I’ve always had some form of aversion toward Western work culture.
- 80-hour work weeks.
- High-pressure environments.
- Little time for rest and recovery.
It never seemed “right” to me.
Why would I want to waste my entire day, knowing that 2-3 hours in my work quality would suffer?
This has been a talking point for a long time now. I believe it has started to shape the creator economy and remote work.
4-hour workdays, singular focus, and meaningful work are becoming the norm in our little pocket of Twitter — and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are creating a future of passionate individuals that produce world-shifting creations.
Ancient Romans, Ancient Greeks, Steve Jobs, Charles Darwin, and an infinite list of visionaries, strategists, and innovators attributed their success to surprisingly low “work” times.
Writers from multiple domains, like Hemingway and Tarantino, would spend the majority of their days lounging by the pool, spitting game with girls, and doing everything aside from what they deemed “work.”
I. The Paradox Of Productivity
“The clever man may work smarter, not harder, they say, but the creative man doesn’t work at all.” — Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
For those that are like me and love the gym (or any kind of exercise), you understand the importance of rest and recovery.
Imagine going to the gym for 8 hours trying to be as “productive” as possible. You would try to max out on main exercises like the nervous system taxing deadlift, then go on to do accessory movements. In one day, you would run out of exercises to do. You may even opt to go on a run just because your boss told you to.
Would you be able to come back and give it your all the next day? How about 5 days in a row? Would you be able to tough it out until you can use your paid vacation time to recover and do it all over again?
Your body would be decimated.
Instead, we go to the gym for 45-90 minutes at a time. We push ourselves at the expense of physical energy. We create a routine and schedule it into our days so we can prioritize rest, recovery, and general quality of life (because we have other parts of life to explore.)
While corporate culture is handing you a pretty paycheck to incentivize sustained intensity, we must push back.
Intensity isn’t sustainable. It’s not rocket science. Sustainability, consistency, and creativity must be prioritized before we even mention the word “productivity.”
II. The Fill – Empty – Use Framework For Sustainable Productivity & Creativity
Now, this framework can be used by anybody but is best used by those that are in the creator space. Knowledge workers, consciousness workers, marketers, creatives, and the rest as opposed to manual labor jobs. Those that are creating value with their mind and post their findings, perspectives, and creations from the depths of their study online.
This letter will be dedicated to understanding the depth behind a tweet I wrote a while back.
This letter is also assuming that you understand the importance of meeting your basic needs. Your psyche is wired for survival. If you have attachments to the external world — relationships of any form — that threaten your identity when the relationship is challenged, then you will not be able to act authentically. That is to say, you will have difficulty opening your mind to reality to leverage nature. Your attachments — or perceived needs — will act as obstructions that slow the flow of your productive and creative energy.
You cannot be your true, authentic self if you need something that you do not already have.
Authenticity and openness is the key to all of this.
Before we jump in, a gentle reminder that Koe Letter readers can join Modern Mastery for $5 — a community dedicated to one-person businesses, personal development, lifestyle design, and the depth that comes along with that.
II.I. Fill Your Mind
We set the scene in the afternoon, not the morning, why? First, personal preference. Second, because this approach is holistic. Deep work hacks that only mention the time — usually morning — in which it’s time to be productive will always fail. Productivity and creativity are not one time things, they are modes of being.
It is not a matter of deep work. It is a matter of the balance and degree of which you engage in deep play, deep rest, and lastly deep work.
For value creators, those that intend to put good out into the world, you must adopt the habit of conscious study. Without expanding your worldview, mind, and knowledge through exposing yourself to novel perspectives; how do you plan to create? Creativity, in some aspects, is about pulling from multiple sources and mashing them together. Like deconstructing a topic, learning about its parts through study, and building your own creation like you would playing with legos as a kid.
When aligned with your vision, values, and goals you can consume information with the intention to understand and apply. This can begin to act as a vessel for raising your consciousness. You start to gain clarity on your life’s work through exposure to the information that aligns with you the most. If you don’t know where to start, re-read the book that changed the way you think, it will do it again.
