One of my five-year-old son’s favorite activities is watching me “juggle.”
I put that in quotes because I’m not very good at it. He has a set of small bean bags that he likes to throw around. Whenever they are out, I’ll grab three of them, put one in my left hand and two in my right hand, and try to toss them up, one at a time.
Juggling is a frustrating activity for me because I’m so bad at it. I can keep things going for five or six tosses before they inevitably crash to the floor. My son laughs, I frown, and the cycle repeats itself.
But my frustration goes deeper than that.
I know how to juggle. I know the principles behind juggling. My brain knows what to do to keep those bean bags in the air as long as I want.
In practice, however, I can’t always pull it off.
I can draw a clear distinction between when I’m good at juggling and when I’m truly terrible at it. It comes down to concentration.
If I’m focused, paying close attention to my hand placement and how high I’m tossing the bean bags, with my eyes focused on one spot, I can pretend like I’m good at juggling for a few glorious seconds.
In contrast, when I am trying to juggle while also making a goofy face for extra laughs, or trying to watch whatever it is my son is doing, or trying to scold my other son… I can’t even catch the first bag I toss in the air.
Juggling doesn’t come naturally to me – and yet, I chose a career that requires me to do it every day.
Organizing Yourself as a Freelance Writer
I’m talking about a different kind of juggling, of course. As a freelance writer, every day is a juggling act. My typical day includes the following:
- Writing a chapter for my fiction police procedural series
- Meetings with my main copywriting client
- Writing sales email copy for that client
- Writing a blog post for my own blog
- Publishing that post and syndicating it across Medium, LinkedIn, and other social networks
- Writing 4–5 blog posts for another client
- Sending those posts off to the client
- Writing other blog posts and sales copy for other clients I might have on the schedule
- Depending on the day, managing invoices and bookkeeping
- Educating myself on the latest trends in marketing, blogging, and writing
- Designing and building furniture in my wood shop (which I do on the side)
These metaphorical “balls” I have to keep in the air are what keeps money flowing in and food on the table. I don’t have the option to let them fall to the ground.
And here’s the special bonus to it all: I have to do these things well.
That means I have to not just get this stuff done on a daily basis, but I have to bring creativity and expertise to them. Oh, and I am also a father and a husband, so I can’t spend 16 hours a day doing this – I have to wrap it up and go downstairs to cook dinner and spend quality time with them.
How do I do it?
While I would never hold myself up as a pillar of creativity and productivity, I can honestly say that I need to have a strong, effective tool that can keep my brain on track and can help me get the work done every single day.
And it doesn’t cost me a dime to use.
The Tools of Titans Stat
I have a love-hate relationship with Tim Ferriss.
On the one hand, I think the guy is far too focused on optimization, so much so that he fails to recognize what reality looks like for a lot of people.
On the other hand, he has interviewed hundreds of fascinating and successful people, and he’s really drawn out a lot of great, valuable advice in those conversations.
When I picked up Tools of Titans, a summary of his favorite interviews, this stat stuck out: “More than 80% of the interviewees have some form of daily mindfulness or meditation practice.”
I’d dabbled in meditation for a period of time, mainly in 2013, and I couldn’t really stick with it for very long. The longer the sessions got, the more anxious I would get. I have to get back to work!
But Tools of Titans is packed with some really successful people. They’re all doing it – could I?
The Science Behind Meditation – and Why It Helps Writers
My goal every day is to juggle those “balls” and do it well. To juggle them, I need to be productive. To do it well, I need to be creative.
The science adds up: meditation switches on divergent thinking. That means it opens your mind to new ideas. That’s key for creativity. So is courage and resilience, which are crucial to creative thinking. Meditation helps with that, too.
And productivity? How about improving your cognitive and emotional processing, which in turn improves your decision making? Well, hey, meditation does that.
It sounds way too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Yet, the science backs it up: meditation is a tool that can fundamentally improve a writer’s brain.
“But I don’t have two hours every day to meditate, Tom! Let’s be realistic!”
I’m all about being realistic, and here goes: you don’t need that much time to do it.
Change Your Brain in Just 10 Minutes
Studies have shown that you only need about 10 minutes of meditation to really experience the positive creative benefits of the practice.
You’ve got 10 minutes, right? Of course you do!
If you don’t know how to meditate, I’ll make it really easy for you:
- Set a timer for ten minutes.
- Close your eyes.
- Settle in comfortably.
- Notice your surroundings.
- Focus on your breathing – in and out.
- When your mind wanders (and it totally will), just gently nudge it back to your breath.
- Open your eyes when the timer goes off.
Yeah, you can sit in the lotus position. You can turn on meditative music. You can chant a mantra in your mind.
At the end of it, however, those steps are all you need. Commit to doing it for 30 days and you’ll see your productivity go up, your work get more creative, and your stress levels go down.
Want to go even easier? Close your eyes and take six deep breaths. Look at that! You just did a micro-meditation session. I bet you feel a little better, don’t you?
If you need a more organized approach, there is an entire industry of apps dedicated to helping you start a meditation practice.
The Best Meditation Apps Available Today
Watch out – there are a lot of them.
Mindfulness hit the mainstream a few years ago – for good reason – and so there were app makers that jumped all over the trend to cash in on it.
These are the ones that stand out as quality apps and not just mindless cash grabs:
- Headspace. This is the king of meditation apps. Simple to use and straightforward (and the guy’s voice is oddly soothing to me).
- Calm. Short on time? Calm has a lot of very customizable sessions that can adapt to your schedule.
- Aura. Another great one that combines mindfulness with coaching.
- Insight Timer. I’ve always enjoyed this one. Very simple, but also shows you who you’re meditating “with.” It’s kinda fun.
- Simple Habit. Haven’t tried this one yet, but I like the idea: it’s meditation for busy people.
- 10% Happier. Dan Harris has created a book and an app to address skeptics of meditation after he has a nervous breakdown on-air as a national news reporter. He’s got a very interesting perspective on the practice.
“If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life!”
I’ve heard Tony Robbins say this in interviews several times.
It’s a great point. You need to be able to take 10 minutes for yourself a day, no matter how many balls you have in the air.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I hit the timer, close my eyes, and take a few minutes for myself. Then, I get back to juggling.
And wouldn’t you know it? I almost always can handle the workload a little more effectively.
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