Improving on ONE thing (a 30-Day Creator Challenge excerpt)

This is an excerpt from the 30-Day Creator Challenge. 

Ever wanted to start your own blog? Or a podcast? Or anything creative? (But for some reason you haven’t started.) Then join the challenge! Go to https://creatorchallenge.com or sign up below.

Dear reader,

Yesterday we talked about why comparing yourself with others isn’t helpful. What can be helpful, though, is comparing yourself with your past self. Well, to be more precise: it can help to compare your current work with your past work.

(Because you are not your work. But that’s a topic for later.)

So let’s take a look at what you’ve created in the past four days and what you might improve on.

Now, you could spend hours analyzing every single thing you could do better and then spend hours more planning improvements. If you have the time to do that and to create today, that’s great. But it’s not worth analyzing what you’ve already created at the expense of creating more. 

In other words: 

🚨Do not use learning as an excuse for not doing the work. ðŸš¨

Only think about what you can improve on if you will also actually create a thing today. Because the goal is still to build your habit of putting out content every day.

With that said, let’s talk a little about improving. 

See, if you’re like me, you always like to get better at things. And yesterday we talked about the importance of incremental improvement: getting a little bit better every time adds up to big gains eventually.

So let’s pick one thing to improve on compared with what you’ve created in the past four days. To find out what’s the best thing to improve on, try this:

Share what you made with three people and ask them to name the #1 thing they think you could do better.

Ideally, two or more of them will mention the same thing. 

If they do, see if you can improve on that without spending too much time and effort. For example, if people suggest that the lighting in your videos isn’t great, you could shoot today’s video in bright daylight. Don’t buy professional camera lights, though—now’s not the time for that.

If you get three different suggestions, just pick any one to improve on. Randomly. Don’t spend much time choosing.

If people don’t have good suggestions, let me give you some pointers:

  • Is there a structure to what you create? Is there a beginning, a middle, and an end?
  • Can people understand you easily? (Is your writing grammatically solid and without typos? Is the audio on your videos or podcast episodes good, or is there lots of background noise?)
  • Does the title of your article/video/episode match the content?
  • Is it clear why someone might find your creation interesting? (More on this later on in the challenge.)

These are just suggestions. You do not need to think about these things all at once. Like I said, pick one thing to improve on, and only if you have the time to think about that and create a thing today. 

Either way, I’d love to see what you created today. If you’ve tried to improve on a specific thing, let me know.

Yours,

— Peter

Does drinking coffee make you more productive?

A man wearing a suit sits at a table and holds a cup of coffee.

You get to the office or to your favorite café and you take off your coat. 

There’s a long list of things you want to get done today, so you had better get right on it. But first—a cup of coffee.

Ahhhh.

See, many of us enjoy drinking coffee at various times of day. Quality coffee has intricate flavors, so coffee can simply be a pleasure to drink because of its taste.But many of us also drink coffee because it wakes us up or because it helps us focus.

Coffee makes us feel awake because the caffeine latches onto adenosine receptors in our brain. Wait, latches onto what?

Throughout the day, a chemical called adenosine builds up in your brain. As the day progresses, the adenosine level increases and the adenosine hits the adenosine receptors, which makes you feel sleepy. In the evening, you’ll have a lot of adenosine in your brain, which—under normal circumstances—urges you to sleep.

That is, unless you consumed a substantial amount of caffeine. As I said, caffeine latches onto the adenosine receptors, preventing adenosine itself from reaching the receptors—and so you don’t feel as sleepy. Put more simply: caffeine artificially makes you feel awake because it stops a sleep-inducing chemical from doing its job.

This might be exactly what we want. In the morning, if we’re feeling groggy, blocking the adenosine from hitting its receptors might be a welcome feeling. We want to get stuff done, so it helps to be awake. Yay! Productivity!

Particularly on days when we slept poorly, drinking some coffee can help us be awake and focused enough to get work done.

Unfortunately, caffeine stays in our brains for a long time. It has a half-life of around six hours. So six hours after you drink your coffee, half the caffeine you consumed is still hanging around in your brain. And after twelve hours, roughly a quarter of it will still be around. So, if you normally drink two cups of coffee in the morning, then when you head to bed in the evening, you will still have half a cup’s worth of caffeine left in your brain.

And do you normally sleep well if you drink coffee right before bed? Having caffeine floating around your brain at night is the last thing you want.

With caffeine blocking adenosine from reaching its receptors, you can have a hard time falling asleep. Even if you do fall asleep, you might sleep lighter or wake up more often during the day, dramatically reducing the quality of your sleep. 

Look, I’ve written about sleep often, and I still struggle to convey the importance of a proper night’s sleep, especially on productivity. Put simply: if you sleep poorly, that will destroy your productivity.

