Have you noticed how many people overwork themselves then see it as something to be proud of?
This is the state of modern productivity. Hustle culture screams that “Sleep is the for the weak!” and “Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself.” This is a nice sentiment but is missing the point.
In a world that glorifies quick work and fast results, the art of singular focus and meaningful long-term work has been forgotten. It’s no wonder that there is a growing gap between the successful and unsuccessful. We have forgotten the compounding effects of focus.
With this letter, I want to provide you with 2 frameworks I’ve developed that will radically transform your productivity.
The Paradox Of Productivity
Creatives, entrepreneurs, and other impactful individuals attribute their success not to how much they work, but to how much they rest.
From the book Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang:
“The clever man may work smarter, not harder, they say, but the creative man doesn’t work at all.”
Pang also describes how the ancient Greeks saw rest as a gift, the pinnacle of civilized life. The Roman Stoics argued that you cannot have a good life without good work. Every ancient society saw work and rest as necessary for a good life. One provided means to live, the other gave meaning to life.
The first thing that comes to mind when “rest” or “relaxation” are mentioned is the modern interpretation of self-care. Laying on the couch eating potato chips while binge-watching your favorite Netflix show. Having one too many bowls of ice cream while drowning yourself in wine because your BFF told you to “treat yourself.” Anything else that can be viewed as relaxation, but is just laziness in disguise.
When you go to the gym, do you lift to the best of your ability for 12 hours a day? Of course not. You schedule time for high output, prioritize recovery, and have a structured training regimen. The problem stems from people having a low mental operating state. A lack of creativity and good ideas has become a normal state. You are in a constant state of mental overtraining because you are trying to be like everyone else — you know where that leads.
Like productive work, you must schedule time for intentional rest. First, we need to swap your current definition of self-care for the enlightened version of active recovery.
I introduce to you, the Fill – Empty – Use framework.
Fill — Empty — Use
A few months ago I had a tweet go viral:
This is my personal way of using the Fill — Empty — Use framework, so let’s talk about how you can use it in your creative endeavors.
It is up to you to fit this into your daily routine. Experiment with each aspect of it. If your energy is highest in the morning, schedule your work and rest around that. The same goes for night owls.
This works best for those that are working on something they are passionate about. A side-business, hobby project, or creative endeavor that you chose to do. Not something that is assigned to you. You must be able to pursue your curiosities, leading to passion and purpose. This framework will give you creative firepower, the second one will help you build momentum into long-term discipline. The end goal is making a hefty income while pursuing your life’s work.
You cannot produce if you do not consume. Working from an empty brain is like driving a car without gas in the tank. It’s not going to work. You need to consume books, articles, podcasts, and other information related to your interests. If you love design, read a book relative to your current skill level. If you want to build a business, start consuming business content.
I personally recommend a foundation of reading books or listening to audiobooks. Author’s spend 10+ years gaining experience, condensing it into a few hundred pages, and selling it at an affordable price. You can consume this in 5-10 hours. The ROI compared to other content is unmatched. Podcasts are my second favorite.
The famous quote from Bruce Lee says it all:
“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.”
This is where rest comes into play. Instead of “self-care,” we are using the majority of our free time for active recovery. I like to think of these as meditative activities. Activities that have the potential of putting you into a flow state. Activities that make you become one with what you are doing. Activities that make you flow with life.
Going to the gym, running, martial arts, yoga, or going on a hike. Nature bathing — walking in nature and using your 5 senses to become more present. Mindful activities like meditation, walking, and breathwork.
Journaling is another popular method of “emptying your brain.” Every night, write out everything on your mind. Negative thoughts, how your day went, what you are doing tomorrow, and the rest. This is also a deep sleep hack.
One crucial piece to emptying your brain: you need somewhere to capture your ideas while you are performing these meditative activities. If you filled your brain, you will have great ideas during this time. Don’t let the ideas get lost to time. My main method for idea capture is having a running note in my phone’s notes. I refer to this when it’s time to use my brain.
Lastly, you must upkeep your health fundamentals. The brain and body work in unison. An unhealthy body results in a non-creative mind. Hydrate, sleep, and eat nutrient-dense foods.
Not only are these superior ways to regulate stress and emotions, but they also contribute to progress. When you aren’t actively trying to think, you give your subconscious mind room to breathe. This phenomenon was popularized as “shower thoughts,” but can be a valuable weapon in your mental arsenal. You have better ideas when you aren’t trying to have better ideas.
These methods are incredible at training self-awareness. A crucial skill in life. One that will come in handy when we discuss novelty, efficiency, and synchronicity.
Legendary advertiser, David Ogilvy, used this method to craft his big ideas. He would brainstorm ideas for his ads, put down his work, and with time — the perfect idea would come to him. Ogilvy is not the only one that uses this method. Quentin Tarantino and other legendary individuals use this in their creative process.
This is simple. Have time scheduled for focused work on your current project related to your goals. When you do this is entirely up to you. We will discuss how to do this best once we understand why we are doing it this way.
