When it comes to remarkable leaders, artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs, each individual has their own set of principles. But there is one underlying strategy that remains constant, revealing itself in different shades across each person–creating more and consuming less.
It’s through the work you put out into the world and the way you live your life that you build a sense of meaning. Smart creatives understand this in a deep way. By creating more, you claim a larger part of yourself.
Strategies like this help build energy, establish your identity, and inform the tactics you put in place. While it takes shape in different mediums, the overall strategy is to create more and consume less. It’s the mental framework which informs smaller decisions throughout the day.
Tactics are the individual pieces that comprise the larger whole. They differ in that they require an initial investment up front. It’s what you dedicate time and energy to on a daily basis to reinforce your strategy.
Author and habit expert, James Clear, explains habits as the individual votes you cast each day for a certain identity. The same concept applies here. Tactics are the individual votes you cast each day for a certain strategy. If your strategy is to create more and consume less, you need tactics to help encourage both.
1) Make it difficult to do the easy thing (consuming)
Adding resistance can be a powerful tactic. You want to make it harder to mindlessly consume. If you struggle with Netflix, unplug the television or sign out of your account after each use. If you struggle with social media, change your passwords at the start of each week and sign out of your accounts so you can’t easily access them.
It’s amazing how impactful it can be to move things out of plain sight. Whatever’s undermining your creative energy, add more resistance so you can redirect that towards something you find greater meaning in.
2) Make it easier to do the difficult thing (creating)
This is about environment design. Building something from nothing is difficult enough as is, don’t make it any harder on yourself. Prioritize time and space for your craft to reach a deeper level of focus and creativity.
For years, my place for creativity at home–where I would sit down to write–was a couch that faced the television in my living room. And to further compound the problem, I wasn’t attempting this during quieter hours of the day. It was while people were coming and going, stopping to watch Netflix, sitting down for a meal. There were incessant distractions.
But this past year, I carved out physical space dedicated to writing. I converted one of our bedrooms to a writing studio/library and it’s made a significant difference. I also started writing first thing in the morning while my mind is fresh and I have two quiet hours before work.
Dedicating time and space where you can focus without interruption on your craft will allow you to grow exponentially faster. It’s the first step towards taking yourself and your art seriously.
Make it easier to do the right thing. This doesn’t mean sitting around waiting for ideal conditions or until you’re completely prepared, otherwise you’ll be waiting forever. It means setting yourself up for success through the things you can control in your immediate environment.
3) Pair positive reinforcements
Four years ago, when I first started taking writing seriously, I paired my writing sessions with my favorite coffee shop in Nashville. I walked over in the evenings after work to sit down and write. It’s something I looked forward to every day because of the atmosphere, the music I would listen to and, of course, the caffeine. This reinforcement helped me rediscover writing as a creative outlet.
Now I automatically associate these cues with my creative process. Coffee, coffee shops, and ambient music are shortcuts that jump me into a state of relaxed concentration that I need to do my best writing.
4) Allow yourself to get stuck
At the first sign of boredom or discomfort, most of us instinctively search for distractions and outlets for immediate gratification. And we do so without even recognizing it.
Until recently, the moment I slowed down or felt stuck in my own writing, I coped by jumping between tabs in Chrome–checking email, looking up restaurants for dinner, scrolling through Twitter.
The secret is to allow yourself to get stuck and sit with something. Once I gave myself permission to sit there without looking away, my resilience and creativity improved immediately.
Momentum is easier to come by when you don’t look away at the first challenging moment. Bouncing between distractions won’t result in some magical insight. Give yourself permission to get stuck.
For writers: Tools aren’t everything but they can be helpful. I’ve found Ulysses to be one of the best investments I’ve made ($5/month). It helps facilitate each of these first four tactics. Its typewriter mode is fullscreen which makes it easier to focus, harder to jump between distractions (web, email, text messages), and the daily goals feature helps create a strong positive reinforcement.
5) Create a distraction-free phone
For most of us, myself included, our phones are our number one source of distraction. Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky outline the tactic that is a distraction-free phone in their book Focus. It’s one of the most influential tactics I’ve found in the past year. There are three main components:
Delete infinity-pools apps (social media) from your phone
Delete email accounts from your phone
Delete/disable the web browser on your phone
These might sound extreme, but let me explain. Last year I took step one, deleting infinity-pools apps (sources of never-ending streams of content). But the energy I wasted on social media was replaced by checking email, random websites, and Googling everything that crossed my mind.
