — meaning, there is a particular project or area of responsibility that we focus on at the expense of others.

And that, sometimes, this imbalance is healthy. He writes:

There are times when imbalance is balance, when a short-term focus contributes to our overall mission in life. […]

However, he also says that:

it’s easy to get caught up in imbalance to the point that it no longer reflects mission or principles. Rather than being mission-driven, we become urgency driven.

In short, it’s okay to be ramped up about a particular role or area of responsibility, but it should not be our perpetual way of life.

For me, as a husband and a father, one of my biggest challenges is leaving work at work when I’m spending time with my family. My wife is extremely generous and gracious, and she is always interested in talking about the projects I’m working on. But what sort of husband would I be if I let the work-centric top ideas in my head be the center of my marriage?

It’s important to let those ideas be at rest when I’m somewhere other than work. As Dr. Barbara Killinger writes, wisdom comes from balance.

* * *

And so I want to present a few ideas and suggestions for how to maintain that “balance”. How to keep ourselves from becoming imbalanced and obsessive about one particular thing to the detriment of many others.

  1. Consider if you have an addiction to urgency and/or to your inboxes. If you are frequently checking in on email, twitter, Facebook, and other such services then you’re not actually putting those things to rest. You’re not letting go. Mentally, you’re keeping a foot in both camps and you can’t be two places at one time.

    So let the inbox addiction go. Let the urgency addiction go. Be in one place at a time, and trust that there is “wisdom in the balance”. Trust that if you let yourself take a break from working on that project, when you do come back to it (and you will), if you’ve truly rested from it, then you’ll have more to contribute when you next come back.

  2. Turn off those outside notifications that can interrupt you when they have no right to. Don’t let your phone buzz you with an email from your boss at 8pm at night.

  3. Understand that there is no “division” or “separation” between our personal life, our work life, our relationships, etc. All of who we are is all of who we are. This is good news because it means healthy relationships contribute to meaningful work, and a healthy body contributes to a happy heart. If we’re freaking out about a work project and are anxious that we’re not making meaningful work — trust that there is the “side door” approach: keep the other areas of your life healthy and balanced and it will “raise the water level” so to speak, on the project you’re working on.

    This is easier said than done at times. It takes experiential knowledge to realize its truth. So maybe keep a journal and log your progress and feelings, reminding yourself about that time you were stuck on a problem at work, took a break to hit the gym, came back to work and the solution suddenly seemed so clear. That’s no a coincidence, that’s how things work.

  4. Speaking of journaling — this can be invaluable tool to helping your mind “put work to rest”. Record your daily progress, acknowledge your victories, etc. De-brief yourself about the project, and do a brain dump of all the things your excited about, anxious about, still working on, etc.

  5. Give yourself a buffer to transition. For me, I work at home, and sometimes I have about 10 seconds to transition between work and done. That’s not enough time. So I try to quit early so I can let my mind shift gears before I go do something else. This is also when I’ll journal about my progress for the day.

  6. Plan — if you’ve got a plan of attack for how and when you’re going to work on your project, then that can help alleviate some of that stress. You know when there will next be a time to tackle it, and so you don’t have to stress out about “why am I not working on it right now?”

  7. Consider focusing on the meaningful outcomes at a weekly scale rather than a daily one. This 7-day timeline can help free you up from the urgency of feeling that you need to get all the meaningful work done “right now”, but also a week is short enough that you can keep a brisk pace of meaningful progress.

How to Recharge

I believe the reason people dislike Mondays is because they wasted the 48 hours in their weekend — they didn’t get any true rest, and thus never recharged.

They are more worn out on Monday morning than they were on Friday evening.

Benjamin Franklin

When men are employed, they are best contented; for on the days they worked they were good-natured and cheerful, and, with the consciousness of having done a good days work, they spent the evening jollily; but on our idle days they were mutinous and quarrelsome.

Idleness does not equal rest. It does not recharge our mind, body, or emotions.

Let’s define “rest” as time taken to relax, refresh, and/or recover strength.

