How I Doubled My Creative Output for Less Than $30

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The most important thing I’ve done for improving my life was creating my commonplace system.

Second to that, learning about the concept of Biological Prime Time (BPT) and structuring my days to do the most important work in those 3-4 hours.

Now, for this simple advice I’m about to share with you, it doesn’t rank as high, but it requires little effort and only a small cost.

Still, it might be the biggest life improvement I’ve made in the past 6 months.

So listen up and learn —

How to Double Your Creativity

I got this idea from reading Richard Koch’s 80/20 Principle. There was a section in the book that went something like this:

“Think back on the last month, were there days when you were extraordinarily creative or productive?”

I thought about it–and realized there were. There will be a few days each month where I have a ton of ideas (easily 5-10x more than the average day).

Then I took a 15-minute break from reading, and thought back to the last times when I got a LOT done in just one day’s time. . . and I could recall a few times like that. . . then I asked myself what the circumstances were.

I realized, it was my MOOD!

All the times when I had got a lot done fast, it had been due to some sudden creative insight. And I had been in a particular sort of good mood.

Here’s what I did next — and recommend to you:

  1. Buy a large physical calendar.
  2. Hang it where you can’t miss it — kitchen aisle for me.
  3. Write down “UP” for every day when you feel better than usual and “DOWN” for days when you feel worse than usual.
  4. For every such day recorded, write a short note (“more creative/motivated/high energy levels”).
  5. Then think long and hard about what comes naturally to you these days when your mood is exceptionally good.

THAT’S IT!

But it took about a month before I learned:

  • That while I am very creative on these days, I’m horrible at working towards my existing goals.
  • Therefore: I have made systems for stuff I only work on when I have these “UP-Days”.
  • Won’t bother you with the nerdy details, but I changed my work routine: (1) on normal days I will follow my to-do list whereas (2) on “UP-Days” I focus on creative work, ideation, and meta-thinking for improving my life. I’ll just go where my inspiration leads me.

How I Doubled My Creativity

I don’t treat each day the same.

Why should I treat every day the same if I can be 10x more creative in one than the other?

I can easily have 3-10 useful ideas on an UP-Day, whereas I might only have 1-2 on a normal day, even if I really push myself.

Look: Even if that special 10x “UP-Day” only comes around once a week, if I can have two of those a week, it doubles my creativity.

What I’m Doing Differently Since Discovering This:

  • I don’t sit by my computer during UP-Days. I want to keep moving and Break out of Homeostasis in different ways. I’ll just write in a notebook or do inputs in commonplace systems (using Evernote) from my phone.
  • When I have a bad day, I’ll take the day off and do something more fun. Like meeting a friend, going on a date, or reading books for inspiration.
  • I don’t hang out with people when I have an “UP” day. At least not until I’ve exhausted my brain–to the point where I can’t even form a coherent thought (the mental equivalent of a Bruce Lee workout session.)
  • I have more slack in my schedule, to capitalize on my inspiration.
  • I continue to refine this method because it’s working.
  • My intuitive feel for anticipating these “UP-days” is gradually improving.

Parting Thoughts:

1) Do not over-complicate this. Do not track mood and things like that in Excel. It’s stupid. I’ve done it a lot myself and it leads to a bunch of psychological traps where you delude yourself.

2) How long? I probably did it for 3 weeks or a month before I noticed a pattern. Then when I did, it wasn’t a predictable pattern that was easy to put into words or rules of thumb. You’ll just have to experiment yourself.

3) Results not guaranteed. Everyone has different emotional rhythms. I expect this experiment would be life-changing for people who have ADHD or are manic-depressive, as their ups and downs are more frequent and stronger. Also, I think you need to be in control of your own schedule and be some kind of knowledge worker in order to take full advantage of your best days.

Still, don’t dismiss this idea–just because it’s so simple.

Super Summary:

  • Get a big calendar & hang it where you can’t miss it.
  • Write “UP” for your best days.
  • Figure out what work comes easily/naturally when you’re in a great mood–and do only that.

Why don’t you give it a try this week? Buy a calendar on your way home.