Poor sleep quantity or quality makes your prefrontal cortex much less effective, so you have a harder time thinking logically, organizing your tasks, and prioritizing them. Your control over your emotions suffers. You’re more likely to give into bad habits or choices because you have less willpower available. And those are just some of the short-term effects; sustained poor sleep will massively increase your risk of having all sorts of health problems, from diabetes to Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s.

In other words, that cup of coffee that has you feeling so focused and productive earlier in the day might come at the cost of your sleep and therefore your productivity (and your health!) the next day.

So, does drinking coffee make you more productive?

The answer is: it depends.

If you drink coffee moderately and early in the day, it can help you stay focused. At the very least, it won’t hurt your productivity.

But if you drink a lot of coffee, or if you drink coffee late in the afternoon or in the evening, the caffeine will lower your sleep quality. And the poor sleep will hurt your productivity the next day.

So my advice to you is: for maximum productivity, don’t drink too much coffee. And if you do drink coffee, then do so in the morning.

Yours,

— Peter

Routine vs. spontaneity: which is better for balance?

A blue alarm clock on a pastel background.

A friend asked about balance: how can you ensure that you have some balance in your life?

Does balance come from having habits and routines, or does it come from spontaneously doing what you think you need or want in the moment?

And: Is balance cyclical? For example, are there times when you’re focusing on your work, then times when you focus on your health, then times when you focus on your family, et cetera?

For me, this is a tricky subject.

See, I have more routines than most people. I like to work in the same café for roughly the same amount of time most days. I head to the climbing gym most Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I write daily. I meditate daily. I stretch daily. (It’s always the same stretching routine, too.) These are just some examples.

Why do I do this? I started many of my daily habits when I was in the middle of burnout and when I was not capable of feeling my way into balance. By that I mean: I didn’t know whether I needed a break from work or whether I could keep going a while and continue to feel good.

As I recovered and as my stress level has dropped, I started to trust myself to implement balance. This is why, the other day, I recommended that you experiment with taking breaks when you run out of steam. It can be a great way to function.

That said, there are some things I simply will not skip, such as my daily “big three” (writing, stretching, and meditating).

I notice a pattern in my behavior: I discover something and it seems really cool. I get excited—I want to try it out! I want to learn more about it. And I want to pour lots of energy in it, at the expense of other things. So that could look like thinking and talking mostly about this one thing for a week or two.

(To give you an example: a few months ago I discovered that Formula 1 racing can be quite interesting if you learn a bit about the strategy. So I spent a few weeks immersing myself in how Formula 1 races work, which drivers are the best, which strategies teams might use on race day, etc.)

I don’t let myself focus that narrowly very often, though—mostly to protect myself. It’s easy to get carried away with spending lots of time on a new and shiny thing (such as Formula 1, in my case) or on an area of life you feel like you’ve neglected (it could be seeing your friends, for example).

But I am not always capable of making the best long-term decision for myself in the moment, so I lean on routines and habits to take care of long-term Peter.

Is the same true for you?

Yours,

— Peter

Finding the time to create (a 30-Day Creator Challenge Excerpt)

This is an excerpt from the 30-Day Creator Challenge. 

Ever wanted to start your own blog? Or a podcast? Or anything creative? (But for some reason you haven’t started.) Then join the challenge! Go to https://creatorchallenge.com or sign up below.

Dear reader,

When, where, and how have you created your content in the past three days?

Did you create at home, in the evening, in a quiet room? Or did you do the work in the middle of your open office when your boss wasn’t looking? 😉

I suppose the latter would be tricky if you’re shooting videos or recording podcast episodes.

Regardless, it can be tough to find the time and energy to create. And if we do find the time and have the energy, it can be difficult to focus. So let’s talk about those things.

To begin with, realize that the circumstances aren’t always perfect

Ideally, you’d have lots of alone time without distractions to get your creative juices flowing. For example, here’s how the famous psychologist Carl Jung used to give himself the time and space to do his work:

In the 1920s … [Jung] began regular retreats to a rustic stone house he built in the woods outside the small town of Bollingen. When there, Jung would lock himself every morning into a minimally appointed room to write without interruption. He would then meditate and walk in the woods to clarify his thinking in preparation for the next day’s writing. — Cal Newport, Deep Work

I’m sure that that setting would help you and me create beautiful things as well. But I’m also pretty sure that you, like me, don’t have a self-made stone house in Switzerland at your disposal.

Fortunately, we don’t need to take such extreme measures to find the space to work, especially now that we are just building the habit of creating. Remember, we’re not creating novels, movies, or award-winning podcasts right now. We’re just trying to get something creative out every day.

If you can find a stretch of uninterrupted time to create your thing during the day, that’s great. Half an hour without interruptions can result in a lovely video. But even if you don’t regularly have distraction-free time like that, you might find opportunities when you look more carefully.

For example, I sometimes find myself writing on the train, on my way home. When that happens, I usually have 20 to 25 minutes, and I challenge myself to finish that day’s article in that time. It’s almost always enough time. And if it isn’t, I’ll have most of an article written, and I can finish it easily at home.

