I’ve been publishing a daily blog for over five years. I’m also a productivity geek and I coach creative professionals to help them produce their work consistently.
Here’s what I can tell you, with 100% certainty:
Anyone who tells you they’ve found the method, the system, the singular solution is lying.
That’s it, plain and simple.
There’s not just one way.
What Works For Others May Not Work For You
What works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. Believing that it will opens the door to shame.
I spent years in frustration as I tried to follow productivity advice offered by men and/or neurotypical people with little to no success.
I wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn’t get their methods to work for me.
Until one day I realized that what worked for them wouldn’t work for me. Their time and energy needs were different. Their brains plugged in differently.
But it’s not just that what works for one person won’t work for everyone.
What Works For You Won’t Always Work For You
There’s also the reality that what works for me doesn’t always work for me.
I’ve spent over a decade of experiments to find the morning routine that helps me write most efficiently and effectively. The right sequence of my morning workout, meditation, and writing, at the right time of day.
It always starts with my morning workout. Getting up and getting moving early without delay generally triggers the dopamine production that my system is naturally lacks, which helps me focus. The more I can minimize distractions between my workout and when I sit down to write, the more effective I can be when I write.
Writing in the gym generally helps me harness the energy from my workout and eliminate the distraction that might arise on my drive home.
That said, it doesn’t always work.
Even though I’m consistent in my morning workouts — I haven’t missed a day in over a decade — and in my writing practice, the results aren’t guaranteed.
There are days when, for whatever reason, the inputs don’t produce the outputs.
When my inputs don’t produce the outputs I desire, I am often quick to lament that my “system isn’t working.” It can be frustrating. But resisting the reality just contributes to the problem. The brain doesn’t function well when it’s in resistance.
Part of my practice is to remember the truth: Productivity is not linear.
The Truth: Productivity is Cyclical
Productivity is cyclical.
Focus and attention can vary with the cycles of the season, our personal cycles, hormones, pain, moon cycles, sleep cycles, and the other rhythms of life.
We need different things at different times of the year. What works in the spring may not work in the winter. What works in the summer may not work in the autumn.
Sometimes the nervous system adapts to a sequence or structure and it flows for a while, and then, suddenly it stops working.
Muscles Adapt to How We Use Them
In the gym, if you do the same exercises all the time, eventually your muscles adapt and then stop responding to that stimulus. That doesn’t mean you stop exercising. Instead, you switch up your workout. You change the exercises, the order of the exercises, or both.
The brain is a muscle; it needs the same adaptation.
Within the consistency of showing up in the same container, varying the elements of your routine or the sequence of activities can bring new stimulus to the brain.
Working With Your Personal Cycles
Sometimes we need to adapt based on where we are in a personal cycle. I know, for example, that in my menstrual cycle there are days when I have lower energy and focus. To try to take on big cognitive tasks on those days would be self-defeating.
Other times it may be that a workout was cognitively demanding and didn’t trigger the dopamine kick I needed.
In these moments, I remind myself to reach for lower energy activities or writing projects that require less cognitive load.
Working With The Cycle of the Year
In the bigger cycle of the year, the transitional points of the year are prime moments for evaluating what parts of a routine are working and what is ripe for change.
Sometimes a change of environment or a different stimulus leading into a creative session are all you need to bring new life to your work.
Looking at what other people do can offer a spark to consider new approaches, but remember that there’s no one way that works for everyone.
The key is to find what works for you, where you are now.