If your energy, attitude, or motivation are suffering. Then, ideally, after you’ve rested — after you’ve taken time to recover your strength — then you should see an improvement in energy, attitude, or motivation.

The average American watches 5 or more hours of television every day. Some reports say as much as 7 – 8 hours. And, we spend more than 2 hours per day on social media — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Television and social media, in moderation, are fine. But we are a culture of excess.

Here’s my informed observation about why and how we rest wrongly:

  1. We spend the day at work, doing knowledge work. We’re juggling emails, meetings, interruptions, checking our social networks on the side, and mostly spending all day long putting out fires and reacting to the urgent issues that arise.
  2. This makes us mentally exhausted
  3. We’re not very physically active (we’re sitting at a desk all day) and this leaves us physically tired
  4. Thus at the end of our day, we’re un-motivated. We lack physical and mental energy. So we default to watching television as something to do because we just don’t have any energy.

I’m not trying to say that our jobs are horrible and that watching TV is horrible. But I think many of us are probably closer to the side of unhealthy work habits and excess time spent on TV and glowing screens.

Now, there’s no way I can unpack this whole issue in one podcast. There is SO MUCH research and information about how to properly rest, relax, and exercise. Not to mention all the studies about the good and/or bad effects of TV and glowing screens in general.

My aim today isn’t to prove a point because my hunch is that most of you already agree: you’d like to have more energy, a better attitude, and increase in motivation. I mean, who doesn’t want that, right?

Today, I simply want to challenge how we’re spending our time and to get us to ask ourselves if we can do better.

  • Do you often feel completely drained at the end of the work day?

  • Do you rarely have motivation to work on anything that’s not an urgent burning fire crisis.

  • Do you usually spend your evenings watching TV and/or scrolling through timelines on your phone?

If yes, then I think something you should consider is if you can learn to rest in a healthier manner? Can the cycle of urgency addiction and vegging out be broken?


Our mind, our body, and our emotions all need to rest.

There is a healthy way to rest and an unhealthy way.

What can we do that will re-charge our emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical energy?

In his book, Mastery, George Leonard has a chapter on getting energy for the journey of mastery.

He says humans wear out from lack of use. Physical exercise gives us more energy. Decisiveness and intent to act often gives us mental energy.

He recommends several ways to help keep up our energy levels:

  • Maintain physical fitness
  • Acknowledge the negative and accentuate the positive — meaning, be a positive thinker and be kind to others, but don’t pretend that negative things don’t exist.
  • Tell the truth
  • Set your priorities: be decisive about what you’re going to do; clarity creates energy; accept your limits to find liberation.
  • Make commitments and then take action. Don’t procrastinate a decision, be bold and follow through.

I mean, these are just meat and potatoes lifestyle practices. And they’re pretty much the opposite of the whole “check email and sit in meetings all day, then come home and watch 5 hours of TV” lifestyle.

When we rest in a healthy manner, it recharges us. When we rest in an unhealthy manner, it leaves us feeling lethargic.

It might sound totally bonkers and the most monumental, difficult task ever, but what if after a long day at work you came home and chose to rest in a manner other than by watching TV?

So often, when we’re on the edge, we think that we need a big break. A vacation. We can’t wait for the weekend. We’re holding on each day, just getting by, waiting for our chance to finally unwind again.

But what’s a small little wrench we can throw into our routine that will snap us out of that draining lifestyle?

Cut out sugar. Read a book for 30 minutes before you allow yourself to watch television. Start taking a 15 minute walk during your lunch break. On date night, don’t watch a movie but pour a glass of wine and talk about life. Write in your Day One journal about what you did today instead of checking Twitter. Start coming up with 10 ideas every day.


As an aside, I want to talk about the myth of working on the weekends.

I wrote and researched a lot of my book, Delight is in the Details, when I was on vacation in Breckenridge, Colorado.

When my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Hawaii in 2011, I spent hours every day writing.

What’s great about this type of work is that it’s true, important work. It’s not urgent. It’s not busy work. It’s important. My mind thrives on this type of “work”.

The same way many people still go on hikes and runs and to the gym when they are on vacation, why not also let our minds work?

