Your Inspiration as a Source of Productivity

by Francisco Saez

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Pursuit of Mastery.

July 8, 2013

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.”

—Edgar Allan Poe


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July 8, 2013

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.”

—Edgar Allan Poe

In addition to your usual and familiar routines and daily work tasks, you surely have in your to-do lists a handful of tasks that will require a certain level of creativity to get done (and sometimes, a lot of creativity will be necessary). These tasks can be hazardous to your productivity. On the one hand, if you don’t feel very creative, you may put these tasks off. On the other hand, though, these more unusual and creative-oriented tasks are often the ones you will want to do the most in those moments when you feel especially lucid, and this can become a detriment to your ability to accomplish other tasks that may be more important at the time but which don’t seem as interesting or fun.

Although your creative abilities can be quite variable, you will always have special moments of inspiration. There will be times when, without knowing how or why, you will experience an explosion of creativity. Suddenly, you think of a wonderful idea that will help you tackle that project. Lots of things that you could apply to the problem task suddenly come to your mind and you feel confident these ideas will help you get a sensational result. Your head is restless, you cannot stop thinking.

But you do nothing. You cannot, or it is not the time. You are busy with other issues, with other projects, or maybe it’s simply Saturday and you are supposed to do other things today. And the inspiration, just as suddenly as it came to your mind, is gone. In the absence of your inspiration, you no longer get excited about working on that project. More importantly, though, you have wasted a great opportunity to do something special.

There are different theories about the nature and source of inspiration, but what seems clear is that it is an unconscious burst of creativity that only lasts for a short while. It has an expiration date, and if you do not take advantage of it at the time, you will probably waste a tremendous source of energy and productivity.

As J. Fried and D. H. Hansson say in their book Rework, “If you’re inspired on a Friday, swear off the weekend and dive into the project. When you’re high on inspiration, you can get two weeks of work done in 24 hours. . . . Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.”

You probably cannot always seize your moments of inspiration, but it’s worth a try. Drew Wilson conceived and created a Paypal competitor business in just a week. Along with Josh Long, he wrote the book Execute, in which he talks about how to leverage, extend, and resume the moments of inspiration as they fade. According to him, even if you cannot devote time immediately to what is calling your attention, you can keep your motivation by working on other things that get you excited.

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