by Yann Girard — Get free updates of new posts hereTweet
Today was a horrible day. I didn't do anything until 3.25pm. Nothing. Nada. Niente.
I felt really terrible (and guilty).
I've been procrastinating all day long. I was surfing the web, skimming through blog posts I didn't really care about and I didn't manage to read one full article.
I wasn't even able to read more than five pages in a book.
I really hate these days. These days when you wake up and you know that nothing good is ever going to happen. I have these days at least once a week (maybe twice). And they scare the shit out of me. They kill me.
It's not that the not-doing-anything per se kills me.
I actually love doing nothing at all. It's probably the best feeling in the world. There's nothing I love more than staying in bed all day long, watching TV shows, having a Coke, eating nachos and just enjoying life.
It's the guilt that comes afterwards that actually kills me. The guilt that I gave up. The guilt that I gave in to my weaker self. That I let my “inner pig” as we like to call it in German win the battle. And I hate loosing against it. It's one of the worst feelings ever.
As I didn't do anything useful today I thought that I could do at least one useful thing and try to figure out when and why these things happen to me. What triggers them? What helps me to fight them and ultimately how to avoid them.
Reflecting about these last weeks and when these days usually kick in, I was able to identify a few reasons. Here are the ones I was able to come up with after two cups of coffee right before starting to write this. I'm actually drinking the second one while writing this.
1. Not enough sleep
If I think about it I guess that this is the root cause of all of my procrastination happening. If I don't get enough sleep (or go to bed too late) my brain won't function properly anymore.
I'll be weak-minded all day long and give in to pretty much every possible distraction of the day.
And then I'll be in the downward spiral for many hours. Once I gave in to one distraction the next one follows. And then the next. And the next... It really is some sort of vicious circle.
I realized that not getting enough sleep is the root cause of all evil for me. Of having a bad day. Of having a day wasted doing thousands of irrelevant things, instead of doing the things I should be doing.
Getting enough sleep seems to be the #1 priority for me to stay in the flow, to stay creative, innovative and to be able to come up with ideas.
2. Starting the day with the loop
Usually, when I didn't get enough sleep I start my day with THE LOOP. The loop is my worst enemy. It's the one thing I try to avoid as much as possible and try to delay as long as possible.
The loop is my habit of checking all of my online accounts. It usually starts with Facebook, then Twitter, my blog, Quora, Amazon and then some other accounts on some other sites.
Somewhere in between I also check my emails. My loop can take up to everything between 20 minutes to a few hours. Today I was stuck in an almost infinite loop until I decided to write about the loop and its other evil friends.
That's what saved me today.
The loop is something I need to avoid by all means. But if I didn't get enough sleep, I'm usually too weak, give in to the temptations and I know that my day is going to be either super unproductive or I need to to one of the things that gets me back into the flow (see later).
3. Drinking alcohol
Drinking alcohol has become one of the worst creativity killers for me. It wasn't about five years ago. Back then I could party all night long, could have twenty drinks, sleep three hours and the next day everything would be totally fine.
Today, when I have like four beers and sleep less than eight hours I'm not able to do anything. I won't fuction properly. My entire day will be ruined. I will be in the loop for the entire day.
And it's even worse if I drink more than that. Damn it, I got old...
ItfI drink more than my normal intake it can take me up to 48 hours to get back to my normal level of flow. It's really insane.
I can still remember that one Thursday night when I still had a job and decided to go out with my buddies who were consultants.
Everything I was able to do at work the next day was to write down my working hours in an excel sheet. I'm not kidding. That really happened...
Lack of sleep combined with alcohol kicks me out of the flow for at least 48 hours. That's why I try to avoid it by any means. Unfortunately I give in to the temptation way too often...
4. Being angry at someone (mostly myself)
Sometimes I really feel like punching myself in the face (just like today). There are so many situations where I tell myself “oh boy, that was a major screw up once again”.
Be it the missed opportunity to kiss the girl that clearly liked me, asking someone a question I was dying to ask, having said something stupid or offensive (which I realized only afterwards) or any other stupid situation.
This will keep my head spinning for quite a while and the guilty conscience usually drags me into a dark place. A place full of regrets. A place that consists of thousands of potential loops...
5. Publishing new content
The moment I hit publish on any major platform (just like right now) is the moment where the danger is really high that I get out of the flow and into the loop again.
I always want to know whether or not people like my stuff. If they share it. If they write a comment.
And it gets worse and worse every single day. Every single day there's a new platform to publish my content to. They keep popping up everywhere. Damn it!