There is a deeper issue that this points to, and it’s the issue of urgent versus important. The work we do that invigorates us, that moves us forward in our life goals — that IMPORTANT work — shouldn’t be reserved for evenings and weekends and vacations.

But breaking a lifestyle and environment that thrives on urgency addiction is a topic for another day.

So in closing, I’ll leave you with this.

If you’re feeling perpetually tired, perpetually lacking motivation, perhaps the issue isn’t that you need more rest or more time off, but that the way you’re currently resting is not true rest.

Challenge yourself to just try something different. Like I said earlier:

  • Read a book for 30 minutes before you allow yourself to watch television.
  • Sit in silence with your phone in another room for 10 minutes before watching TV
  • Take a 10 or 15 minute walk during your lunch break.
  • On your date night, don’t watch a movie but pour a glass of wine and talk about life.
  • Write in your Day One journal about what you did today instead of checking Twitter.
  • Start coming up with 10 ideas every day.

Thriving in the midst of tension

On today’s episode: thriving in the midst of the tensions between our time, ideas, and focus.

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Show Notes

I’ve read a lot about productivity.

Methodologies, best-practices, secrets, habits, etc.

And honestly, I love it. I eat this stuff up. I want to learn and grow, and I can seriously geek out over these subjects.

But at the same time, I want to throw it all out the window. Not because these teachings are wrong or bad, but because there is a bigger picture. There is a deeper foundation.

Focus in and of itself is not the end goal. The goal should be to provide value back to the world. To do work that matters. To create something meaningful. But there are things which can help us to do this, but none so much as our own internal commitment to do work that matters.

* * *

So, the two biggest takeaways I’m hoping my book will communicate are this:

  1. What it means to have honesty and clarity with a bias toward action.
  2. How to thrive in the midst of tension.

When I say “the power of a focused life” I’m not talking about minimalism, GTD, or life hacks.

I’m talking about a commitment to intentional living. But we cannot live with intention if we don’t know where the heck we’re headed, what the heck we want, or how the heck to get there.

I’m all for minimalism, spending less, owning less, having a trusted system for managing tasks and projects, doing less busy work, and routinizing the trivial parts of our life.

But The Power of a Focused Life isn’t about methodology. It isn’t a recipe for de-stressing your life. It isn’t a map to doing yoga on the beach. It’s about thriving even though our lives are crazy and messy and we’re tired and why are my kids throwing baskets full of train tracks down the stairs when I’m trying to record a podcast?

It’s not about getting rid of every distraction and relieving every stress so we can do our best creative work. It’s about doing our best creative in spite of our propensity to distraction and even though we’re scared.

* * *

I have asked a lot of people what their greatest challenge is when it comes to focus. And I’ve gotten so many amazing, honest, and challenging answers ranging from distractions to ADHD to depression to fear to incessant interruptions to a total lack of clarity, and more.

You know what my biggest challenge is when it comes to focus?

Life.

Maybe that’s a cheating answer, but it’s true.

Passion. Boredom. Frustration. Anxiety. Excitement. Unexpected emergencies. A bad night’s sleep. Not enough coffee.

This is life, right?

I know we can calm our anxiety and relieve our stress. And we can channel our passion and excitement. But the tension — the messiness — that is just the raw inherent nature of life never goes away.

ESPECIALLY if we are trying to do something meaningful.

True productivity is not about solving the tension that exists between our time, our ideas, our emotions, our fears, and our focus. True productivity has to be be about thriving in the midst of those tensions.

* * *

In my past job I would regularly work 60-70 hours a week, and there were many weeks when I’d work 80 hours. I did this for 3 years. Though the hours I worked were neither healthy nor sustainable, I most certainly loved the job. I had an amazing team and I loved our community and the work we were doing was meaningful and I was learning so much.

But when my wife and I got pregnant, my whole perspective on life changed. I saw things differently. Choices which once seemed ridiculous now seemed necessary. I knew I had to quit my job and start my own business.

There were a lot of reasons I quit. And of course, one of the obvious ones being that there was no way I could be a present father in the way I wanted to be while working 70+ hours each week.

