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You have ideas. Great ideas. They come at you all day long but you aren’t able to pursue them. You have a task at hand that needs to be done. Maybe it’s your day job. Maybe it’s a project you’re busy working on.

You can’t engage these ideas because you’re supposed to be working, but they keep distracting you! A concept for your painting, a solution to your engineering problem, a way to relate to your students—they’re all begging for your attention.

We’re going to unpack all of this in a DYNAMITE episode. I’m going to tell you the way to get your focus back, show you how to apply that focus to becoming an expert, and explain how to do all of this while having a happy family.

A tall order? You bet. Let’s dive in.

Show Notes

    Feedback from Aubrey:

    “I currently have an awesome day job… work a typical 40 hours a week in a position totally unrelated to my passion. I love the people I work for and with. They are encouraging and challenging… I have learned more here than any other place I could imagine. This job, like most people’s jobs, comes with a good deal of stress… it’s a small company where everyone wears many hats.

    The problem I run into is daydreaming on the job. It’s like there is a super strong constant desire to go draw, paint, create… I get a load of creative ideas while I am at work. I am finding it so hard to focus on the job at hand.

    Have you ever run into something like this? I don’t know what I can do to stay focused at work. Even if I draw at night when I get home it’s like it just isn’t enough. Nothing is satisfying that desire to create.”

  • The problem
  • 06:40 “What do you do if you’re constantly getting creative ideas while you’re working or busy and it’s distracting you from the task at hand?”
  • 06:52 Let’s think about why this happens. So you’re in a place where you have certain work you need to be doing—something you’re supposed to be focused on. You’re constrained. Constraints breed creativity. Your creative ideas are trying to escape the constraint. This is good. This is normal.
  • 07:12 It’s normal for ideas to flourish within constraints. If you had all day to do whatever you wanted, it’s actually much harder to come up with ideas. Where it gets detrimental is when it becomes a distraction from what you need to be doing RIGHT NOW.
  • 07:32 Let’s first look at the bright side of this situation while you’re in it. You’re getting great ideas. Let’s capture those ideas while you have them! They might seem like a frustration right now because you can’t pursue them, but later on it might be hard to come up with ideas.
  • Capture
  • 07:59 As you get these ideas, you want to chronicle them. Now, when I say “ideas” this could be anything. It could be an idea for a book, a concept for your painting, a solution to your engineering problem, a way to relate to your students—anything.
  • 08:22 I talked about Productive Procrastination (Related: e101 How to Find Your Passion), our brains kind of do that too. It has a focused mode when it’s really intently concentrated on a particular task, but then it has this passive mode where it processes other things.
  • 08:41 It’s like the backup program on your computer that has the setting that says “Backup when idle.” When your brain isn’t focused, it will start processing other things. All kinds of things. Now, of course this happens when you’re sleeping too and things get weird and you have jumbled dreams comprised of all your hopes, fears, and experiences, but sadly you’re not conscious to capture these ideas.
  • 09:03 But during the day, you do have this opportunity. So when your brain is idling, it’s processing things for you.
  • If you’re distracted by an idea, write it down.

  • 09:22 Once you write it down, if it comes back up again tell your brain: “I already wrote that down. That’s not your job any more to remind me. I’ll be reminded when I look at my list later. Your job now is to focus on this task at hand.”
  • 09:44 Ben: “There’s a fear that if you don’t give your ideas attention in that moment, you won’t be able to elaborate on those ideas in the same way later. But I think this is a problem of how we lead our mental processing. I believe our mind will follow our lead. Instead of believing that the magic will be gone when you revisit it later, suspend the energy you want to spend toward elaborating on this idea. Then when it’s time to finally be able to do it, you’re ready to burst with all of this creative energy. Your mind will follow your lead if you believe that’s how the creative process will work. Give it a time and a place and designate a section of your day to allow these ideas to explode into life.”
  • 11:42 Sean: I really like that attitude. It’s saying, “I want to do this idea full justice.” It’s an acknowledgment that right now in your current circumstances you’re not able to give it the time and focus it deserves. “I’m going to save my energy to pursue this when I really have time to focus on it.”
  • 12:30 It’s not just some undetermined time in the future where you are able to pursue this, but actually have purposeful time set aside every day as a routine to allow that creative process to take place.
  • Chronicle
  • 13:01 When it comes to chronicling ideas, you want to have lists.
    Here’s what I do: I have an inbox. This is where everything gets dumped. When you have an idea, the immediate goal is to capture it as purely as possible with as much detail as possible. Put it into an inbox list, and you can categorize it later.
  • If you’re thinking about what category this idea goes into, then you’re going to miss some of the detail. Just capture it.

