Systemise to use creative energy more efficiently!
David: “Create constraints where you can be creative within them.”
“Creative work is random, you kind of don’t know when you’re going to have a great idea or a great insight, you can’t force it.”David Kadavy, https://kadavy.net/
David set out to understand the subtle differences for when he was creative so he could make the connection between the actions he was taking and the output that he was making.
“I started to dig into the neuroscience of creativity. What does it mean to have a creative insight? What are the conditions that are ideal for that?”David Kadavy, https://kadavy.net/
David has written and published three books:
The Heart to Start: will help you stop procrastinating and start creating.
Design for Hackers: will change the way you see design.
His most recent creation: Mind Management, Not Time Management. It helps creators be productive when creativity matters.
These can be found on https://kadavy.net/
Today we’re talking to David Kadavy, who is a best selling author whose books help artists be productive. Now David was the design advisor for behavioural scientists, Dan Ariely’s productivity. And David’s mind management principles were applied to features that are now used by millions of people you’re probably using them too, I know I am. If you use Google Calendar, you’re using mind management principles that David helped develop. Now, David, welcome to Chaos to Creation Confessions, I’ve been dying to speak to you. Last time we were in touch you’re in Colombia. So how are you doing over there? And how is the temporal time switch going for you?
David Kadavy: 00:48
Hello, Debbie. Thank you for having me on the show. Yeah, I’m in Colombia. I have been here for five years now, it’s kind of was, in some ways, the beginning of the project of this book that I have coming out. And now I’m here with I own furniture. You know, I came here with just suitcases. And now I own furniture and have an apartment that I rent directly and everything and so now I guess this is my life. So but but but yeah, the temporal time switch. Is is great here. It’s it’s a, it’s an event time culture, rather than a clock time culture. And, and that really helps.
So what does that mean? Because I, I went from Birmingham in the UK to Spain. And that was a big time shift cultural touching. What does it mean for you in Colombia the difference between temporal versus event time? What does that
Yeah, so first of all, there was a social psychologist Robert Levine, he studied kind of attitudes about time in various cultures. And he identified two different attitudes towards time: clock time, and event time. Clock time, is, when you’re watching the clock, I’m gonna have this meeting at this time, I’m going to have lunch at this time, I’m going to go to the grocery store at this time. Event time is when you are looking at your schedule in terms of events, oh, I’m gonna eat lunch when I’m hungry. And then we’re gonna have this meeting. And then once we meet the objectives of this meeting, if there’s still time, then we’ll have this other meeting. And so it’s more of let’s do these things one at a time, we’re not so much looking at time and trying to get what we can into that time.
There’s actually some really interesting research about event time versus clock time. Show showing that people who are clock time oriented, tend to not so easily be in the moment, they’re not as good at savouring the the emotions in the, in the present moment. They’re not as good at being open to the sort of random opportunities that you can get when you’re doing creative work. And so I think for creative work, I’m finding I have found spending time here in Colombia that event time, which is what more Colombia’s are more on, is a lot better for creative work. Now, I had a lot of trouble processing this, this concept of the difference between event time and clock time when I first heard it, but there is one thing that I think illustrates it better than anything. And that is the way that Colombians or perhaps in Spain, or you know, a lot of other cultures Brazil, the way that they view a week, so if you’re going to have a meeting with somebody have an appointment with somebody in Colombia, and it’s one week from today, like today, let’s taste Thursday, if it’s next Thursday, they’re going to say, Oh, it’s an Otto dias, which means in eight days. Now, the first time I heard this, I was super confused. I was like, well, it’s Thursday. So that means next Friday, it’s also kind of a weird way to say that you’re gonna have a meeting next Friday, but no, that means next Thursday, because to two people in event time cultures a week is eight days. How can that be? I first thought well, this is objectively wrong. I mean, it is seven rotations of the earth separate right now. And this this meeting that we’re going to have, how can it? It’s not it’s not eight days, but obviously like how silly me. How can I say that an entire culture is wrong about the way that they’re, they’re looking at time? But now I understand it now that I understand event time I get it. Because today is an event. There’s six days between now and the day that the meeting will take place. Those are each events. And then the day the meeting takes place is also an event. So one plus six plus one equals eight. There’s eight days in a week. Right?
