How to Get More Creativity From Your Morning Pages Practice
An Ode to the Greatest Podcast Episode of All Time
Tim is up to episode episode #181 now, but for my money, episode #2 is still the gold standard.
Mid way through the podcast, Josh gives a recipe for the practice of morning journaling that involves priming your brain the night before.
Lots of people are already huge fans of writing first thing in the morning.
The most popular version of this habit comes from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. Every morning you write a stream of consciousness set of “Morning Pages” and that writing leads to:
- Clarity — the jumble of thoughts in your head get articulated and captured. That leaves your mind calm and clear.
- Reduced anxiety — again, any fears and anxieties get named and captured so that you can deal with them rationally. No more tension sitting just below the surface of your conscious mind.
- Ideas and epiphanies — your mind has been working all night. Sometimes you’ll discover new connections or brilliant ideas.
Buster makes the case that free form journaling like the Morning Pages practice is even better than meditation. The practice has all of the calming and awareness practice that meditation has, plus a concreteness that many people find satisfying.
So, all of that is to say that the Morning Pages practice is great.
The Josh Waitzkin twist is about priming what comes out in your stream of consciousness.
His observation is that if you end your day wrestling with a difficult, unfinished problem then that problem will bounce around your head overnight while you sleep.
Then when you write your morning pages the next day you’ll have access to new insights about the problem.
The process is:
- Find your most difficult current project. This is the one that requires all of your creativity and brain power.
- Do some work on it at the end of your work day. It’s perfectly fine to have a full evening after doing this work — eat, drink, workout, watch TV. Just don’t do any other mentally straining tasks.
- The other key is that you don’t finish the work. Leave the project unfinished. For example, write a draft or a partial draft.
- Wake up and write about that project. Overnight, your brain will have wrestled with the problem and will almost always have made new connections. Your morning pages capture those insights.
This method is magic for two reasons.
One reason is that it helps you get into a flow state.
If you do deep work, then you probably are familiar with a pre-flow state where you don’t seem to be getting much done other than turning on the right neurons.
So now, with Josh’s priming method, your neurons are already ready first thing in the morning. You’ll enter a flow state for yesterday’s project much faster than if you were starting cold.
The second reason is that your ideas get better. Your brain will have found insights that weren’t available to you the day before.
Here’s a concrete example.
Every morning I start my day by writing a blog post. For example, this post is the first thing I worked on today.
But I don’t start that blog post from scratch. Instead, I touch the blog post the night before.
Touching could mean writing a headline and paragraph. Or it could mean finding an old draft and doing a quick revision.
I always stop the draft just as it’s getting hard.
Then the next morning I jump back into that draft first thing.
Whatever was challenging me the night before always seems to be cleared up. And more importantly, I feel like the blog post is already loaded up in my brain.
My natural state is to wake up groggy and unsure of what to work on. Then when I try to work, I struggle to get traction. Unprimed, I don’t usually hit a groove until later afternoon.
But Josh’s priming method is the exact opposite. Now I start my day in a groove.
This is simple, right?
But I like to do the math on productivity hacks.
If this makes half of my day more productive, then isn’t this one of the most powerful productivity tricks ever?
And that’s why, for my money, Tim’s interview with Josh is the greatest podcast episode of all time. Here’s the link one more time.