My favorite way of doing this comes in 2 parts:
1) Listening On A Walk
I go on multiple walks throughout the day. Once in the morning, once after my work sessions, and once in the evenings. Not only is this crucial for sleep (see: circadian rhythm and sunlight) it has a multitude of other benefits.
It is quite nice to have an office and even nicer to have a warm, well-furnished home. But my mind often comes to a standstill after some hours indoors. So I take a walk. Once outside, my mind immediately begins to move freely and instinctively over my subject. Ideas come rushing to my mind, without being called. Soon enough, the best answer emerges from the jumble. I realize what I can do, what I should do, and what I must abandon. — Eugene Wigner
Aside from movement and exercise being great for your health, there is something unique about walks. Ancient masters swore by it, industry leaders took them religiously, and the world’s most respected creatives made them a part of their everyday routine — I have noticed immense benefits myself.
When I pop in an audiobook, lecture, or video with the intention of applying what I learn to my current project (like a newsletter, tweet, module, or anything else that comes from having a personal brand as your consciousness work vessel) the ideas flow in a steady stream. From subconscious to conscious.
I pick up gold nuggets here and there from what I am consuming, but the real magic happens when I hear the right word that triggers a waterfall of insight. I’m not sure what the phenomenon is, but sometimes you just need that one word, letter, sound, example, anecdote, or story to bring up a thought that leads you down a rabbit hole of questioning and exploration.
Walks are how I do my best work, as they are a necessity for creativity. Being a writer, I can get 80% of my work done by generating ideas, outlining, and writing on my phone while on a walk. Hence why my unique process is bundled up inside The 2 Hour Writer.
2) Reading In The Sun
Another reason I love walks is that they act as creativity time blocks. When you get out of the house you become less prone to familiar distractions that will impact your study just by being in that environment. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to block out the distractions. You know they are there and they will occupy creative energy.
The same goes for going out in the sun. I’ve tried reading on walks but I end up tripping and getting hit in the head with tree branches (being 6’5″ does come with it’s downsides)!
Heading out to my apartment pool with my Kindle and a bottle of San Pellegrino allows me to block out time specifically for reading. Reading — as opposed to listening — allows me focus my attention and study deeper. I can highlight ideas that I want to contemplate over the coming weeks and months for the sake of understanding.
Filling your mind can be done at any time, and may be scattered throughout your day, but for the sake your own experimentation and clarity; start with doing this in the afternoons. If you do not have time to do this in the afternoon, sprinkle it throughout your day. I will give personal examples below.
If you are unsure what to study, how to capture ideas, and want to develop your ability to learn a subject with speed and ease — download my free 7 day creative challenge.
II.II. Empty Your Mind
In psychology, there is something called the Default Mode Network. From the book Rest, the DMN is “a series of interconnected sections that activate as soon as people stop concentrating on external tasks, and shifts from outward-focused to inward-focused cognition.”
When “activated” through restful, meditative, or open activities the brain is not any less active than it would be when engaged in something like focused work, or something that demands narrow focus and concentrated attention.
This can be associated with presence, surrender, and divine inspiration. When your focus is open, your subconscious mind is still working hard and munching on problems. Many programmers understand this well. They will often work on a project, encounter a bug, struggle to fix it, “give up,” and go about their day. At the most unexpected time, the perfect solution will pop into their head and the excited programmer will rush to open their code base to test it out. Shower thoughts is another example of this.
From personal experience, the greatest insights come after a period of struggle. My attention engaged with the natural battle raging in my head to the point of seeing its pointlessness. When you are hyper-focused on a problem in your life, the best way to solve it is counterintuitive. Letting go — surrendering, that is — and engaging with life itself will bring the answer to mind. Have faith 😉
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. — Bruce Lee
Everyone should be familiar with that quote, but how do you empty your mind?
By immersing yourself in the present moment. Flowing with the river of life and the highs and lows that it presents.