And so this isn’t this isn’t by the way that when the Beatles were saying Eight Days a Week That was that was based off of some chauffeur that said that he was working hard. It’s like saying, who’s working 100 giving you 110%.
Eight Days a Week: is each day is an event, which is actually kind of a refreshing ideas that today counts.
And so then you can be in the moment more, and I find this really works. Great for creative work. Because creative work is random, you kind of don’t know when you’re going to have a great idea or a great insight, you can’t force that and make that happen. You know, the busier you are, the tighter your deadlines, if you have, if you need to think creatively, you’re going to, that’s going to backfire. And so being able to be a little more present in the moments is something that I’ve learned living here in Colombia.
Now I’m going to I’m going to lead us on to your books, because you are a multi multi multi written author, you’ve got, you’ve published quite a few books you’ve got, I’m going to read out a couple of them, the heart to start to have you stop procrastinating and start creating design for hackers to help you change the way you see design. Now, the most recent book, and this is why I wanted to ask you about your idea about time. And this temporal shift that you’ve been going through is your most recent book is time manage is Mind Management, Not Time Management. Now, I’ve been so lucky, because I’ve been able to read your chapters in advance of being part of that advanced readers group, which you’ve done through books. But I really, really tell us about this book and tell us about the process of writing this book.
Yeah, so it all started actually where I wrote that first book designed for hackers, which I guess I got that book deal about 10 years ago, almost, almost to the day really. And it was a surprising process, because I just realised nothing I had ever learned about productivity. And I had been in productivity and doozies for years, nothing I’d ever learned about productivity, prepared me to write that book. I was not a writer, I did not consider myself a writer, I did not enjoy writing. When I was a kid, I was a designer. And I got this opportunity after doing a little bit of writing to write a book. And I kind of foolishly just went for it.
And so the first thing that I tried to do was was just clear away as much time as I could, you know, it’s time management, I think is the way that a lot of us think about productivity is you only have so many hours in a day. And so you’ve got to figure out how to get what you need to get done in those hours. And so it’s like, well, when’s the deadline? Oh, how many words do I need? Well, let’s just break it up. So it’s, you know, it turns out to 250 words a day or whatever, that’s, that’s easy to do.
No, it doesn’t work that way. I found out it doesn’t work that way. And I might have these 15 minute bursts, where suddenly, I would write an entire chapter where suddenly the writing would come easily. But the problem was that it took all day banging my head against the wall, to get to that point, to get to that 15 minutes, were just all the all the writing came out.
I just thought, Well, what if I could just, you know, sit down and do that 15 minutes of writing, and then get on with the rest of my day. So that kind of started me on this journey of, of trying to figure out well, how can I optimise this, how can I make this creative work less painful, and it really was painful. I mean, I would be hunched over my keyboard, just trying to get any words to come out at all. And sometimes it was easy. Most the time, it was hard. Most of the time it didn’t, didn’t happen.
And so I started to look and I, I started to notice these different patterns. In the way that I that I worked, I started to notice, certain times of day when I was better suited for creative work than other times of day, I started to notice that there were kind of certain subtle differences between different pieces of creative work that I could if I paid attention to the way my energy was working, what part of the project I was in what part of the creative process I was actually in, then I could begin to get some sort of connection between the actions I was taking and the output that I was making.