If you’re working 70 or more hours in a week, something is broken. Either the system is broken, the leadership is broken, your priorities are broken, or your boundaries are broken. Or, most likely, it’s a little bit of everything.

I didn’t mind the long hours because I loved what I was doing. But I knew it wasn’t good for me.

But even after I quit that job and began working from home for myself, I still had (and have!) the tendency to work long hours. I’ve been working for myself since 2011, and it still takes diligence for me to keep my working hours at 40 per week. I could easily work from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I pass out from exhaustion at night. Then wake up, wash, rinse, and repeat every day of the week.

Hi. My name is Shawn, and I’m a workaholic.

Just as an alcoholic is still an alcoholic even after he’s been sober for 20 years, so too can a workaholic be an addict even if he has the self-control to keep his work week to 40 hours.

What are workaholics running from?

Or, to make it personal: what am I afraid of?

I’m not trying to build a business so I can retire on an island and drink fancy drinks. My aim in business is to build a foundation where I can do the most meaningful work of my life.

So I know that in part, my propensity to work long hours is because I love the work I’m doing. I have many active projects right now and I’m excited about all of them. It’s hard to take a break from something when all the pieces are fitting into place and you’re excited about it and feeling motivated to work on it.

But I also know that my propensity to work long hours is rooted in fear. Over the years, there have been many times when I worked a 10- or 12-hour day despite my complete lack of excitement or motivation about a project.

  • I’m afraid that my small online business will all fall apart if I step away for too long.

  • I fear that my time spent resting or reading or playing with my sons is is keeping me from doing something else that I should be doing.

  • Heck, I even fear that an important email is waiting for me in my inbox.

Fortunately, over the years, I’ve learned enough to know not to give in to these fears. I don’t let my fears and doubts make the decisions. But that doesn’t mean they go away.

There are days when I’ll backslide into workaholism because I’m trying to cope with the fear and to relieve the tension. The workaholic needs to take care of all this busywork so he can “finally” have the space he needs to create something meaningful.

But there is no such thing as “finally”. We never arrive at “finally”.

Do you want to know the secret to stress-free living? Well, maybe it’s not a secret, but I don’t ever hear anyone talking about it. And, I’m sure there are more secrets, too. But this is the one that matters to me right now.

The secret is this: settle the fact that if you want to do anything meaningful there is going to be resistance.

Resistance doesn’t mean you’re bad at keeping an organized task list. Resistance means you’re plowing new ground — you’re doing work that matters.

If you want the resistance to go away, then quit providing value to those around you.

But who wants to do that?

Instead of trying to remove the tension and the resistance, learn to thrive in the midst of it.

If you show me an artist who is consistently putting out meaningful work, then I’ll show you someone who is courageous. She may not be a productivity master or a minimalist guru — her desk is probably a total mess (so is mine). The reason she is consistently putting out meaningful work is because she’s willing to show up every day, in spite of her fears and the tensions of her messy human life. She is making the time and the sacrifices necessary to show up.

* * *

Guess what? I’m not a productivity master nor am I a minimalist guru.

And that’s why I’m writing this book about living a focused life.

Precisely because I don’t have all the tensions solved.

And because I don’t, I believe that makes me especially qualified.

For example: My work day schedule can be messy. My garage is cluttered because I’ve been ignoring it all winter long. I was 30 years old before I figured out how to budget my money. My Jeep needs an oil change and a car wash.

Did you know that I am super bad at email? I haven’t had a zero inbox since since the ‘90s. I drop things through the cracks all the time. But that’s okay — inbox zero isn’t required for me to pursue my best creative work.

Guess what else?

  • I’m bad at getting up when my alarm goes off.

  • I’m bad at scrubbing my to-do list.

  • There are several projects around the house that I’ve been putting off.

  • When I’m excited about a project I’m working on, I’ll just let everything else fall through the cracks. I get so single minded it’s all I can think about and I’ll ignore so many other important things.

  • I check Twitter and email and other stats more often than I want to.