There are many ways to make this easier on you to grasp, but understand that all of these means lead to the same end. A few ways you can practice immersing yourself in the present moment:
1) The Gym
Gym bros talk a lot about “mind-muscle connection” and other things that are just short for anchoring your attention in the present. When you are at the gym, be a silent observer. Observe the voice in your head that tells you to quit. Observe how the muscle feels as it contracts. Observe the blood flowing quicker through your body.
This works for any exercise, not only the gym. Elevated bodily functions that are easily observable makes it easier to treat the gym as a meditation practice.
2) Nature Bathing
What better way to tap into the source than Source itself?
From a psychological lens, nature presents the perfect formula for flow. On a hike, you order your consciousness by having a vision of how you want the hike to go. You construct a hierarchy of goals in your mind that allow you to gain clarity on the climb. You may have a water intake goal, distance goal, health goal, or just the goal to have a good time in nature. Intention.
From there, you begin your ascent up the trail and are faced with a challenge. Is the challenge too difficult to the point it upsets you or makes you latch on to negative thoughts about not reaching your vision? Or maybe the challenge is too easy and it disappoints you. Even better, you planned the hike to match your skill level and you don’t have to incessantly think. Hiking becomes an art form and you kick into flow.
3) Other Meditative Habits You Can Adopt
Conscious meditation (obviously), conscious walks, conscious listening during conversation, conscious writing, conscious creating — can you start to see the picture I am painting here?
There is a big problem in self-help that everyone is prone to, myself included. When you are just starting out, and even when you are deep into the space, you are just doing the activities that people tell you to do. Most people are meditating unconsciously, which is a funny example. They are mechanically going through the motions because it has become habitual. They aren’t getting the benefits they would get if they simply prioritized consciousness at any given moment — not just during meditation.
The best way I can explain consciousness in this context is by understanding relativism. Everything that is not absolute truth (unknowable or unspeakable with words alone) is relative. Relative means that there is a relationship. Cause and effect. Polarity. One thing cannot exist without the other. During meditation, can you follow a thought to another thought to an event until the lines are blurred and you glimpse into Infinity?
When you are writing, can you spot the gaps in your understanding? Can you bust through “writer’s block” by following a paragraph and becoming conscious of what is missing? Can you see how I am weaving in concepts into this article and connecting them with other concepts that are seemingly unrelated but they aren’t because everything is relative?
As a note, that is the secret to my writing. I choose a topic that I know and fill in the blanks in a way that I understand it according to my direct experience. Stream of consciousness, then edit. If you can’t tap into an infinite stream of consciousness, question why. Questioning shines the light of awareness onto resistance and allows it to dissipate.
4) Physical Mediums
Another way to order consciousness or create clarity is to express the unorganized thoughts that are in your head. This is done through writing or speaking.
My favorite method was shown to me by my good friend Joey Justice. That method is brain dump journaling. How do you brain dump journal? First, by writing out every single thing that you can bring your attention to in your mind. Once you have all thoughts, reactions to feelings, emotions, and tasks written in chaotic fashion on your paper — you can start to organize them.
This is where connections are made and clarity is gained. You can organize the entities on your page into specific categories, potential projects, deep work priorities, and any other relationship that can be made by the connection of your brain dump.
Not only will this quiet your mind and prepare you for sleep — which is why I enjoy doing it at night — it can be used as an intentional planning session for the months, weeks, or days ahead.
By taking your attention off work and placing it on life, the gap between the two dissipates and The Unknown will deliver the insight you were looking for to the forefront of your conscious mind.
This aspect is also baked into my work as a writer, I just choose to do it online so I can do it for a living. By treating social media as a “public journal,” I kill two birds with one stone.
II.III. Use Your Mind
I’ve talked about focused work a lot. I’ve also talked about the depth behind focus, that most humans glance over, even when it is the main thing that separates us from other beings.