And so that set me on this, that this journey once the smoke cleared, for from writing that book, and I and I had started to notice some patterns. I did start to dig into the neuroscience of creativity. Like what What does it mean to have a creative insight? What are the conditions that are ideal for that? And I started to find, wow, this time management paradigm that we’ve all been working on for the last hundred 20 years or so, does not work at all, for creative work are at a certain point, it becomes detrimental to creative to creative work to creative thinking. And, you know, you hear people say, you still hear people say it all the time. Oh, there’s only 24 hours in a day time is our is our, you know, most precious resource. It’s our finite resource, as that means that you know, you know, time management, that’s the way to get more done. Well, that’s not what that means. It means that, eventually, yes, maybe a base level of time management is good, but then eventually, you’ve you’ve read that you can only save so much time, you can only do only optimise your life to a certain degree doesn’t become there is a stop bleeding.
Eventually, you’re squeezing blood from a stone.
Yeah. Right, you can only get so much out of out of time management. And it’s especially difficult because creative work is so incompatible with that, you know, creative work is insights come to us very suddenly, it takes no time to have an idea, you could have an amazing idea just in any moment, there can be infinitely different infinite differences in value of your ideas, you can write a novel that sell zero copies, you could write a novel with, you know, just as good of grammar and less misspellings, and just as many words, and it sells a million copies.
And then there’s also that the actions that you’re taking when you’re doing creative work, do not necessarily directly translate into products. You know, I’ve had some of my best ideas, you know, not during the time I’m sitting in writing, not during the time I’m on vacation, but for me, it seems to be like if I go on a vacation for like a week, you know, the first day back, I’m just not not having it at all. The second day, I’m starting to hit my stride third day or so suddenly, I start having all these ideas, or I got a massage yesterday, and now weird, suddenly, I can think more clearly.
So with time being that finate you not being able to squeeze more blood from the stone with creative work, having these these unpredictable characteristics, or at least seemingly unpredictable characteristics? Well, yeah, time management doesn’t work time management was was created. I guess the precursor of time management was Frederick Taylor, scientific management, you know, the industrial age, stand there with a stopwatch. Instruct this guy on how to, you know, stack bricks, and time it time, every movement and just say, Okay, we’ll do this, hold it this way. And turn in that way, and do this. And it should take you this long to stack bricks, and you know, do that over and over again. And now you can stack bricks faster.
Well, creative work isn’t that way! You can’t just like make the ideas happen like that.
Just in that time, I want to come back to your your creative process, which I’m an electronics engineer. So I’ve been in manufacturing in shop floor, watching the lean manufacturing process, move these items through the factory tickets on the managementboards, everybody with the you know, everything managed to that process. And that’s just not how we work in “cognitive things” and things in our brains, they just don’t, we can’t package them up quite so easily and move them along the conveyor belt is great for manufacturing the product. It’s not so great for inventing the products yet. So what is your I want to know what’s your you said? What part of the creative process I was in? So tell me about the creative process? And what are those parts?
Yeah, you know, it was actually kind of surprising when I when I dug deeper on this, how much there is that we actually know about the creative process, but that we just don’t employ. So one of those things was that there was this speech by this prolific scientist, Hermann von Helmholtz in the late 1800s, and he basically was talking about how creative insights you know, he had done all these amazing things he’d invented the opthalmoscope. He had come up with colour theory, things that the Impressionists use. He had been very influential, and he just was pontificating about his own process that he used throughout his career, on his 70th birthday, he rose to give a speech. And he was just talking about how the great insights never really came to him when he was sitting at the writing table, they never came to him to a weird brain never came to him when he was tired. It was it was always, you know, when he was out on a walk or something, but, but that it would only happen if he had turned the problem over and over again, in his mind until he could see it from all angles in his mind’s eye. And then he would have to rest and then only then would he maybe have these great insights.
And then there was another social psychologist, Graham Wallas, several years later, broke that up into different phases of, of the creative process, and then added one. So it was, it became preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.
So preparation is the turning over in your mind to like getting into the source of the problem learning about the problem learning about all the different ways that you might solve the problem.
And then incubation is this time away from the problem that time and time again, research shows that when you present somebody with a problem, and you give them some time away from it, especially if they sleep between learning about the problem, and then later on trying to solve it, that suddenly it becomes a lot easier to solve that insight, especially with insight problems.
