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This is going to be a weird post because it’s not directly related to personal finance, but today I wanted to explore the idea of being “in the zone”, and what that means for me. Since these are things that apply specifically to me, I won’t make the presumption of saying they’ll work for you, too. That said, hear me out – maybe something will resonate with you, and that’s the best I can hope for.
In my last post, I wrote about how pursuing early retirement is a means to have the freedom to pursue happiness. I think that in this generation, millennials get a lot of crap for shying away from what was the norm in our parent’s generation – go to school, get a job, and reach the peak of your career. Now, the word “career” is more loosely interpreted. Any work you take up can be a career, and, if it’s one that brings you satisfaction and reward, then it’s a good career for you.
I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what it is that will bring me the personal satisfaction and growth that I’ve been missing out on. Basically, I’m chasing whatever it is that will keep me “in the zone”. For a while, I thought that just pursuing incremental salary would alleviate the dissatisfaction I’m currently experiencing. Money is nice, but it only acts as a band-aid. Realization: my quest for higher income is just a way for me to increase my savings rate, which means I can be financially independent sooner. That doesn’t help me right now, though. Over the past few months, blogging has been my creative outlet, and honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve been the more passionate about anything as much as this.
My earliest childhood dream was to be an author. I read voraciously, double the pace of my peers. Growing up in a household where neither of my parents spoke English as a first language, however, my vocabulary and grammar suffered as a result, and my writing was actually extremely weak for my age group. (Some humorous examples: I pronounced the “L” in salmon until I got to college, I have a terrible tendency to use “bathroom” as a verb instead of a noun, and I flunked a gerunds test in 11th grade.) That childhood dream has only returned in the past few years and now I’m wondering whether I should give it more of a go. Two years ago, I was a finalist in the Writer’s Digest 15th Annual Short Story competition, and that was the kickstart to get me back into writing. I’ve been drafting book ideas, but writing regularly for this blog (on a topic I love, no less) is the best way for me to start and get into the habit of writing. An average post for me is roughly 700 – 800 words, and it can take multiple sittings and revisions until I write a post that I’m happy with. Can you imagine writing an entire novel? Talk about a new appreciation for full-time writers…
I believe Inspiration (or in this case, consistent word count production) can actually be reproduced formulaically. We have so many modern world distractions that it’s no wonder attention spans have decreased. For my ideal writing set up, I can be either sit on the couch with my laptop in my lap or sit on the ground with my laptop on the coffee table, but I’ve found that these factors help me develop a semblance of writing “flow”:
- A clear working space. A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. I love the idea of minimalism and I’m always trying to find ways to apply it to my own cluttered life. When I sit down to consciously write, I avoid being near mail, stacks of paper, or even multiple browser tabs. Nowadays, our workspace is digital just as much as it is physical, if not more so. I like to blog in a new browser window, opening new tabs to look up references if needed (and then closing them out when I’m done with them). Physically, the only things I have within arms reach are my mug, my phone, and right now, a (now empty) bowl of ice cream. I try to not look at my phone if I can avoid it, by tucking it juuuuust out of sight so if I get a notification I can’t immediately tell.
- Notes. Post ideas come to me at all times of the day. Ideas are notated on my phone, my laptop, or in a physical notebook, which I also sometimes have next to me when I’m typing. The key point here is that when I do jot down notes, it’s always offline. This reduces the temptation for me to get sucked back into checking Facebook or Instagram.
- Session goal. When I know I’m about to sit down for a while, I’ll have a specific goal in mind – finish a post, write 500 words, plan out my social media posting strategy for the next week. Not having a goal in mind makes it harder to stay productive, because I need to be working towards a goal in order to make anything happen.
- Source of hydration. I’m not a coffee drinker, but if you like tea, my current fav is this one from Amazon. The packaging is absolutely amazing; more so if you’re familiar with the Ryan Gosling meme. The even better selling point is that it tastes amazing. There’s a whole product line, too! I like the one that is geared more towards cold and flu, but if you’re into detoxing or energizing teas, they’ve got them. Personally, I pay more attention to the flavors than I do the advertised benefits, because it’s all good for you, anyway! Drink up. (If you prefer coffee, Ian approves of this one. I cannot comment on its flavor, but Ian likes it, so take that for what it’s worth.)
- Not having snacks. I am very guilty of mindless eating. I can easily overeat or get drunk when I’m out socializing, because if something is in front of me, I will consume it, quickly. Snacking is messier than tea, and sometimes it even takes two hands! Not efficient for writing at all. I avoid this when possible, and when I’m really focused on a post, I find that I’m usually not craving food anyway.
Why am I arguing that inspiration can be found in a formula? I believe what is seen as inspiration is just the successful application of lots of discipline. Don’t look for single-use motivation; any inspiration will be fleeting and unsatisfactory. Instead, develop the type of working environment you feel productive in (and removed from distractions!), and inspiration will come again and again. It’s still something I’m working on, but, like this entire blog, writing about it is a way to hold myself accountable.