  • 13:58 I have a lot of separate lists. I have something like 30 to 50 different lists for various categories (lettering phrases, podcast topics, video ideas, newsletter ideas, business strategies, lettering concepts, etc.).
  • 14:36 Once I have this huge archive, I bring the things that I need to do into my Today list that I have time set aside for.
  • 14:44 iPhone Tip: You can use Siri to create a note. Just say the word “note” followed by whatever you want to say and it will create a note. I’ll often use this to quickly dictate a note when I don’t have time to open my todo app. I can later add it to my app and categorize it.
  • 16:02 Ben: “I like what you’re saying: Capture the detail of the idea, but don’t try to categorize it and archive it until later. You have to use different kinds of energy to capture an idea vs categorize it. So in the moment, you just write down the detail of the idea and call it done and set it aside. Then just follow up on everything all at once as a part of your routine.”
  • Set Aside Time
  • 17:03 You have to have a schedule.
  • 17:12 If you’re the person who is getting constantly distracted by ideas that you want to pursue “if” you have time later that night, I can pretty much guarantee you don’t have a set aside time that you work on this thing each day.
  • Having a routine minimizes daydreaming and distraction.

  • 17:47 When you work on this thing for 2 hours at 7:30pm each night (or whatever time works for you) and it’s on the schedule, it eventually becomes something you don’t even think about.
  • 18:01 For instance, evaluate the current habits you have. Wake up, brush your teeth, do your hair, make coffee, etc., those are things you don’t even have to think about. Why? Because they are routine. They are just things you do.
  • 18:17 This has to be a thing you do. Every night, at 7:30pm (or again, whatever time works for you), that is your time.You have to have this set aside, get your family on board so they know about this special time and not to bother you. Once you establish this, you’ll find the daydreaming will dissipate.
  • 18:45 Your mind will know that it has its set aside time to do this creative work in the evening. It’s just like the TV show on Netflix you watch with dinner—it’s a thing you do. You don’t even have to think about it. That’s what this thing has to be. I think you’ll find that it gives you more focus during the day as well for the tasks you need to do at the present.
  • 19:18 Basically what your brain is doing is it’s worrying. When you say, “If I have time to get to this later tonight,” your brain is worrying that it’s not going to happen. It knows that it’s probably not going to happen. Your brain tries to do those things now while it has a chance because it knows that it doesn’t have time later because you haven’t set it aside.
  • 19:53 Ben: “This is becoming a kind of funny conversation. Because your brain essentially is you but you’re doing things that your brain doesn’t like. But it’s totally true. There’s this subconscious fear you have that you’re not fully aware of when you don’t have a regular routine or don’t have time set aside. Those ideas that come up are just going to sit in there and decompose without ever coming to fruition. I really like that idea of seeing your brain as a different person. You’re saying ‘I recognize your fears and I understand why you feel that way and why you’re frustrated with me right now. I apologize that I haven’t been fulfilling my end of the deal. I’m going to set aside this time and commit to it. Does that make things better between us?'”
  • 21:05 Sean: As hilarious as that is, it’s exactly what you have to do with your family. You need to communicate with them about your routine and set aside time.
  • Communicate With Family
  • 21:12 Not only does this whole setting aside time thing work for you and your brain, but it also prevents strain on your relationships.
  • 21:27 How many of us who are married or have families have started to work on something in the evenings or on the weekends, and it seems pretty clear that this is what we do and the people in your life seem fine with it (or they at least haven’t ever taken issue with it) and then suddenly… SNAP! Your significant other is extremely upset. They go off about all the time you’re spending on this thing.
  • 22:20 Who’s fault is this? “They should control their emotions, right?” Well sure, but let’s go a little deeper here: You did not set expectations. It’s all about expectations.
  • Expectations are the most important thing.

