Don’t Wait for Motivation. Do This Instead.

Don't Wait for Motivation. Do This Instead.

Franz Kafka is considered one of the most creative and influential
writers of the 20th century, but he actually spent most of his time
working as a lawyer for the Workers Accident Insurance Institute. How
did Kafka produce such fantastic creative works while holding down his
day job?

By sticking to a strict schedule.

He would go to his job from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM, eat lunch
and then take a long nap until 7:30 PM, exercise and eat dinner with his
family in the evening, and then begin writing at 11 PM for a few hours
each night before going to bed and doing it all over again.

Kafka is hardly unique in his commitment to a schedule. As Mason Currey notes in his popular book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, many of the world’s great artists follow a consistent schedule.

  • Maya Angelou rents a local hotel room and goes there to write. She
    arrives at 6:30 AM, writes until 2 PM, and then goes home to do some
    editing. She never sleeps at the hotel.
  • Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon writes five nights per week from 10 PM to 3 AM.
  • Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 AM, writes for five hours, and then goes for a run.

Related: Afraid of Failure? Think Like a Scientist and Get Over It.

The work of top creatives isn’t dependent upon motivation or
inspiration, but rather it follows a consistent pattern and routine.
It’s the mastering of daily habits that leads to creative success, not
some mythical spark of genius.

Here’s why…

Daily Routines: The Power of the Schedule

William James, the famous psychologist, is noted for saying that
habits and schedules are important because they “free our minds to
advance to really interesting fields of action.”

An article in
The Guardian agreed by saying, “If you waste resources trying to decide
when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.” And
there are plenty of research studies on willpower and motivation to back up that statement.

In other words, if you’re serious about creating something
compelling, you need to stop waiting for motivation and inspiration to
strike you and simply set a schedule for doing work on a consistent
basis. Of course, that’s easy to say, but much harder to do in practice.

Here’s one way of thinking about schedules that may help.

Related: How You Can Stop Making Bad Decisions — Now

Permission to Create Junk

Weightlifting offers a good metaphor for scheduling creative work.

I can’t predict whether or not I’ll set a PR (personal record) before
I go to the gym. In fact, there will be many days when I’ll have a
below average workout. Eventually, I figured out that those below
average days were just part of the process. The only way to actually
lift bigger weights was to continually show up every Monday, Wednesday,
and Friday — regardless of whether any individual workout was good or

Creative work is no different than training in the gym. You can’t
selectively choose your best moments and only work on the days when you
have great ideas. The only way to unveil the great ideas inside of you
is to go through a volume of workput in your repetitions, and show up over and over again.

Obviously, doing something below average is never the goal. But you
have to give yourself permission to grind through the occasional days of
below average work because it’s the price you have to pay to get to
excellent work.

If you’re anything like me, you hate creating something that isn’t
excellent. It’s easy to start judging your work and convince yourself to
not share something, not publish something, and not ship something
because “this isn’t good enough yet.”

But the alternative is even worse: if you don’t have a schedule
forcing you to deliver, then it’s really easy to avoid doing the work at
all. The only way to be consistent enough to make a masterpiece is to
give yourself permission to create junk along the way.

Related: No, You Shouldn’t Obsess Over Being Perfect — Especially When Starting Up

The Schedule is the System

During a conversation about writing, my friend Sarah Peck looked
at me and said, “A lot of people never get around to writing because
they are always wondering when they are going to write next.”

You could say the same thing about working out, starting a business,
creating art, and building most habits. The schedule is the system that makes your goals a reality. If you don’t set a schedule for yourself, then your only option is to rely on motivation.

  • If your workout doesn’t have a time when it usually occurs, then
    each day you’ll wake up thinking, “I hope I feel motivated to exercise
  • If your business doesn’t have a system for marketing, then you’ll
    show up at work crossing your fingers that you’ll find a way to get the
    word out (in addition to everything else you have to do).
  • If you don’t have a time block to write every week, then you’ll
    find yourself saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to
    do it.”

Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits. This is the difference between professionals and amateurs. Professionals set a schedule and stick to it. Amateurs wait until they feel inspired or motivated.