  • If there’s a wrench in my day — like running out of coffee — I feel like the whole day is wasted and I can’t get back into a groove.

Yet despite all of these things — despite my messy life and my general propensity to be distracted — I’ve managed to make time to write every day. And guess what else? I just got an email from a long-time reader who thinks the writing I’ve been doing lately is the best work I’ve done yet.

You don’t have to solve the tensions of life before you can create something of value.

Your life probably isn’t half as messy as mine. Or maybe it’s twice as messy. But messiness isn’t the point.

The tagline of my book is this: “Living without regret in the age of distraction.”

It’s not “living undistracted in the age of distraction.”

Nor is it “Top ten weird productivity life hacks that will also make you a more attractive person.”

When I say living without regret I mean not quitting. I mean thriving in the midst of the tension.

Because at the end of the day, your best creative work doesn’t come from the proper environment, it comes from your commitment to show up every day.

The Integrity Snowball

There is a good, common practice when it comes to debt elimination called The Debt Snowball. The goal of The Debt Snowball is to pay off all your credit card and consumer debt as quickly as possible. In some cases this could take several months if not several years, and so it can be easy to lose momentum along the process.

Many people think they should try to pay off the credit cards which have the highest interest rate first. But there is a better way.

To do The Debt Snowball, you put your credit cards in order of balance: with the card holding the smallest balance first and the one with the highest balance last. Then, while still paying the monthly minimum payment on each card, take all extra money you can and pay off that first card (the one with the smallest balance) as fast as possible.

Congratulations! You’ve now eliminated one of the cards you owe money on. Feels great, doesn’t it?

Now, take the money you were using to pay off that card and roll it over to the next card until that one is paid off.

As you can see, the momentum builds as you pay off each card. You feel good about the small victories, and you feel less stress as you have less cards you owe money on.

This method of The Debt Snowball is a great picture for how we can rebuild our personal integrity in terms of being able to follow through with our commitments.

Just like many people think the best way to pay off their credit cards is to start with the ones that have the highest interest rate, so too do we think that if we are going to make a change in our life it should be a big change in a substantial area of life.

We want to eat healthier, begin exercising daily, create a comprehensive financial budget for our household, write a novel, start a business, etc. These are all wonderful goals. But for many people, these goals will never be realized. Not just because they’re prone to distraction and procrastination, but because they have a history of not being able to see their commitments through to the end.

And so, in the same way that the Debt Snowball has you starting with the credit card with the lowest balance, why not regain your personal integrity and develop a habit of commitment by starting small and simple. In the quoted passage above, Peter Daniels suggests placing your shoes in exactly the same spot each night without fail. Do that for a month as a simple way to prove to yourself that you can make and keep a commitment.

Th other problem is that we despise the days of small beginnings.

We think that putting our shoes away in the same spot every night is dumb. And so we don’t do it.

We also despise the marathon. We want to sprint for a week and accomplish all our goals.

It can be frustrating to “start small” with our goals. But making small commitments and keeping them is how we build the momentum we need to be people who keep our commitments. It’s a way to rebuild our personal integrity from something that is small to something that can become an unstoppable force.

Why Procrastination Robs Us From Doing Our Best Creative Work

On today’s show: creativity, fear, and procrastination.

I think we can all agree that fear is the biggest enemy to creativity. We’re born creative, but we learn to be afraid. After we’ve been hurt, wounded, scolded, rejected — we know learn what pain feels like and we become afraid. We don’t want to do something that could cause the pain again.

And we know that courage isn’t the absence of fear — it’s the ability to carry on even though we’re afraid. And the more we carry on in the midst of fear, the more courage we build up. Which is why, if fear is hindering us from creativity, the best way to do our best creative work is to show up every day. To build up the courage to be creative and to do meaningful work.

And if it’s important that we show up every day, it means procrastination is at direct odds with doing our best creative work.

  • Procrastination robs us from gaining momentum in our projects.
  • It lies to us, saying that we should work only when inspiration strikes.
  • It has no intention of helping us hone our skills.
  • It’s keeps us from doing our best creative work.
  • It causes us to project a reputation of inconsistency, thus hindering our ability to build an audience.