Of course, if you’re shooting a video or recording a podcast, doing so on the train isn’t ideal. But you could find the time on your lunch break, or by getting off a bus stop or two earlier on your way to work. You can record while you walk.

That said, please do not make this a stress-inducing habit. We don’t need to fill every seemingly available minute of our down to do something productive. Looking out the window on the train is nice too.

When you can, plan to create when you can be by yourself for a little while. But when your day is a bit busier, look for that small space somewhere in which you can get something out. 

On a side note, giving yourself a limited amount of time (such as when I write on the train) can help you get started. The pressure of having a time limit makes it easier to put those first words on the page, or to start talking. And trust me, you’ll get a better sense of what you have to say after you start talking (or writing).

So, in short:

When you can make it easier for yourself, do so; when you have to write, shoot, or record in less-than-ideal circumstances, accept that.

Yours,

— Peter

P.S. When you’re writing, shooting a video, or recording a podcast, turn on the “do not disturb” mode on your phone and on your computer. Just to help yourself focus.

Time goes by… so slowly…

Four turtles walk on sand.

When people have a mindset breakthrough, they are keen to take action.

For example: You learn that when you are starting a business, it helps to target a very specific group of people—a “niche”. Then, you spend much of your free time in the next few days thinking about which niche exactly you should target. Suddenly, picking a niche seems incredibly urgent.

Or: You realize that your life will improve in countless ways if you exercise regularly. So you binge on all the information out there about lifting weights efficiently for maximum gains. Even though you went to the gym this morning, you already want to go again. Suddenly, you seem terribly scrawny.

This is excitement, the initial stage.

What comes next? Incremental progress. And by its nature, incremental progress takes time.

See, you upgraded your mindset. Compared with a few weeks ago, you have much more knowledge now.

But your results—how many dollars your business is making, or how many kilograms you can deadlift—haven’t changed much yet. It takes time to build a business. And it takes time to build muscle.

The results lag behind your mindset upgrade; the disparity causes impatience. This happens to everyone. The question is: Can you be satisfied with small but steady gains? Can you keep at it? 

You need to.

Still, time goes by… so slowly…

Yours,

— Peter

Comparing yourself with others (a 30-Day Creator Challenge excerpt)

This is an excerpt from the 30-Day Creator Challenge. 

Ever wanted to start your own blog? Or a podcast? Or anything creative? (But for some reason you haven’t started.) Then join the challenge! Go to https://creatorchallenge.com or sign up below.

Dear reader,

Many people can start creating content and putting it out there. The initial excitement is enough to overcome the inertia of procrastination.

But many people also develop doubts, such as:

  • Is what I’m creating good enough?
  • Why bother creating anything when there is so much good content out there already? I have nothing to add.
  • Who will read, watch, or listen to what I made when other people are making better stuff?
  • I feel embarrassed to share what I created.

It’s normal to have thoughts like these. We all have thoughts, helpful and not-so-helpful. In particular, thoughts in which we compare ourselves with others who appear successful can be very unhelpful.

What can we do when we face thoughts like these?

The first thing to do is to say to yourself: “Thank you, brain, for looking out for me. I know you are just worrying to try to protect me. But I want to build this habit anyway.” 

Second, we can look for some perspective. Let me give you an example. 

Sometimes I like to watch videos by a guy called Marques Brownlee, also known as MKBHD. He reviews technology, such as phones, tablets, and laptops. Take a look at one of his recent videos, in which he reviews the iPhone Xs (click the video thumbnail):

This video is slick! Marques offers context and gets to the point quickly. The production quality is awesome: there are great shots of the gear (the iPhone, in this case); the location he’s shooting in looks like a designer space; the video has voiceovers; Marques varies his shots; he’s using a professional camera, so the image quality is baller—and I could go on.

With content like this out there, how can you compete?

The key is to remember that everyone starts somewhere and that progress is incremental. Take a look at Marques’s first-ever review video (click the video thumbnail):

Marques Brownlee video: "HP Pavilion dv7t Media Center Remote Overview"

Quite a difference, right?

I’m not sharing this to make fun of Marques. My early writing and my early videos are just as bad. And Marques’s first video is from 2009! The point is not that his old videos aren’t very good—the point is that his progress is amazing!

Look, it’s tempting to wait to share your content until it is more polished. You can tell yourself that it’s better to learn a little more about writing, producing videos, or creating podcasts before you share your work publicly.

But here’s the thing: you’ll never feel ready.

Fortunately, you don’t need to feel ready! As long as you’re putting your content out there, that’s enough. Even if what you put out there isn’t perfect. By continuing to create, you will naturally get better.

So keep creating. Accept that what you are creating today will not be as good as what you’ll be creating eventually. Embrace the incremental nature of progress.

With that said, what will you share with the world today?

Yours,

— Peter