And then I need to check these platforms as well. My loop gets bigger and longer every single day. I need to know if people like my stuff there as well. If they also like me there.
6. Writing someone I really care about and waiting for a reply
I hate it when people I really care about don't reply immediately to my messages on social media or any other platform. It really drives me crazy sometimes. I have to constantly check back if that person already wrote back.
If I really care about that person I somehow feel the urge to check back every five minutes. I'm actually checking my messages every five minutes while writing this and that damn person still hasn't replied yet. Damn you!
It's like every time I give my brain a ten second break I have to hit the refresh button. And then I get angry at myself for doing it (see above).
Thank god I don't have a smartphone and can't use WhatsApp. Another device I would have to constantly check for replies and I might end up in a mental institution...
7. Too many things to do
I usually have countless of book, blog post and startup ideas in my head.
At the moment I'm working on two books in parallel. I have one and a half notepads full of ideas for articles and another ten business ideas I'm thinking about executing next year (I'll probably drop all of them by the end of this week).
Sometimes it just gets too much and I get completely lost. I don't know what I should do next. I forget what I already agreed upon in my head. I run in circles.
Having too many things to do and too many things on my mind is a guarantee for kicking myself out of the flow for quite a while. If I have too many things on my mind and too many projects I'm thinking about I won't be able to sleep properly.
I will constantly feel like I need to finish this one thing as soon as possible so I can start the new thing. I'm busy thinking about the new new thing before I even started the new thing. And I haven't even finished the current thing...
8. Worrying too much
If I worry too much about the future or the past or the things I should do next I can't sleep properly. I get up way too early, am too tired and start the loop.
There are actually a lot of other things that can completely kick me out of the flow and kill my vibe.
The stuff that helps me to avoid the loop and get back into the flow:
Over the years I found a few things that help me to get back into the flow, to be creative again. To get things going and execute instead of procrastinate.
Here are a few things that help me get back into the flow.
That's actually the thing that got me going today. The thing that got me out of the loop and into the zone. There's nothing better than quick power naps between 5-15 minutes. They do the trick for me. All the time.
# Going for a walk
It's been scientifically proven that going out into the wild and enjoying nature (or skyscrapers or whatever there is where you live) will double or even triple your brain activity and you'll get your creative juices flowing again.
I guess the headline of the picture I saw on Facebok said something like a twenty minute walk or so. Yes, that's the scientific evidence I was talking about. It's evidence enough for me :-).
And it makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary perspective. A few ten thousands of years ago we had to stay alert when we were out in the wild. We had to pay attention to everything or otherwise we would have been killed by a tiger or what not.
And when we were in our caves, in a safe environment our brains would shut down and save energy. It didn't have to stay alert and watch out for tigers or any other animals that could kill us anymore...
If I get up in the morning and litter my brain with my morning loop there's only one way for me to get out of it again. To get all the trash out of there. I have to go for a run. A run where I don't listen to music. Where I don't do anything except than letting my mind sort out all of the BS in it.
Going for a run helps my brain to structure my day and the things I should be doing next. I don't proactively think about it but whenever I go jogging my brain sorts all of the stuff and comes up with a solution.
It really feels like magic sometimes.
It feels like some sort of meditation for me. Oh and I actually have the best ideas when I go out for a run. It's really one of the best things for me to get back on track and to get back into the zone.
# Grab a coffee at the local coffee shop
This also does wonders. In the beginning it feels like I'm just walking away from my problems. And that's actually what it it's all about. It's about taking time for yourself when you feel like you should push yourself even harder to get shit done.
Sometimes the best thing to do when you feel completely overwhelmed, are totally behind the deadline and you can literally hear the clock ticking is to slow down, reassess the situation and just walk away from it all (for a short period of time).
I usually walk to the local coffee shop, get my cappuccino and read some Kindle books until I feel that my mind and body have slowed down. That they are back on track. And then I go back to work rejuvenated and get back into the flow.
The first thing I need to do to get back into the zone after I went for a walk, a run or had a powernap is to sit down and start writing or working. If I don't start to write right away I'll immediately go back into the loop.
And I'll be trapped for quite a while or have to go through one of the above mentioned things once again...
I really do hope that at one point in my life I'll be in the zone and in the flow forever. That nothing will ever be able to kick me out of the flow ever again.
It feels so pretty damn good to be in the flow.
To be able to constantly plant your seeds and watch some of them grow into beautiful flowers. Flowers that show me that one person can really make a difference in this world.
One flower and one person at a time...