It was only after I took steps two and three, despite my initial reservations, that I saw a measurable difference in my focus and creativity. There’s now far less clutter and distraction in my day-to-day. As a result, the clarity of my thoughts has improved and I have more opportunities to create.
I recognize this might strike terror in you. But test it out for a week and see how it goes. I no longer reach for my phone as a crutch in moments of boredom. And it taught me how many meaningless things cross my mind and how few emails (zero) require an immediate response.
6) Keep a journal instead
If you cut the time spent on your phone in half and replaced that with journaling, you’d improve your balance between creating and consuming within a matter of days. I leave a journal sitting on the table of whichever room I’m in at home. I jot down ideas as they come to me, intentions in the morning, reflections in the evening, beginnings of articles, and whatever else captures my curiosity.
The act of writing on paper allows you to explore concepts and draw connections in ways that you can’t on a screen. Your ideas take on a different dimension. Not to mention the fact that it eliminates the threat of distractions you face on a phone, tablet, or computer.
But the biggest advantage of journaling is that it helps build awareness. By reflecting, you gain insight into your own behaviors and tendencies, rather than wandering through life on autopilot. If you want to create more and consume less, you have to start by recognizing what you’re doing well and where there’s room to improve.
7) Use art as inspiration
This is not to say that you shouldn’t appreciate other people’s work. But you should use it as inspiration to create something of your own. Actively engage in the things you’re watching, reading, listening to, and consuming. Try to engage, form connections, and draw insights of your own. (Check out my book notes on 70+ titles for an example of how I approach this while reading.)
Use books, films, documentaries, paintings, research, and keynotes as inspiration to create more. If you’re a writer, weave one of the connections you made into your next article. If you’re an entrepreneur, adapt one of the stories to your current project and share it with your team to build stronger engagement.
The goal is to create an active mental landscape that’s alive with hundreds of connections. It directly benefits your creativity and craft when you’re able to combine ideas across disciplines in new and interesting ways.
8) Start small
Don’t go off the deep end and commit to twelve hours of creating each day. You’ll burn yourself out before you ever get started and make it difficult to recover. Instead, begin from a more sustainable place.
If you want to write more music, start with fifteen minutes each day then build from there. That’s how you create momentum. Develop habits that are sustainable and allow them to grow steadily over time.
Remind yourself that growth is nonlinear. Don’t expect immediate results. People tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in the short-term and underestimate what they can accomplish over the course of years. The power of small, calculated decisions and tactics grows exponentially over time. Start small and let compound interest run its course.
9) Find a medium that resonates with you
While every remarkable mind shares some sense of this strategy to create more and consume less, the medium varies. For J.K. Rowling it’s writing, Jay-Z it’s music, Scott Belsky it’s design and technology, Alexander von Humboldt it was exploration and science, Leonardo da Vinci it was art and engineering.
If you need a better starting place, consider the medium that resonates with you. Robert Greene, author of The Laws of Human Nature, suggests reflecting on three areas to help with this:
Inclinations in your earliest years–moments of fascination with certain subject, objects, or activities.
Moments when certain tasks or activities felt natural to you.
Particular forms of intelligence your brain is wired for.
The key is determining what’s meaningful to you and not absorbing what’s important to someone else as your own. Otherwise, you’ll miss the mark.
This is perhaps the most difficult skill of all–sorting through the noise and determining your own sense of authenticity. This requires years of exploration and reflection to determine for yourself. But it’s the only way to sustain a creative mindset and find meaning in your work.
As a rule of thumb, it’s better to lean towards the mentality of a strategist than a tactician. Those who have the patience to expand their perspective of time and the endurance to play the long game put themselves at a significant advantage. There are multiple paths and hundreds of tactics you can use you reach the end goal.
These tactics are meant to help you find your own starting place. Use them to create momentum and discover what works best for you. Experiment and remain flexible. There’s no correct path or proper sequence of decisions. What matters is that the overall strategy to create more and consume less is held in constant focus.