    Without definition, without boundaries, without a schedule, without having both people on board knowing exactly what to expect a breaking point is only inevitable.

  • 24:38 You’ve got to get your family on board. Communicate with them. Open dialog. You are a TEAM!
  • 25:24 You want to think of each other as a team. It’s a togetherness. Both of you having “veto” cards where you can each prevent the other person from doing something that isn’t very supportive. Instead, think of the other person: “How can I enable you to do the things that you want to do and the things that you aspire to,” and they do the same for you.
  • 27:18 What is your mindset? How are you thinking about every situation? You’re not always going to be flawless and you’re not always going to be perfect. But see everything as a challenge:
    • How can I see this in a way that I can take responsibility for something that went wrong?
    • How can I be better?
    • How can I defer to the other person more?
  • Focus
  • 29:08 Let’s say you have your set aside time and finally you’re sitting down at your desk to work on this thing. Only, there’s one problem: your mind is completely blank. You’ve got nothing. You finally had the opportunity to be creative and it’s nothing but Blank Page Syndrome.
  • 29:58 What’s the problem here? The problem is you didn’t prepare. There are two modes:
    1. Zoomed In Mode
      • Detail Mode
    2. Zoomed Out Mode
      • Big Picture Mode
  • Rather than try to get really good at switching zoom modes, be good at scheduling zoom modes.

  • 30:17 It’s very hard to switch between the two. Be good at setting aside time for those two separate modes.
  • 30:27 What are you going to do during this set aside time? Pull out some of the ideas that you already have logged away and start working on them.
  • 30:54 All of the other time you have throughout the week where you’re not actually doing these things is idea-acquiring time. That’s where you log the ideas.
  • Prepare
  • 31:01 You have to prepare for this time. Not only do you have to set it aside but you have to prepare for it. “What am I going to do during this set aside time?”
  • 31:11 Pull out some of the ideas that you have logged away and tell yourself that you’re going to work on them. BONUS points if you tell your family too. When your family knows about it, they’re going to keep you accountable.
  • Become An Expert
  • 31:41 “How do you become an expert?”
  • 31:49 In a nutshell:
  • 32:22 Just like professionalism, you don’t “arrive” at being an expert.
    • It’s a journey.
    • It’s a direction.
    • It’s a mindset you have.
    • It’s an attitude of approaching every situation objectively.
    • It’s the intention to seek and acquire responsibility.
    • Making a point to continually better yourself.
  • 32:48 The wrong question to ask: “Where is the expert arrival zone and how can I get there?” Instead ask: “What do experts do and how can I mimic those actions? How can I adopt those habits and become an expert?”
  • Copy to Learn
  • 33:49 We all copy to learn. It’s how we learned language.
  • There’s nothing new under the sun but you can combine ideas that already exist and repurpose them and present them in your own voice.

    That’s what makes something unique.

  • 34:27 Even the things we’re talking about here have all been talked about before. But we have our own unique voice, we have our own unique combination of existing ideas, and it’s a unique time too.
  • 34:43 Even if something sounds like one of the most simple concepts to you it could be someone else’s very first time hearing it (Related: e053 The Magic of 7 & Why Your Voice Matters).
  • 37:20 Being an expert is not about an arrival, it’s about an attitude and a mindset. A novice might look at a copy they made and think, “I did a pretty good job making this copy. If this was actually my original idea it would be pretty good!” The expert looks at the two and actively seeks out the ways where they have fallen short in the copy they made. They set out to better themselves by improving the composition or their techniques. They’re looking for Deliberate Practice Fuel.
  • Have a Happy Family
  • 41:30 Becoming an expert is not about working the most. It’s about having regular time set aside, the right kind of practice during that time, and preparing for those times that you have set aside. With that in mind, happy families are ones that feel cared for. “How do they feel cared for?” By you being with them. By you spending time with them, face-to-face. Not sending a check in the mail—that doesn’t make people feel cared for—but by you being with them. Don’t carve time for this thing you want to do out of their allotment.
  • 43:23 Say you have a 9 to 5 job. Let’s break down your evening:
    • You come home.
    • You have dinner.
    • You have family time (group, one-on-one, etc.).
    • You have some you time.
  • 43:43 Everyone has some “you” time. I don’t care what you say. People say “I’m super busy, I don’t even have time for me.” It’s not true. You’re finding time. Are you watching Netflix in the evening? Are you getting on YouTube? Are you on Reddit? You can’t lie about it. I get that little “buffering” symbol around 10pm, because I know all of you are doing the exact same thing. 80% of you, if I went in your door at 9 or 10pm, you’re watching Netflix.
  • The point is you do have time, and you’re dedicating it to other things. Stop saying you don’t have time and make the time.

