The Note



When I sit down at my desk in the morning, it’s time to write.

There is hot coffee to the left of my keyboard. My keyboard, well, it’s about as clicky and awesome as they come. I put in my earbuds, hit play on the soundtrack, and set a 30 minute timer.

My phone is in Do Not Disturb mode. So is my computer. The outside world can wait. For the next half hour I’m pushing the cursor.

This is my writing routine.

It sounds a bit regimented, but I’ve become a believer in the routine. Having a set time and place for doing my most important work is genius. I used to write when I felt like it — at some point during the day I’d hope to write something. Who knows when it would be or what the topic would be (I certainly did’t).

Now, I write at 7:30am. If I don’t feel like it, too bad. I can at least suffer through 30 minutes of mud. But what’s wild is that most days it takes just 5 or 10 minutes for the writing to start feeling pretty good. Or, if the writing sucks, at least the calm of it being just my coffee and my words begins to take over and even if I’m not feeling in the zone, I at least feel comfortable putting my thoughts down.

This is my time to write without inhibition. I’ll have the whole rest of the day to edit and re-write and figure out what I was trying to say. But for a writer, the hardest part is that initial step. To put the words together in the first place.

By giving myself no room for wiggling around or making excuses, I’ve found that having this set time to write means I actually write more than if I were to wait only for inspiration to strike. I write more words in general (usually 1,500 words every day) than days when I wait for inspiration. And my writing is of a higher quality — my crappy first drafts are much less crappy.

And, though my timer is set for 30 minutes, more often than not by the time the half-hour is up, I’m firing on all cylinders and I will continue to write for another hour or three.

As someone who writes for a living, I cannot think of anything more important for me to do each day than to actually write.

I’m 33, and I’ve been writing part-time since I was in my mid-20s and full-time since I was 29. If I don’t write, I don’t eat. But more than that, if I don’t write for too long then I get fidgety and idle.

I’m already thinking about ways I can better improve my daily writing routine. Right now I rarely write on the weekends and I can totally feel it on Monday mornings — not only am I starving to write by Monday, but I feel rusty when I do. Imagine that, after just two days off I can tell a difference.

This morning is a Thursday. And the writing feels great.

Maybe it’s the weather. It’s cloudy and drizzly outside: the perfect weather for writing. But I’ve also had all week to write, and I’m riding the momentum from the days gone by already and it serves me well.

But there’s one more thing…

The Note

When I sit down at my desk, coffee and keyboard ready to go, there is something else.

There, waiting for me on top of my desk and in front of my computer, is a handwritten note.

It’s the note I wrote to myself yesterday evening when the day was done.

The note says one thing. Today it says: “My Digital / Analog System”

500 words ago, I lied to you. I said my writing begins at 7:30 every morning.

The truth is that my writing for this morning began yesterday when I put that note on my desk. That note is my topic for the day. That note is the single most important element of my personal productivity system. Because that note is the single most important thing I have to do today.

* * *

Distractions, diversions, oddities, and excuses to procrastinate are aplenty. I want to cut all of them off at the pass so I can have the time and space to do my best creative work every single day.

And The Note is a critical component to that.

Writing down the topic that I’m going to write about tomorrow gives me a few advantages:

  1. It gives my subconscious a 12-hour head start. The well of my writing mind gets the whole night to fill itself up with what it wants to say on the topic. I don’t have to be anxious and keep it at the front of my mind, wasting my time and energy thinking about. Tomorrow is when I will write about it.

  2. Thus, when it comes time to write, I have all my energy at my disposal. When I sit down to write, I haven’t yet spent any of my willpower on trying to muster up an idea, or comb through a list of possibilities, or scour the internet looking for inspiration. It’s time to write and I am not desperate. Nor am I lost, dazed, or confused.

    I am clear. I know exactly what to write about because it’s there before me. All that’s left is for me to open up my writing program and to write.

“Here, Shawn, write about this,” I tell myself. And so I do.

Sometimes the most creative, inspired, productive thing you can do is try to be as lazy as possible while still showing up to do the work.

If I finish in one day then I will publish it. If not, I will come back and keep working tomorrow. Or sometimes, if it’s horrible, I’ll just put it away and at least I did my writing for the day. But no matter what, at least I’ve had a small victory: I’ve written something.




The premise of today’s article actually touches on four ideas:

  1. Doing something today that will make life for my future self a little bit easier.
  2. Having a daily habit that centers around doing my best creative work.
  3. Having the deep personal integrity needed to show up and do the work even when I’m not inspired or motivated.
  4. Celebrating the small victories.

Just recently, I got an email from a reader, Elisha, sharing with me about how many of us know we need to make change in our lives, and often we even know what things specifically need to be changed. But for so many, he said, the biggest challenge is actually getting off our rear-ends and doing something and actually being disciplined.

If the ideas in today’s article hit home for you, then I believe you will love my online course,The Power of a Focused Life. And if you can relate to the email I got from Elisha then the Focus Course will serve you well.

The Focus Course