It is often thought that a “zone” of intense and efficient creative work is fleeting and just comes naturally in very special moments. While the amateur waits for these moments of inspiration, the professional knows how to manifest them. To that, I offer three steps for harnessing focus that have worked for me in the studio:
1 – Set and nurture your time for being creative. Get rid of distractions. Live a great life before and after creative sessions. Handle phone calls, emails, outside work, and personal needs before and after your “creative session.” The world will still be there when you’re done. The hardest part of getting into a flow, is… GETTING INTO A FLOW. Why subject yourself to being pulled out of it once you’re in it?
2 – Relieve any inner conflict about you’re creative work. This is harder than normal to realize and come to grips with, but it’s necessary. It’s easy to clear away all distractions, but what if you WANT to be distracted? There could be many deep reasons behind that. This is personal journey, but here’s a self reflection exercise that can help identify some resistances:
- You can’t define what you want.
(i.e. your end goal is vague)
- You feel the task will bring you closer to something you don’t want.
(i.e. you may be scared from a negative or positive reaction to your work. How can the work be judged if it’s not completed?)
- You can’t figure out how you’re going to get from where you are right now to where you want to be.
(i.e. you don’t have a solid plan – you’re staring at your Mount Everest of a Goal in the distance and not seeing how to get through the jungle to even get there)
- You idealize your desired end result to the point your mind estimates a low probability of achievement.
(i.e. if you’ve ALWAYS dreamed of writing a hit, but it seems so distant of a goal you consider it more of a dream than a goal, you’re probably stuck here.)
- The “should” was established by someone else, not you, so you resist working on it.
(i.e. this is most common with work projects as an employee – you don’t often get to choose your projects)
- A competing action in the current Environment promises immediate gratification, while the reward of the task in question will come much later.
(i.e. if you’ve ever wanted to start a new project or learn a new skill or hobby, but then looked at your Wii or Netflix account and thought, “Oh, I’ll just play one,” you’re probably stuck here.)
- The benefits of the action are abstract and distant, while other possible actions will provide concrete and immediate benefits.
(i.e. your goal is vague, but you SURE know that watching the latest episode of Family Guy will be awesome!)
Again – only a few examples of questions to ask yourself, but maybe those help?
3 – Work in bursts. For me, when I’m working, I get in my zone, and GO. I don’t stop when I’m finished, I stop when I should stop. Some markers are if I start making consistent simple errors (like typing, grammar, wrong keystroke, notes, bad mouse moves etc), or more importantly when I lose perspective on what I’m doing. In writing music, it’s usually when we’re stuck on a phrase, on a melody, or not knowing if the production moves are right. I know now in our experience that we can hear things and quickly judge if it’s good or right or not, so when we can’t, I know that a break is necessary. Take a walk, get food or coffee or whatever, and return. Usually after a break (whether 15 min or a day or two) the solution presents itself with ease. After a few rounds I know the point of diminished returns is inevitable, and once that’s reached I quit for the day.
There’s no set formula. Parameters change daily, including our own nervous systems. I’ll say this though – for those who brag on twitter about grinding for 14 hour days in the studio, I can be confident that they’re doing mediocre work and wasting a lot time fucking off. Time is precious. Don’t waste it THINKING that you’re working just cause you’re at the office.