  • 45:54 We’re talking about having a happy family here: make time by taking from the “you” time. We’re talking about setting aside time to work on your passion. You want to do something? You want to get good at something? You want to become an expert at something? You want to make a living at something other than the day job that you don’t really like? This is what you have to do. It doesn’t mean taking it away from your family, it means taking it away from yourself when you’re wasting time. Say no to your pleasures, not to family time.
  • You can’t think like everyone else if you want to see different results from them.

  • 52:04 Many people don’t want to do something long enough to discover if they’re passionate about it or they say that they “don’t have a passion.” There are 60 and 70-year-old people right now that think they don’t have a passion and it’s because they didn’t dedicate the time to doing it. It doesn’t start with motivation. It doesn’t start with this feeling that you “know” what your passion is. It starts with setting aside time, it starts with scheduling, it starts with routine, and it starts with pursuing this thing and a choice to show up. The motivation comes after the choice. You’re not going to find the passion until you’re on the other side of resistance. You say “This is hard. I don’t know if I really like this thing.” THAT’S resistance. Keep going. Keep pushing forward.
  • Get Your Focus Back
  • 53:01 The solution is obvious: routine. It sounds simple but people don’t do it.They say, “Yeah, yeah, routine… I’ve got a rough routine. I kind of eat 3 meals a day most of the time…” That’s not a routine. Is it on the calendar? That’s a routine. If you have to, break apart your whole day and schedule your entire day. Schedule every waking minute of your entire waking day if you have to. You don’t have to schedule every minute, but if you’re having trouble and you’re not able to focus with holes in your calendar, then schedule every waking minute.
  • 56:16 Focus is limiting distraction. Distraction comes when there are options. Think about it. We talked about reducing choice before (Related: e096 Boosting Creativity by Reducing Choice). If you’re operating on someone, say you’re a surgeon, and someone comes into your operating room and goes, “Oh hey, man, check out this hilarious photo I saw on Reddit,” you’re going to scream at him to get the you know what out of your operating room! Why? Because someone’s life is at stake. THERE ARE NO OPTIONS HERE. GET OUT!
  • 56:52 That’s an extreme case, but you have to create scenarios where there is no choice. When other things are not an option there can be no distractions. You’re not going to put up with stuff.
  • 57:08 Knowing you have time set aside later in the day allows you to focus on what you have now without being anxious. When it’s an uncertain thing, if you “may” or “may not” work on your thing later, then your brain will try to free itself now because it knows there’s a chance it may not happen.
  • Choosing from the Archive
  • 57:34 Ben: “The notion of choosing something from your archives to pursue when you sit down to work seems like it could be daunting. There’s Blank Page Syndrome where you don’t have any ideas, but when you have this large archive of ideas you’ve chronicled, which one do you pick? How do you know where to start?”
  • 58:13 Sean: Well, it is going to be hard. It is going to be a struggle. It’s the same for me with the podcast. I have a list with a dozen items on it for podcast topics and every time I look at the list I think, “Oh, I don’t want to do THAT one…” Today, I had to show up, I had to have a podcast and I didn’t know what it was going to be about. That was this morning. I’ve got this big list of topics but I wasn’t feeling any of them. You’re going to feel this. You’re going to have a big, huge archive of stuff, and you’ve got a blank page, and the thing is you just have to do it. You just have to pick one. Put the ideas in a hat and pick one or have your spouse pick one. If you land on an idea you don’t like, too bad. You put it on there. Just do it! Think of it as a constraint and just be creative with it!