Question: Have you noticed something similar on your own? If so, I’d like to hear how you expanded upon it.

Future Skills

I also shared this idea–how to double your creativity–on my new podcast Future Skills (episode #2).

Did you listen to it?

You can subscribe to Future Skills on: iTunes | Android

If you would give me a rating/review on iTunes real quick, I’d really appreciate it. Then more people can find the show.

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Comments

  1. What about fasting? IF and 2 day fasts or going down in meal frequency? Where do you rank them in terms of increasing productivity?

  2. Great tip Ludvig! Thoughts:

    1. I love your idea of alternating between creative days and implementation days. I veer more to the creative side and find I have to ‘mono-focus’ to get boring stuff done. I can’t switch well between the two types of work in the same day.

    An easy to remember summary of this principle:

    Creative days – brainstorm solo, and go with the flow
    All other days – execute like a machine: don’t think, just act.

    2. I found that once in creative flow, it’s important to:

    a) write down every idea. Not only for recall (re-read the next 2-3 days to memorise it), but writing a good idea down often triggers more associated good ideas.

    b) help the momentum with re-triggering. It’s normal to run out of idea juice for a few minutes – don’t stop here. Instead, keep thinking/writing/re-reading your notes, or break and move, walk somewhere else, call a friend who’s a good listener. Often a new idea will come in then you’ll get back into flow and dozens of new ideas come out.

    Some of the best ideas come at the end of a chain of brainstorming, not at the beginning. The breaks are important to let your subconscious work on it, and it ‘galvanises’ the brain due BOOH.

    c) Re-read your notes on day 2. A tip from my guitar instructor: ideas (tunes in his case) can seem great now, but the next day is when you can assess their true quality (a friend helps for this too, for objectivity). This also helps with remembering them.

    3. You can brute force creativity sometimes. Once I had to come up with a company name, all the obvious good ones were taken, and for 3 months I couldn’t come up with a name I loved.

    Eventually I set a target to brainstorm 30 names per day until I hit one that felt right. It took a little over 100 names and 4 consecutive days of brainstorming. A useful technique if you need creativity to a deadline.

  3. Hi Ludvig and thanks for your tips!

    I have the same experience myself with really awesome “UP” days and I have tracked it back to: SEER(Sleeping, Eating, Exercising & Relations)
    When I have Slept over 8 hours, ate particularly good or different food, pushed myself through a though workout and when I have had an extra good meeting/hang with a friend or with my family.
    If I “satisfy” my SEER over longer periods the UPs does not keep coming. Instead, it is all about the contrast. I got my UPs when I go from sleep deprivation to sleep over 8-9 hours, or from eating calories beneath my calorie needs to “overeating”, or exercising again from a couple of days off etc.
    So, basically BOOH I guess haha
    Cheers,
    Robin

    • That’s really interesting actually. I also think contrast is key, but using it as a way to BOOH (too much) is unhealthy. It breaks you down–without adequate recovery. And this can get dangerous if you optimize per-day (instead of e.g per week), because then you’re conditioning yourself to chase that high.

      • True, it is all about the balance I guess. And as you and Micke have discussed in one of your podcast episodes, it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between a psychological resistance/plateau and “over-reaching”.

        I am trying to manage it with daily dairies and weekly scheduling for each aspect of SEER, which is what I would recommend for others as well. Perhaps not for this purpose per se, but if nothing else, “SEER” is a quite important concept and worth to track as that increase the chance for it being measured as well.

  4. Thats a great experiment. I’ve seen people apply a similar flexibility in approach to workouts, though not the structure of their entire day!

    “Many people have the unspoken assumption that a perfect plan somehow compensates for lack of applied effort. But the reverse is closer too the truth. Massive, consistent, hard effort applied to an ‘iffy’ program will deliver better results than a sketchy work ethic coupled with a perfect program.” – Charles Staley (TNation)

    Great first couple of podcasts BTW, that melancholy background music when your guest said he “worked alone” was hilarious!