If fear is what keeps us from doing work that matters, procrastination is what keeps us from reaching our potential.

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The Inbox Conundrum

A few days ago I announced a new email newsletter I’ll be sending out every week. On this week’s show (which, my apologies that it’s a few days late) I answer the question of why I’m doing an email newsletter when I already have a blog to publish to.

If you’re interested in joining the newsletter, you can sign up at shawnblanc.net/newsletter/.

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Build, Maintain, Rest

If you ever were to take a week or a month and keep track of how you truly spend your time every day, you might cry a little bit on the inside.

Many times the most important things we should be doing are ones which also feel mundane and tedious in the moment. And so we often distract ourselves from important work to do instead whatever seems more interesting or urgent in the moment.

There is more than one way to help us keep on track with doing our most important work day in and day out. And it goes beyond just white-knuckle focus and ripping our internet cable out of the wall.

It can be helpful to know what our high-level goals/values are for each day. And then we have a plumb line to see if the tasks we are doing fit into the big picture.

For example: many people have a goal of writing every day. Which is great. But what’s the high-level value that writing every day fits into? Is it the value of making progress on their book? Is it the value of improving their writing skills? Is it the value of getting better as a communicator?

For me, I have three work values for how I spend my time. When I am “at work” I want to either be building, maintaining, or resting.

  • Building is doing work with the future in mind. This includes coming up with new ideas (many of which we’ll never even act on, but that’s okay), clarifying plans for a current project, making tangible progress on projects that haven’t yet shipped, learning something new, etc.

  • Maintaining is doing the work with today in mind. Such as checking my email, updating WordPress, writing show notes, etc. This is the day-to-day work that is vital to be done, but in and of itself usually isn’t a significant contributor to the growth of my business and my creativity.

  • Resting is simply taking a break from the work. Albert Einstein said: “Although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.”

All three of these are important, and each one goes in and out of its season of being the most important. For example, in the fall of 2014 I spent a lot of my time focusing on the building of the new Tools & Toys. Then, once the new website launched, all my time went to maintaining the site. Now that it has settled in, I’m once again back to focusing mostly on building our next project.

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Your Best Creative Work, Part II

Last week’s show was about technology. But, more specifically, how technology helps us to do our best creative work.

Today’s show is about another aspect of doing our best creative work: our inner work life.

When we have a healthy inner work life then we are poised to be at are our best in terms productivity and creativity. And so, how do we stay happy and motivated so we can be productive and creative? That’s what today’s show is all about.

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Episode Links

Your Best Creative Work, Part I

Technology can hinder us from doing our best creative work. We get addicted to checking our email, our Facebook feed, our Instagram likes, our Twitter @replies and we never get to that valuable time we set aside for creating.

And then, once we finally do sit down to begin creating (if we ever do sit down), in come the push notifications and the distractions. Text messages, Facebook messages, friend requests, piles of paper on our desk, open browser tabs and windows, and more.

But technology is not the enemy. Social networks, push notifications, team communication tools, email, websites, computers, modern software — all of these are amazing tools. Just as much as they can be distractions, so too can they empower us to do our best creative work, build an audience, and make a living.

Update: You can find part II right here.

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How we tripled the traffic and income to Tools & Toys

It’s been 90 days since the re-design of Tools & Toys went live, and compared to the same quarter last year we saw a 3x growth in pageviews, unique visitors, and site revenue.

And so, on today’s show I wanted to share more about why we decided to redesign the site, what our goals were, and what has contributed to the site’s growth (beyond just a redesign).

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The “Best”

The pursuit of “the best”.

Who doesn’t love to find the best tools, the best coffee, the best food, the best experiences, etc? I know I do. But I realize that this can, at times, be an unhealthy pursuit. Too much focus on only ever doing and experiencing “the best” of something can lead to disappointment and complaining when we don’t have “the best”.

Which is why being content — and making each unique experience “the best” — is a choice.

See also: Episode 24: “Investing in Quality”

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A podcast by Shawn Blanc