Radical Creation

I’ve reached saturation point with consumption. I’ve become buried in books, movies, articles, Netflix and Amazon Prime shows, documentaries, podcasts, Wikipedia pages. All of them are excellent and are only getting better. I have come to a point though where all that amazing information and content is dead-ending in my brain. Clearly there is value in the good conversations I’ve had about all of those things. Cultural literacy is an important and probably under-appreciated pursuit. Also, apart from any educational benefit, there’s value in the human experience of enjoying the experience of someone else’s creation. For now though, it’s time to restore some balance. Consumption has almost succeeded in pushing out all creation for me.

Maybe that’s a bit hyperbolical. I’m a software developer and spend most of my days writing code, which is a very creative act, for my employer. I blog here semi-regularly and keep a journal. Something is missing though. So, to try to figure out what, I’ve started an experiment in radical creation. Starting about 5 days ago, I have cut out all consumption except for work-related reading and the occasional time spent with my family watching a TV show. For me, this means that there has been no reading books or listening to audiobooks, no podcasts, no articles and no games (almost, I have still been playing some trivia games). I’ve even cut out music with lyrics, but still use instrumental music to increase concentration.

It has not been easy. At all. Consumption is a habit and an escape mechanism. I’ve realized how often I’d pick up a book or article rather than take time to prioritize my actions. Catching myself has been tough and when I realize that I’m about to go in for more, it’s very easy to make justifications of how tired I am or how hard I’ve worked and hey, don’t I deserve to just chill for a bit?

After just a few days though, I have had some promising results. The most notable result is that I’ve been writing more. I’ve made brief forays into fiction in the past, but I feel like my approach this time is more systematic and deliberate. I’m not sure what the result will be, or really even what the goal of my writing is, but it has already been very rewarding. I feel like doing some writing myself gives me more permission to be a better critic of what I consume once I go back to reading in a more balanced way.

It’s been surprising how, once I get past the initial resistance, I can get myself to go into a creative mode at times when before I would have written off the possibility due to distractions or fatigue or whatever other justification I needed. In small chunks of time, like walking to lunch or to the bus stop, when I’d normally have headphones in listening to someone else’s ideas, I’ve come up with some pretty good ideas for my own writing or coding. I’ve also spent more time meditating, journaling and exercising and I’ve picked up an old side project and started thinking about it and working on it some. All this in just a few days!

I can’t say I’m not excited to pick back up the books I was reading and there are a few shows that I am really looking forward to, but this experiment is just beginning and I can already tell it’s one that I won’t regret. If you’re feeling a similar over-saturation with consumption, try your own experiment in radical creation and see how it goes.



An Ideal Day

Over the last few years I’ve noticed a trend in books and conversations dealing with the day-to-day routines people follow. Whether it’s writers or artists and their rituals or people from other cultures, we seem to be fascinated with what people do with their time. Despite the fact that it’s often people with semi-celebrity status whose routines get published, I think this trend is healthy and in a way, anti-celebrity. It shows that even the most accomplished people tend to have a day-to-day ritual they follow, or try to follow, and that often it’s not too far off from what is achievable by almost anyone. In that way, I find that sharing daily routines is something that brings people together and motivates us to live better lives.

So, with that prelude, I’m going to diverge a bit from the trend and and not share my actual daily routine, I’m going to share the one that I aspire to. Each part of this has been in my routine one time or another, but I haven’t had the full thing all at once for any sustained period. Here it is:

6:30 – 7:00 Wake up and meditate for 20 to 30 minutes. I like Samatha and Vipassana style meditation.
7:00 – 8:30 Actively read literary fiction or non-fiction. For me, this is reading and taking notes with the mindset of eventually summarizing what I read in written form.
8:30 – 9:00 Breakfast.
9:00 – 12:00 Write code for either work or a personal project. I love the combination of creative and technical satisfaction I get from writing code. I also love the immediate feedback. This is how I most easily find “flow.”
12:00 – 1:00 Lunch. I like to take long lunches at one of the amazingly varied restaurants around Seattle.
1:00 – 3:00 More writing code. This could also easily be substituted for writing prose or researching work or project related ideas.
3:00 – 3:30 Catch up on the news. I don’t like to be immersed in news, but I like to have a time-limited period of the day where I can indulge my tendency to keep up to the minute with the latest in technology and other news.
3:30-4:30 A long walk or swim. I love going on long walks either around my neighborhood or the city. This can be with friends, my wife, with an audiobook or just enjoying walking alone. I’ve never had swimming as part of my daily ritual, but if I ever get back to living close to the ocean, I’d love to do that. This could also be some other form of exercise. I’ve never been one to go to the gym, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it.
4:30 – 7:00 Family time and dinner. This sometimes involves board games or card games, drawing or just chatting with my wife and boys.
7:00 – 7:30 Playing music (I try to play banjo), ideally with someone else.
7:30 – 9:00 If I could somehow pre-arrange to have an awesome conversation with my wife or friends or someone I’d like to meet every day, I’d love that. Those types of conversations tend to be memorable, life-changing and some of my favorite moments.
9:00 – 10:30 – Reading, fiction.
10:30 – Sleep

That’s it! Feel free to share your routine if you’d like to. For others, check out the book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, Tim Ferris‘ podcast or pretty much any biography or autobiography.