Some of the most successful people I know are flakes.
Surprising? Only if you think “flake” means unreliable, unmotivated, or uncaring.
But I’m using “flake” in the sense of being wired a little differently — having the kind of brain chemistry that can make it tricky to navigate the world like regular (neurotypical) people do.
There’s a growing stack of evidence that those of us with funny brains are more likely to do our own thing.
(Yeah, we already knew that, but it’s nice to be validated.)
For example, folks with ADHD are three times as likely as neurotypical people to start a business. And there’s a big additional group who don’t have a formal diagnosis, but they do have ADHD traits.
The first piece of “viral” content I ever wrote was called The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done. And even through I wrote it from the perspective of someone who had a really weirdly wired brain and somehow did things anyway, it turned out that a lot of people resonated with that feeling.
So I decided to dedicate a few issues of The Fierce to some flake-friendly strategies for finding focus, pursuing big goals, and making things happen. (You can read more about Flake Friendly Productivity Month here.)
You don’t have to be ADHD (or a flake) to use these
Honestly, most professionals in the 21st century have accumulated some ADHD traits. It’s just part of living in an incredibly distracting environment.
Add pandemics and assorted disasters to that, and it’s a miracle any of us is accomplishing anything at all.
So with that out of the way, let’s dive into today’s theme:
Stephen Guise is probably my favorite productivity writer, and his latest book is called The Magic of Momentum. (It’s good, you should get it.)
His premise is that momentum is the smartest thing you can harness to make better progress on what matters to you.
The core idea is that the biggest predictor of behavior is what you’re already doing.
“You are most likely to to do what you just did…. Every action you take creates momentum in that same direction.”
– Stephen Guise
My Creative Fierce implementation community was founded on this idea (before Stephen published that particular book), and in my experience he’s on the money.
- If you wrote yesterday, you’re much more likely to write today
- If you ate a potato chip a minute ago, you’re much more likely to eat one right now
- If you put off writing your newsletter last week, the odds are excellent that you’ll skip this week, too
Today I want to talk about a few of my favorite ways to get — and keep — your momentum on challenging projects.
#1: The thing before the thing
If you’re having trouble getting to a project consistently, it’s often because you don’t have a great handle on the prep needed to really sink your teeth into it.
I call this prep the “thing before the thing.” (I swiped the phrase from my friend Susan Garrett, who’s an incredible dog trainer. But we use it to mean different things.)
As you’re planning your week and looking at the more intimidating tasks, think about a small on-ramp that could lead you into that task.
- If you’re writing a blog post, it might be writing the headline and subheads.
- If you’re creating website copy, it might be uncovering some voice of customer research.
- If you’re planning your content calendar, it might be looking back through your journal or planner to find juicy ideas.
- If you’re doing something boring, it might be turning on some B-52s and taking a few dance breaks.
- If you’re tackling something that makes you feel insecure, it might be sitting down to work next to a friend. (Your dog counts, of course.)
The thing before the thing is the first step you take on a project — particularly one that makes the next step easier.
If you need help coming up with your own thing before the thing, I’ll be leading a quick coaching session on how to decide on yours. That’s happening during our September focus sprint. (Scroll down for a few more details on that.)
#2: Schedule the prep
It’s great to identify the thing before the thing — but you also need to get it onto your calendar.
Scheduling your preparation sets aside a specific day and time for that gentle on-ramp. Which makes it infinitely more likely that you’ll be able to dive in and actually make progress.
It’s just easier to show up for a small preparation step than it is for a big, intimidating project.
If you put “work on the book” on your calendar, I’m very impressed if you actually sit down and do it. Unless you already have some fantastic book-writing momentum, the task is so intimidating that it’s likely to chase you away.
But when you schedule “look at the outline for chapter six,” you give yourself much better odds. It’s small, it’s specific, and even if you’re not 100% in the mood, you can probably find the energy for it.
#3: Cultivate the wee win
This one comes from Stephen Guise as well, particularly his book Elastic Habits.
If you can engineer a string of small wins, even wins that are practically microscopic, you’ll start to build momentum. And that momentum will roll up into bigger progress, as long as you can keep it rolling.
The important part is to truly celebrate even the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny wins.
Did you get a half page of writing done today? That’s a total win.
Was a half page too much, but you wrote three sentences? One sentence? Scribbled some notes?
That, also, is a total win.
Putting together a string of wins, no matter how wee, gives you momentum. And on a day when you have more time or energy, you’ll be able to knock out a bigger chunk.
Which leads me to:
#4: Sticker charts for grown-ass people
You can use an app to track your winning streaks — I’m finding the iOS app Habit (by Davetech) to be pretty good.
But I’ve never found an app that’s as satisfying as a physical sticker chart.
Making one is easy.
Get yourself a physical calendar. The kind you print off the internet works fine. Or if your mom sends you one every year and you don’t know what to do with it, do this.
(Guise also sells blank calendars, designed just to track your habits.)
Now get hold of some stickers that you find pleasing. Gold stars, rainbow glitter unicorns, skull and crossbones. Whatever floats your boat.
For every day you pull off a win, even a microscopic one, give yourself a sticker.
It will take you all of two days to start getting attached to the streak you’ve got going. And a month’s worth of gold stars is a beautiful thing to see.
It sounds juvenile… because it is juvenile. It’s also weirdly satisfying. Give it a try.
(If stickers aren’t your thing, you can always go the tried and true Jerry Seinfeld strategy and just mark the day with a giant red X.)
Productivity tips are fine, but it’s much more fun to get together and actually do some things.
If you have a project that’s important to you but not easy to make time for, make an arrangement with friends or colleagues to do a focus sprint together.
And I’d love to have you sprint with me for a week, starting Monday, September 12, 2022.
I’m holding a free focus sprint later this month, and you’re invited.
We’re going to meet virtually for five days, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 PM Eastern U.S. time. I’ll do a little coaching (about 10-15 minutes), and then we all put our heads down and work on a project.
For everyone who lets me know they’re interested in the sprint, I’ll also be sending out a bonus productivity strategy or technique once a week. (Probably Tuesdays, but I won’t swear to it.)
If you want to join us, make sure you’re signed up to get my newsletter. (Scroll down and fill out the nice form below the comment section.)
It comes out every Friday (Saturday in Oceania), and I pack it full of tips, strategies, and advice for content writers and creative entrepreneurs.
There’s no charge for the sprint, and you don’t have to attend every session or come for the full time.
All focus is good focus, and we’d love to have you for as much time as you need.
This week, try one of these out. The wee win (perhaps with a sticker chart) is a great strategy to get rolling with, but just pick one that appeals.
In 2022, there are very few people who genuinely feel on top of all of their commitments. As we head into the last third of the year, this is a fantastic time to adopt a few new strategies, or re-commit to the ones you already have in place.