Using your mind comes last as we have filled and emptied our mind. By filling our mind we have expanded it, broadening our awareness and allowing The Law of Inspired Action to come into play. This gives us fresh creative firepower for when we use our mind. By emptying our mind we have allowed the Default Mode Network to come into play. Our subconscious mind will deliver insight to our conscious mind and we can order said consciousness through brain dump journaling.
There are 3 main things that come into play when getting into deep, focused work:
- Leveraged familiarity
- Ordered consciousness
- Connection to The Unknown
We have checked some of these boxes already — like ordering consciousness with journaling — but everything serves a different purpose under different contexts. Our goal with focused work is to eliminate distractions, get into flow, and produce quality work in the short amount of time that our finite creative energy allows.
Leveraged familiarity is a soft morning routine. The human brain loves to conserve the energy wasted on familiar things. Hence why habit formation is so popular, like putting certain and preferably beneficial aspects of your life on autopilot. As with most things, there is depth to the term habits. There are mental, emotional, physical, and financial habits that could each be broken down even further to take a peek into how robotic we truly are in our unconscious lives.
Leveraged familiarity is just that. Being conscious that your morning routine is familiar and remaining connected to The Unknown or infinity throughout by being conscious of your direct experience. For my Tolle fans, and in simple terms, this means being in the Now — as you can only “know” what you can project on reality from the familiar past or potential future.
Ordered consciousness comes into play with your routine. Having a familiar wake-up time, work environment, and little friction when it comes time to work is key for preserving creative energy. If you have not already planned your morning out with your nightly brain dump, you can set an ideal yet challenging outcome for your work and 2-3 priority tasks that will move the needle towards that outcome. When this micro hierarchy of goals is aligned with the macro — your life’s vision and goals — the flow state should come seamlessly.
Take a few deep breaths, assume that you know nothing, and start working.
My Daily Routine For Inspiration & Self-Experimentation
Like Charles Darwin, I like to split my focused work blocks with long walks. I start my mornings with a long 45-minute walk without my phone. I focus on my breath, body, and other sensations that I bring my attention to. My intention with this is to ground myself in ‘not knowing’ before it’s time to work. Sometimes, I’ll read a bit from Kindle on my phone if I spot a welcoming bench on my walk.
After that walk, I head to my local coffee shop about 10 minutes up the road. I’ll ask for my typical hot Americano, snap a pic for my Instagram stories, then block out anything and everything that could distract me from my writing. I throw my AirPods in (despite the dreaded EMF frequencies!), put on music that will help me channel a specific energy into my writing, and allow my writing to dance between the known and Unknown.
After 2-3 forty-five-minute work blocks — with a bathroom break in between — I’ll walk back home to eat. I like “fasting” for a minimal time while working. I’ve always been more clear-headed on an empty stomach. After eating, I’ll either go to the gym or head out on another long walk. This time I listen to an audiobook or lecture to expand my mind. I double this as consciousness work by paying close attention to the words permeating my ears and allowing my curiosity to open up new mental pathways through questioning.
When noon hits, my day is mostly won. If I have to catch up on some writing (like I am right now at 5pm to finish this before the morning) then I will. Otherwise, I am reading, socializing, running errands, or entertaining myself in other mediums — I do enjoy some good old Netflix.
Come bedtime, I’ll pull out my notebook and write down everything that comes to my mind. Morning priorities? Check. Self-reflection? Check. Alignment with goals? Check. Immense mental clarity? Check. With so much purpose and depth behind something as simple as a journaling practice, I look forward to these parts of my days. These are often the times where I learn the most about myself, and therefore, learn the most about the world.
All in all my routine may seem similar to others. The difference is depth of consciousness that has been cultivated over time. If you ask anyone else why they walk so much, they may not be able to give you an arsenal of 10+ different “whys” as to why they are walking that much. Every aspect of this lifestyle was designed with intention. I hope that you can pull inspiration from my experience, experiment with it, and become directly conscious of modalities of being that will increase your quality of life.
If you enjoyed this letter, I’d love to hear about it. Just hit reply and let me know what it was that made you think a bit deeper than usual.
— Dan “Sometimes I make sense” Koe