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Blog // Productivity
1 month ago

Better Every Day

“Do it every day” is a simple motto for creativity. It might even be simplistic. But it’s helped me avoid the curse of overcommitment.

“Mostly, it’s about doing it every day.”

When I’m asked about how to do something better, whether it’s playing guitar, learning a language, staying healthy, having a good sleep routine, reading more often – just about anything, really – I find myself talking about doing it every day.

At least, every day is the goal. Five or six times a week is great. Even four times a week is vastly superior to anything less.

Frequency generates momentum, which puts you on the path to mastery.

The Importance Of Moving The Needle Every Day

Momentum is powerful. That’s why I chose it as a yearly theme back in 2020. We often think of transformation in terms of big, decisive moments. Like earthquakes. But it’s better to think of change as something we do in small, consistent increments over an extended period. Like the way water and waves shape the coast and countryside.

I’m a big fan of the way David Sparks (of MacSparky fame) talks about “moving the needle”. Sparks rose to fame writing about tech news and especially about Apple products. He creates great courses and hosts popular podcasts. He does all that while working full time as a lawyer and helping raise a family.

As I understand it, moving the needle is about regularly making contact with the things you’re working on. Some days you don’t have a lot of time. But you can still do something that “moves the needle”.

Moving the needle helps prevent projects and passions going cold.

The Curse Of Overcommitment

As soon as you start thinking about doing things “every day”, something becomes obvious: you can’t. Most of us have too many commitments and responsibilities to do them “every day.”

Not everything needs to be done every day. You don’t vacuum your home or clean the gutters every day. You shouldn’t even be thinking about those kinds of chores all the time.

Unless they really are central to who you are!

The “do every day” stuff we’re considering here are the areas of your life where you want to improve, excel, and express yourself. Plenty of things we do every year don’t fit onto this list. There’s a limit to how many things you can do, or commit to, every day. That’s the point. Finding how this limit of things you can do in a day correlates to the limited number of things you can try to excel at in life (or at any given moment in your life) is the greatest value of the “every day” approach.

It’s a way to untangle yourself from the curse of overcommitment.

A Brief Comment On Privilege

When a dude says “do it every day”, it invites a lot of scepticism. This is especially true in the writing world, where there’s a long history of men who write every day because they don’t do a bunch of other things, like clean their home, cook their own food, or participate in raising their kids.

That hasn’t been my experience. I’ve written about that before – in terms of what the past few years have been like for me on the domestic front, and how my writing practice evolved in the spaces left over from being a stay-at-home dad.

My idea of “do it every day” doesn’t come from a place of liberty and absence of responsibility outside the work.

Rather, it comes from facing up to the limitations – especially the time constraints – that come from trying to stay faithful to the path of creativity and the world of family commitments.

How This Is Working Right Now

When I look at my time commitments right now, a few things demand to be looked at every day. Writing is my priority, the core of my work, and where I’m focussing the most time. Music is secondary, mostly playing guitar, which helps keep me balanced. Home and family still takes up a lot of time. Less than it did during the height of the pandemic, certainly, but it still feels like a huge focus and will until well after the upcoming move. Then there’s health, which means both exercise (Pilates and walking) and mental well-being (journaling, meditation, therapy). And finally, learning Japanese, which I recently restarted, in the hopes the country will reopen again by next year.

I still plan my weeks. Not everything gets a big block of time. But I visit the important things every day. Trying to make sure some progress, however small, gets made. All of them carry small sub projects, with entries in OmniFocus and my daily paper diary.

There’s a pretty big list of things that it matters to do but that I’m not doing anything about right now: photography, calligraphy, skiing, hiking.

Shrinking life down to what can be done every day feels right for this season. It’s helped me shed some of the guilt and frustration that comes from feeling I can’t focus on all my passions right now. It’s diverted energy away from railing against the circumstances that feel bigger than all of us.

Fun Every Day

Recently, I’ve become intentional about having a little fun every day. Following an idea in Catherine Price’s book The Power Of Fun, I’m micro-dosing on fun in between tasks.

There’s a big bench in the centre of my kitchen and I’ve commandeered a corner of it, near the big back door, in a position to catch the afternoon sun. I leave out something fun there. A Lego kit. Or some brushes, paints, and an art book.

A fun station.

During the day, between tasks, or after lunch or coffee breaks, I’ll stop there for a few moments to build, paint, or draw. Those projects move slowly. But efficiency isn’t the point. Fun is.

Doing something just for fun invites many of the same qualities we seek in creative work – concentration, focus, engagement, and flow – but with none of the pressure.

It’s like low-stakes creativity training. Being creative, every day.

Every Day Forces Prioritization

I wish I could offer more elaborate or more flexible advice. “Every day” can feel like an impossible goal. Sometimes we just don’t seem to have the energy to move the needle on anything much.

I’m not sure how much of this can be packaged neatly as self-help or productivity advice. My “do it every day” approach is largely the result of personal circumstances. Setting this up as a standard everyone should aspire to can be weird and unhelpful.

That said, forcing yourself to imagine the most frequent cadence possible for things that matter most to you can be a helpful exercise.

It pushes you to find your priorities. How will you find the space in your schedule to get good at something? What are you willing to give up?

Take writing as an example. If you aren’t going to write every day, then you’re going to have to write in larger and more concentrated blocks of time. So, while the writing habit might be less frequent, in some ways it might become more invasive. Writers who work in shorter bursts like this often retreat totally from the world in order to complete their work. This still requires you to make sacrifices and trade-offs.

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