Some days I’m on fire. I’ll spend 12 hours writing incessantly, with ideas flowing non-stop, and a great feeling of progress the entire day. I’ll fall asleep exhausted and deeply fulfilled with a big, fat grin on my face. I’ll hope that the next day will be the same.
Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn’t.
Last week, I promised to get this first article for Positively Positive done. Last week went and is gone, and unfortunately, inspiration wasn’t striking. At first, I started feeling down about my inability to keep my promise. Then, at 2:36 a.m. on a Monday, as I’m trying to fall asleep, I find myself reflecting on my friend telling me “DON’T STRESS!!!!” That’s when it clicked.
Nothing is wrong with me. I can’t be productive and motivated all the time. And I can’t artificially motivate myself to get things done. I have to get in touch with my current of productivity and let it happen naturally.
Of course, once I realized this, that’s when my brain started ticking again. Now, it’s 2:45 a.m. and I’m sitting in a pitch-black room, the only light beaming from my Macbook Air screen, furiously writing. Ahhh, it feels good to be back.
So where does productivity and creativity come from, and how can you tap into it? Here are six tips for getting in the zone:
1) Don’t stress.
If you’re feeling “off,” be patient with that feeling and let it run its course. Once you become aware of how you’re feeling, remind yourself that when the time is right, it will happen. There’s no sense in fighting it. Getting frustrated and putting pressure on yourself will only hinder your ability to create.
2) Stop trying.
Jason Fried of 37 Signals says that if you want to jump-start your creativity, keep your edge, or get more done in fewer hours, you should stop trying so hard. He says that motivation, productivity, and efficiency are not constants, and instead, they come in waves. They ebb and flow. The trick is to recognize, and roll with, a productivity surge when it appears. Even if it’s at 2:45 a.m. on a Monday.
3) Do less.
Do you start your day with a list of twenty to-dos? If so, you might want to try doing less. Most days, I aim to make one to two big things happen. This means that, by the end of the week, I’ve moved five to ten important things forward. It also means that I feel a sense of accomplishment after I finish those things. Then I give myself space to create and explore and make other things happen. It provides enough structure while allowing for creativity—and play, too. I also find that I get more done by aiming to do less.
4) Change your environment.
Often times, when I feel “off,” it’s because I’m in the wrong environment. If I’ve been staring at a screen for hours upon hours, I might need a walk, a change of scenery, or an intimate conversation with a close friend. When I’m in the wrong place, I’ll usually hear myself saying, “You need to get away from the computer,” or “You should go for a hike,” or “You should give Tony a call.” When I listen to and follow these inclinations, it always has a positive impact on my mood and state.
When I have an experimental mindset, it changes the way I do everything. It takes the emotional resistance out of the experience. I find that I’m more open to taking risks, I focus more on the process than the outcome, and the potential for failure feels like an adventure. If you’re feeling stuck, give yourself a day to experiment, play, and see what comes out of it—minus the pressure.
6) Assess motivations.
When I find myself struggling to do something for three or more days, I’ll start asking myself questions. I’ll ponder what isn’t working, what I hope to gain from doing that thing, and why I’m even doing it in the first place. These questions help me assess whether or not the activity at hand is aligned with my true motivations. If it’s not, I change course, eliminate it altogether, or try something new.
All in all, some days you’ll be on a roll, some days you won’t. That’s normal and human. The trick to being your most productive and creative self lies in accepting that you can’t be inspired all the time. And when you find yourself in those moments of intense focus and flow, run with it and enjoy it until curiosities exhaust.
Amber Rae is a passion catalyst, authority challenger, and motivational muse. In the last 365 days, Amber worked with Seth Godin to launch The Domino Project, helped Derek Sivers turn his book into a best-seller, created revolution.is which shares stories of remarkable people living unconventional lives, and launched a “Passion Experiment” program where she helps people give their dreams direction. She’s been seen in The New York Times, Inc., Forbes, BBC, and on ABC World News. For more about Amber you can visit her website or Twitter.