Novelty — Efficiency — Synchronicity
The reason Fill — Empty — Use framework works so well is due to the Law Of Inspired Action.
In a nutshell, when you are inspired by everyday stimuli and experiences — you feel pulled to create. You feel the pull of something begging for mastery. It is not a chore, it happens naturally if you are truly inspired. To be inspired, you need to pursue your interests. Not others.
You must not deny your curious nature. This is why people hated reading in grade school and continue to hate their dead-end jobs. Zero inspiration or personal interest. A lack of choice in their pursuits. Denying the call to explore the infinite potential that lies in the unknown.
The human brain loves new things. Novel experiences. Dopamine is the driving force here, it separates signal from noise. Action from distraction. This is abused when the action is not in alignment with who you want to become. That is… when you don’t have a vision, goals, or priorities that you defined.
Dopamine can quickly throw you into a negative spiral when you consume the wrong things. Examples are self-deprecating memes on social media, mindless entertainment, porn, and other mind-hijackers that came from recent technological advancements.
We understand that you have to use your brain, but we need structure. We need efficiency so it doesn’t take you 12 hours to accomplish 3 hours of work. Efficiency is the act of making things so stupidly simple that you would look stupid doing otherwise.
Here are 6 rapid-fire tips for getting into a deep flow state. This will only work when you act in alignment with your goals and interests, meaning you have intention behind your actions. You are stretching towards something. Novelty and synchronicity must exist.
Tip 1) Block off and schedule time for using your brain, deep work. Put on it on your calendar. Write it on your wall. Write it on your shower walls with a dry erase marker. Make it so you know that you are working at that specific time.
Tip 2) Have your day planned the night before (use my free planner if you don’t have one). Remind yourself of your vision, goals, and priorities. Give yourself 2-3 lever-moving tasks. Some people can handle more. Start with 2-3 and increase as you see fit. Lever-moving tasks are the ones that result in the most progress towards your goals.
Tip 3) Put yourself in an environment conducive to deep work. My favorites are a coffee shop, hotel lobby, airplane, or somewhere that is separate from where you sleep.
Tip 4) Set a timer for 45 minutes to 2 hours. Again, you must experiment with this. This is time for singular focus. No distractions. Write, design, connect, edit, publish, build. Use the Freedom app to block distracting apps if you have to.
Tip 5) Listen to music without lyrics — or music that puts you in a good mood. Some of my favorites are dubstep, EDM, and Hans Zimmer soundtracks.
Tip 6) When the timer is done, get out of your chair and go on a 10-minute walk. During this walk, remind yourself of your next task, what goal you are working towards, and why you are working towards it — what is the end goal? Sometimes I will listen to an audiobook to spark more novelty and synchronicity, giving me energy for the next work session.
These are all malleable. My formula is not perfect. Life is a series of science experiments. Find what works for you.
Synchronicity is what kicks you into overdrive and sustains long-term progress. In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as pattern recognition which describes “a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus with information from memory.”
Meaning: a more potent form of novelty. You are connecting dots and can quite literally feel the progress. More good dopamine.
When you empty your brain with the Fill — Empty — Use framework we discussed before, you are creating anchor points, physically and mentally. You create a dot that can be connected to another dot when you fill your brain.
Synchronicity is the process of connecting the dots over time per my definition. Per a quick Google search’s definition:
“…spiritual synchronicities are strategically orchestrated and perfectly aligned to deliver a message, provide guidance, or provide reassurance that we’re on the right path.”
Seemingly unrelated concepts make more sense because they connect with other previous ideas. This pulls you back into a meditative flow state. You have a constant supply of energy that comes from momentum — which is arguably the greatest feeling. Falling in love with the process. Becoming obsessed with it.
Synchronicities start to appear more as you make more progress with your life’s work. You are able to maintain degrees of flow states throughout your day.
I would argue that synchronicities — relating to ideas coming together — are the secret of the successful. It is the perceived genius in their fusion of big ideas. It is the fuel to their internal fire to make a dent in the world. It is consistent and compounding mental, physical, and spiritual gains manifested in their business.
A feeling that can only be experienced through experience.
All of this sounds great, but it means nothing without action.
These frameworks and processes will make taking action easier, but the decision is entirely yours. You may have bad habits that are deeply ingrained into your life. It is your job to become aware of these. Consciously map out who you want to become, and act with consistency.
This is the only worthwhile way to live. You are either consciously living or unconsciously dying. Start by adding 5 minutes of filling your brain, 5 minutes of emptying your brain, and 5 minutes of using your brain. That’s all it takes to start the eventual snowball of momentum. Time is not an excuse. Do what you can.
If you enjoyed this issue of The Mastery Letter, let me know on Twitter. Write a tweet with your thoughts and tag me (@thedankoe). I’ve been doing my best to deliver top quality to you all, and will continue doing so.
Enjoy your weekend,
– Dan Koe