A while ago, I thought I was a slow, awkward, unwieldy runner. I was unhappy with my times and I couldn’t keep up with the other runners I trained with in Kildare, Ireland.
I wondered why I was wasting my time huffing and puffing or running ten and fifteen miles a week.
I kept at it… thanks to encouragement from a coach.
I increased my mileage to thirty miles and beyond.
And I found myself running marathons.
Today, I’m still a slow runner, but when I put on a pair of trainers today those thoughts disappear. I enjoy the consistency of regular training. It’s taught me about the value of Type 1 and Type 2 fun.
Type 1 fun = an enjoyable immediate experience, like a nice drink or meal.
Type 2 fun = an experience that feels good… after it’s over, like a race or a marathon.
(HT to Joanna Penn who talked about the two types of fun on the Creative Penn podcast a few years ago).
Creative work is a bit like that. Sitting down to write 500 words or hone an idea for an hour feels off-putting, but when you really get into it, it’s fun.
And when it becomes a practice, expect results.
How To Figure Out When And Where You’re Most Creative
When I started taking writing a little more seriously a few years ago, I worked late at night while listening to music and drinking tea or even beer. I liked the idea of a writer hunched over their manuscript waiting for inspiration to strike.
Then life intervened.
I walked into work one day after staying up late writing fiction and a lady from my team said, “What happened Bryan?”
“What do you mean?”
She pointed to me eyes.
Then, she turned red.
“Oh never mind.”
I went into the bathroom. Thanks to two black circles around my eyes, I looked as if I’d been punched in the face.
I was too tired to care at the time, but over the years I changed from writing late at night to writing first thing in the morning before the working day begins.
So what time should you write, draw, paint or compose? And when should you reflect on a big project versus taking action?
Those are good questions for any writer, artist, musician, performer or creative professional to ask. Entrepreneurs can also benefit because starting or growing a business is one of the most creative acts anyone can undertake.
Some creatives and entrepreneurs are larks. They prefer working on their big project early in the morning. Others are night-owls. They prefer writing, painting or composing late at night.
A lot of us fall somewhere in the messy middle. The trick is identifying where and when you accomplish your best work, or as New York Times best-selling author Daniel Pink says:
“We know, in the broad population, about 15% of us are very strong larks, about 20% of us are very strong owls, and about two-thirds of us are somewhere in the middle, and that can change over time.”
Effective leaders build routines around their preferences. Bill Gates, a voracious reader, starts his mornings by reading or taking online courses, usually in his home office or library.
Elon Musk, on the other hand, starts his day about 7:00 a.m., with email. Mark Zuckerberg reportedly begins with a run or workout.
Identifying Your Peak Creative State
Identify the ideal time and location for left-side- and right-side-brain thinking with a little self-quantification.
A writer, for example, might prefer working on a painful first draft of their book when they feel fresh, rested and can work without interruption.
The same wannabe James Patterson could confine mindless but necessary activities like answering dreary email to the mid-afternoon. And they could polish up a rough first draft in the late evening after dinner.
Personally, I prefer writing alone in a small, quiet room early in the morning before everyone in my house wakes up, but that’s just me. I interviewed another writer who told me she feels most creative when working in a coffee shop, away from the distractions of her home office.
An entrepreneur might value an hour of quiet reflection time in the morning before responding to email or attending their first meeting. Or they could value quiet time after everyone leaves the office for the day or even at home after dinner.
Steve Jobs, for example, often went for long walks with a colleague in the afternoon or evening to mull over a problem at Apple.
Identify these personal nuggets by tracking how you spend each day for a week or two. Consider yourself like a determined science boffin running a litmus test.
Except this time the experiment is you! I like using a spreadsheet or fancy red Moleskine notebook to extract these personal gems. For one week, here’s your mission:
Record what you did each hour, on the hour.
Note where you worked.
Rate how hard or easy the task felt between 1and 5 (1 = easy, 5 = hard).
Don’t spend too much time on it; an entry shouldn’t take more than a single line.
Track yourself for a week.
Review on Friday afternoons over coffee and doughnuts.
Assess creative output, location and ratings.
Relying on the self-knowledge you attained, structure the following week so you’re free to work on creative projects when you’ve got the most energy. Use the rest of the day for everything else that matters at work or in your business.
These days, my writing routine is facing a fresh challenge.
My wife gave birth to a baby about eighteen months ago and he also likes to rise early. Now I find myself scratching away on articles like this at odd times during the day.
Years later, I’m still asking, “When is the best time to write?”