    • I think it’s important to be *both* systematic and be hard-working.
      Only hard-working = will progress at most things, but pick the wrong things.
      Only systematic = will walk down a thousand blind alleys

      Regarding podcast — thanks. It’s our sound guy Alex who did that.

  5. How is your new podcast different from the Swedish one you did before?

  6. This is a great post!

    I was reading Scott Adams’ book “How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big” and he mentions paying attention to how you feel after you eat different foods – a similar concept.

    It is amazing how much you can learn about yourself by just checking in and paying attention. And from there you can make small changes that result in big differences.

    Also: You’re recommending Evernote for your commonplace system now?

  7. Loving the calendar picture <3

  8. I know you said not to overcomplicate this, but it might be worthwhile to keep track of some basic inputs – e.g. sleep good or bad, workout morning or afternoon, fasting or not, and see if a pattern emerges.

    For example, I’ve never actually kept a calendar, but I’ve noticed that my most productive days for physical and semi-physical work almost always involve eating little or nothing until evening, but no workout.

    Maybe I’ll dedicate one of my whiteboards to this. Seems like a good tool.

    • Seth Roberts used to do this all the time, and he came up with several cool theories through that methodology.

      For instance, his Morning Faces Therapy: http://archives.sethroberts.net/blog/morning-faces-therapy-resources/

    • Whatever floats your boat.

      The reason I warned against Excel is because I did it when I was ~22 and I got these cool looking graphs…. but there was no correlation. I was measuring too many things and got nothing out of it.

      I think you should only measure 1-3 things.

      • Graphs and statistics are great tools for pareidolia. In most disciplines, it’s easier to find “patterns” caused by randomness and bias than to ferret out real effects – the latter is often impossible in practical cases, but no one wants to accept that.

        I spend a lot of my time trying to stop people from making bad decisions based on spurious observations of data. Giving most statisticians a neural network model is like giving a three year old a chainsaw to clean up their room.

  9. Yes, I’ve noticed this myself. Saturdays at the office tend to be up days, for instance. It’s a good idea to try to engineer this feeling as well, via environment,

  10. Hi Ludvig,

    This is definitely an idea I’d like to start applying. One question: thinking about some of my last few days, I’ve had multiple occasions where the day starts out low-energy and even somewhat pessimistic. But then, in the afternoon, after meeting people or going to the gym, my mood does a complete 180 (probably BOOH). How would you record such a day in a simple-yet-accurate way? Or perhaps this is a sign I need to start BOOH in the morning? Maybe I’ve answered my own question.

    Really enjoyed the first two episodes of Future Skills, and looking forward to taking a long walk for the third one!

    • Thanks Alex – please leave a rating/review on iTunes also, if you haven’t.

      Regarding your question: Yes, I’d say that’s BOOH. It’s different from an enduring emotional state. To make an extreme example: most people feel sad and bad from time to time, but can snap out of it by exercising the discipline to do something uncomfortable. A few people have serious disorders that cause depression. For them it’s an enduring mood — and it’s unlikely they would be able to change that fast.

      • That makes sense. Still, I wonder how you’d classify a day in which your mood varies despite the effect of BOOH. It seems like a balance between accuracy and overview. Anyhow, I’ll give it a try and we’ll see what I run into. It is personal after all.

        Definitely will leave a review! Just got back from a 2-hour walk in which I listened to your interview with Martin Sandquist. Although I couldn’t follow all the financial terminology, it was still a worthwhile and enjoyable listen.

  11. Matias Page says:

    Thanks Ludvig.
    I did exactly this a while ago, but I had forgotten about it!
    I already have 6 calendars (worth six years obviously) with these kinds of things written on them, and they have been tremendously helpful in my personal transformation. Instead of writing UP or DOWN I drew arrows, but it’s the same. I have BIG ups and downs, so this has worked wonderfully for me.

  12. Mr Snake says:

    Cool experiment. First time I hear about something like this. I’ll be sure to give this a try. Thanks.

    I already gave you a review on iTunes after the last post and email. Best of luck with Future Skills, seems like you got a good start, Martin Sandquist was very insightful.

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