HOW TO WORK WHEN YOU “DON’T FEEL LIKE IT”
In my recent post on inspiration, I urged you to stop waiting and start working. The world needs you–regardless of whether or not you’re in “the zone.”
Feeling inspired is just that: a feeling. Since those things can often be unreliable, it’s time to take matters into our own hands. So let’s get to work and start creating some inspiration of our own, shall we?
Part I: What are you waiting for?
Start by asking yourself what’s holding you back. This will tell you what you need to do or change in order to move forward. What’s standing in the way between you and that first step?
Unfortunately, these things don’t fall out of the sky. Fortunately, however, we can build them ourselves!
If you need ideas, brainstorm. Grab a pen and paper or open a blank document on your computer and write down ideas for a set duration of time. Set and timer and don’t stop writing until it goes off. Write everything that pops into your head without editing or judging as you go. You can sift through it all afterward.
If you’re waiting for a certain opportunity, start searching for the right one. Reach out and build connections with interesting people and communities. Network with new people. Expand your skill set and look for ways to apply your knowledge. Sell others on why they should want to work with you. Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Do the work (overalls are optional).
Clarity? Lay things out to visually grasp the larger context. Outline the thoughts that stood out from your brainstorm. Make a list to weigh certain factors. Writing or drawing things out (or using sticky notes to move things around) can help you to organize thoughts or ideas that feel foggy or jumbled in your head.
Motivation? Start with taking one small step and just keep working at it until it’s finished. Then, thanks to what’s known as the domino effect, you gain the momentum you need to work on the next step. And so on and so forth until you’ve tackled a series of steps. You don’t have to run an entire marathon at once; just focus on moving one foot in front of the other.
When you feel like you’re actually getting things accomplished, you’ll be motivated to continue.
The key is simply to start.
When I started writing, I did so very slowly and sporadically. I was scared that people would think my writing was bad (which it probably was at first).
I went through periods of time when I didn’t write because I didn’t feel inspired. I thought that, if I wasn’t “inspired,” I wouldn’t write something brilliant.
I rarely felt inspired, but I did feel frustrated. I stopped doing what I loved because it didn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t think I was cut out for it.
In my frustration, I spoke with other writers and read piles of articles and books related to writing. One of the most popular pieces of insight hit home:
Detach from perfectionism. It’s not about creating the perfect or the most brilliant piece of work. It’s about doing the work.
So I wrote, and I kept writing. It may not have been at the place I wanted it to be, but I was doing it. It was something.
And guess what happened? I stopped hanging around and waiting for inspiration. My inspiration came from wanting to write and create something. I was motivated by my desire to progress.
Keep going—even if your work is messy and scattered and not quite where you want it to be. Piecing together a stained glass window is better than staring at a blank wall.
Part II: A recipe for inspiration*
*This can be loosely translated to “how to buckle down and do the work.”
As you now know, the magic is in the doing. So how can you get started?
1. Know when you work best
Are you a night owl or an early bird? When do you have the time and space to invest your energy into what you want to do?
Maybe you’re free from 3-5am, but are you going to be ready to give your all at that hour? Whether you’re writing, learning a new instrument, practicing yoga, or building a wooden canoe, ask yourself: When can I do this at my best?
I know that I do my best work in the mornings, because I have the house to myself, and I have a mindful morning routine that puts me in a good mindset for writing. By 1 or 2pm, I start feeling antsy to get outside, and I become more susceptible to distractions.
Know when you can get what you need in order to do your best work.
2. Set (and stick to) your schedule
Including personal projects and development in your schedule is key—especially when you have a lot going on.
Once you know when you work best, put whatever you’re working on into your schedule. Seeing something on your schedule keeps you accountable. Make sure to treat it like every other meeting or appointment you have: keep it.
Why is this important? When it’s raining outside, I don’t feel inspired to write. I don’t feel like doing anything, really, except for lying in bed and watching documentaries or having a dance party in the kitchen while I try a new recipe.
On the other hand, when it’s sunny out, I also don’t feel like writing. I want to be outside, exploring new terrain or catching rays on the beach.
Unfortunately, since the weather doesn’t consistently hover between 16 and 18°C (60 to 64°F) or always provide those sun-with-partial-cloud days that most often “inspire” me, I have to sit and write anyways. Yes, unglamorous as it sounds (and it is), I do it anyways. Otherwise, it doesn’t get done. And that’s not an option.
When you put something on your schedule, you tell yourself that you’re doing that thing at that time on that day. Keep yourself accountable or tell someone else so that they can keep you accountable! Do what you have to do to get that thing done.
In his book, Level Up Your Life, Steve Kamb says, “Screw motivation, initiate discipline.” Discipline—especially in any kind of creative work—is a muscle that you need to exercise regularly (yes, that means even when you don’t want to).
(It sounds harsh and counterintuitive to inspiration, but this will lead to regular practice, which will lead to improvement. And, like I said before, your progress and growth will motivate you to keep going. Overcoming that first hurdle of regular practice is where the inspiration lies. Trust me on this one.)
3. Work consistently (in small doses)
No one achieves greatness overnight. Heroes, prodigies, and big names in any field put in countless hours of work to do their craft well.
Ernest Hemingway said that the key is in consistency: “Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.”
Use regular deadlines in order to encourage consistent practice and continue to make progress. Break down big projects (i.e. writing a 50,000 book) into small tasks (writing 500 words per day for three months). Make each task an action (i.e. “write 500 words” rather than “chapter two”) and give it a realistic due date.
Consistently working on your big picture diminishes self-doubt. What does doubt have to do with inspiration? Doubt encourages procrastination because it makes you think you can’t create anything good unless you have some kind of inspired message or muse.
In the process of writing my first book, I took a weeklong break once my outline was complete. I had set and met deadlines for that first step, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed with the actual writing process.
I knew I needed to break things down first. I printed out a 12-week calendar and set daily or weekly due dates for each section. Then I hung the calendar above my desk to keep my deadlines in sight and to keep myself accountable. I couldn’t bear the thought of looking up to see that I had missed a deadline.
It worked better than I could’ve imagined. I stuck to the deadlines—no matter what. On one particularly hectic day, I brought my laptop with me while getting some vehicle maintenance done. As I sat in the car’s sweltering heat, I opened Microsoft Word and start working on the first section.
It wasn’t because I felt particularly inspired at that moment; it was because I needed to do meet my deadline for that day. With no Internet connection at that moment, I figured I might as well write!
The process of writing is often an uninspired one. It can be tumultuous, painful even. It is a process, after all.
Your work, goals, projects, and dreams are the same way. You feel inspired because you want to accomplish something. You want something to come to fruition. And that is inspirational.
But it’s up to you to bring it to fruition—with or without inspiration.
Web Designer and Writer, Paul Jarvis, wrote, “The issue with motivation isn’t that we’re not motivated, it’s that we imagine that we need to be motivated in the first place, instead of just doing the work. With creativity specifically, it’s easy to get into the mindset of waiting for the muse, when really, the best way for the muse to pay us a visit is to start working.”
Put in the work.
Be your own muse.