What are you going to do with your life today

It’s a good question to ask any day, but here in the new year it’s exceptionally apt, particularly after the year that ended.

What are you going to do with your life today? Work towards something important to you? Rest and recover? While away the hours at something meaningless.

It’s a question you get to ask yourself every morning, and one only you get to answer.

Cluttered thinking

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” – Lawrence J Peter

I’ve been fighting a battle against stuff for the better part of four years. It’s almost an endless fight. But this quote begs a question, one the Einstein thought was pertinent: What if clutter creates ideas?

True, time and space to think are very important for ideation. But without inputs, you’ve only got so much within you to pull from.

Resting on your laurels

When someone achieves something of value, it’s easy to accept that as the pinnacle of success. Why apply any creative output when the potential downfall outweighs the possibilities. If you’re already deemed a creative achiever, there’s no reason to opt to prove them wrong.

Well, so the thinking might go. But resting on one’s laurels isn’t a value proposition. It’s a “decline into laziness and a lack of application.”

Continuous output, attempting new things, pushing the envelope. Not resting. These are laurels we should strive to achieve. Not those placed upon us for past accomplishments.

Distractions are the worst

It’s so easy to lose focus. How does one remain consistently on the day’s work? The important? The projects that provide the most value?

First, routine. I can’t seem to say this enough. The more ingrained a routine is, the more you’ll be able to stick with it. Establish working times for those important projects, and that’s what you’ll work on.

Next, schedule free time. If all your day is one thing after another, you’ll burn out. Fast. I’ve had burn-outs and, when not cared for, they can evolve into full-fledged nervous breakdowns. Given how stressful the world can be anyway, not considering the current crises, it’s best to give yourself free time. Time alone, preferably in quiet contemplation. To sit, to think, and to come to realizations.

Third, grow your mind. It needs inputs. Add them. Read an hour a day. Change the tv show binge to a documentary once a week. Or, watch a film that makes you think. Don’t just mindlessly vedge in free time. Be an active participant, so that when it’s time to work, you have a full well to pull from.

And lastly, maybe most importantly, sit down and do the work. We are often our most persistent blockage when it comes to doing the important stuff. I know how easy it is to get distracted. And I have to remind myself every day – do the work.

Refilling the well

Inspiration isn’t something that can be emptied. Sure, we can feel blocked at times. But in reality, it’s just our own self getting in our way.

There’s no real trick to finding inspiration. One study suggests that focusing on a non-mentally demanding task can free up the subconscious to do its work. It’s why showers often bring good ideas, and thinking of a question before going to sleep can net you an answer upon waking.

Another good practice is to experience the ideas of others. I’m torn by what Seneca says about reading – “Be careful, however, that there is no element of discursiveness and desultoriness about this reading you refer to, this reading of many different authors and books of every description. You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind. To be everywhere is to be nowhere. People who spend their whole life traveling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships. The same must needs be the case with people who never set about acquiring an intimate acquaintanceship with any one great writer, but skip from one to another, paying flying vists to them all.” (italics for my emphasis)

I do see the value of spending time reading one author’s work and digesting it, not just glancing over it. This rumination could be akin to what Cal Newport calls deep work.

However, it’s also good to gain perspectives from many sources, especially when looking to pull from your own source of creativity. Gaining a multitude of ideas is how the well is filled.

That brand of yours

Building a brand is easy, assuming you have one unified interest. But, what if you’re someone who likes to dabble in many fields, to try new things?

The tech mogul who wants to improve healthcare. The reknowned actress campaigning for social justice. Or the one holding down a job while doing anything creative on the side.

The most important thing is just to stick with it.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Gauging success

The metrics for success can sometimes leave us bogged down, rather than letting us focus on the important points.

I know one thing I often consider is that success is gained in the completion of a project. The important thing for me, then, is to make sure that I’m following through on actionable items and seeing the end result.

Others measure success differently, so it’s important to be honest with yourself when determining how you want to view the success or failure of something you’re working on.

The 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.”
Theodore Roosevelt

Failure is an option

In creative endeavors, mistakes are made – and usually accepted. In some cases, such as Google, who says, “reward failure”, mistakes are celebrated. Yet often, when it comes to mistakes, we shame them. 

Failure is not a shameful experience. It is exceedingly important to fail when trying to create anything worthwhile. There is room for failure. It’s okay to screw up in pursuit of something important. 

More on distractions

It isn’t enough to not take on distractions. There needs to be a systemic method for canceling out the desire to be distracted. 

Because we have programmed ourselves to feel pleasure at distraction. It isn’t necessarily our fault. It’s a side effect of the technological age. Similar to the marketer/shopping reward scenario that made consumerism such a pleasurable sensation. We are rewarded by checking social media, or email, or taking momentary breaks in our day.

So systems that we put in place to limit distractions get us closer to performing at our highest levels.