First Things First, And in That Order

Every now and then I make one of those ‘aha’ discoveries that are so obvious, that the only reason I didn’t make it sooner is that I must have been purposely avoiding it. In other words, I must not have wanted to discover it because it would probably mean a shift in the way I do things, and that shift can sometimes be uncomfortable. I believe that is what Seth Godin refers to as the Lizard Brain at work. Sometimes however, I give those new ideas a chance and before long I have a hard time going back to my old ways. In fact, going back to the previous ‘system’ would now represent change that I’d like to avoid. Funny how often that shift can occur.

Here’s my recent encounter with the obvious. I had been struggling to get any creative writing done. It seemed like the day would just slip away from me, and not only would no words hit the page, but the frustration of that reality would (or should I say ‘could’) make me a slightly less pleasant person to be around. I was, and am, a big fan of the book Accidental Genius by Mark Levy, and in the past had great success using his technique of free writing. In fact, I have written about it before here, here, and here. But lately, it wasn’t working for me.

And then… I discovered why.

KenKen. Well, it wasn’t all the fault of KenKen. Sudoku, Crossword and a few other puzzles contributed to my downfall. And they did it in the most sinister and clever ways.

Of course there was the waste of productive time spent solving puzzles instead of writing. But everyone should have a hobby, and this one was mine. It relaxed me, took my mind off of my problems and made me feel smart when I solved them. That was fine. Where they did their damage, was in when I would choose to do them.

Ever since my kids were born, I had gotten into the habit of getting up even earlier than usual. Four am instead of six am. I would then make a pot of coffee, and in those beautiful, quiet two hours, sit at my computer, and solve puzzles. Two peaceful, creativity packed hours, and I would spend them putting numbers into a grid.

This was bad for two reasons. First, what a colossal waste of quiet productive time. Second, and this is where the sinister part comes in, solving puzzles is a primarily left brain function. Once I had started my day with intense left brain activity, it was nearly impossible to switch over to right brain work. I was short circuiting the creative process. Most people, including me, have a harder time getting that right brain function kicked into gear. It is even more difficult to do when you’ve already pointed your brain in the opposite direction and have built up considerable speed. Imagine trying to shift your car from reverse gear to drive at thirty miles an hour. Not a good idea.

So here’s the new system, and so far it’s working beautifully. Get up at four am, make a pot of coffee and write! Write anything that comes out. The first few days, most of my scribblings seemed to center around how much I missed doing my puzzles in the morning. But soon, I didn’t miss them and the pages started to fill up. It was beautiful.

Besides, after a long day of being productive, solving a few puzzles felt kind of rewarding.

Every now and then I have to remind myself to do first things first, and always in that order.