So preparation, illuminate, incubation illumination, that’s that moment of insight. That’s what we have the great idea and and verification is, you know, verifying if it seems like a great idea at the moment. But maybe there’s some things that, that that aren’t as good as you thought they were.
So you know, I’m writing and I think I’m having a great writing session. And I go back through and I edit and I’ve misspelt stuff. I did the grammar wrong, or you know, I check some facts and like Oh, actually didn’t turn out to be that way, then that’s the verification. So there’s four stages, preparation, incubation, illumination, verification, that alone, just acknowledging that you can’t sit down and all at once take in a creative problem and solve it. That alone is a huge breakthrough in be more productive when creativity matters.
Yeah, so not heard of that one, that model. But thinking about the incubation one, so they have to go away and think about it. Do you? Are you an advocate of having multiple projects, multiple things on the go? I mean, if you heard the thing Richard Feynman said have what are your 12 favourite problems? By having those in the background all the time? So you’re an advocate of having more than one project moving through your prep, incubation, illumination, verification process?
Yes, I am. Actually, I’m more than anything, I’m an advocate of having kind of a repeatable project that you like you’re doing with a podcast, right is that you have a certain schedule, it’s a creative process, you have to you have to research your guests. If you come up with questions, you have to talk to them. Then when when it’s all over, you kind of say, I have to say, Well, what was that all about? And that’s a process. But if it’s, if it’s a repetitive process, then you can start to fine tune your approach to it. And you can start to create certain constraints.
That you know, a lot of us don’t like constraint, the idea of constraints we think it’s going to it’s going to harm our create our creativity, it’s going to stifle our creativity. But no, it’s usually really the opposite. You can start to create these constraints where within that you can be creative. And within that you can get better and better at this skill, of preparing for interviews for conducting interviews, for creating show notes, really getting the lessons out of something. And then from that, you you start to build up into bigger projects.
So you know, for example, this book Mind Management, Not Time Management, I’ve been working on this stuff. For years. It all started with a blog post in 2012. And you know, I’ve written numerous blog posts had talked to numerous experts on my podcast, love your work about these things. And so it’s through having these smaller, creative works that I then get, the larger creative works and the way that I do do that though, is it it can sometimes feel overwhelming when you have a lot of different projects going.
I actually think of my creative energy in sort of a backburner front front burner back burner way in it, when people typically people say, Oh, I’m putting something on the back burner, they typically mean I’m just kind of not working on that anymore. But really, if you’re cooking something on the back burner of the stove, you’re still cooking it, you’re just kind of like checking in on the pasta once in a while. And you know that in about seven minutes, it’ll be al dente and you can, you know, get it out there. So you still working out, but then there’s the front burner stuff, the vegetables, you’re stir frying, you just don’t want to give just to the right point. And I think of it as as you’re working on the front burner with these things that are kind of new to you, where you don’t necessarily have your system and your process all figured out. But as you’re doing that, you’re creating processes. You’re formalising those, you’re creating systems using your front burner energy. But as you do that, it moves to the backburner.
When I started my podcast five years ago, I mean, every single episode was a huge project. Every single episode episode was well wait, how am I going to work question and I’m going to ask what research do I need to do? You know, and then when I’m editing or where I’m going to put the intro music when we put this in that the other thing? And but now I’ve got it, I’ve got systems going and automations going and all these things were is a backburner project, actually a podcast episode went out this morning. It’s a Thursday. And I you know, oftentimes I get up and I write, and it’s usually late in the day before I realise like, oh, podcast episode went out today. Well, when I first started, it was if it was Thursday morning, like I was watching that. But now it’s back burner, I can work on the front burner stuff, and continue to add the systems in place where there’s more and more things on the back burner where now I’ve got the podcast, I’ve got a weekly newsletter called love Mondays, that was front burner now is back burner.
You start to get these systems going, where you can use your creative energy a lot more efficiently. And in the work is actually better because of it.
And so deep view. So you said you’re automated. So you automated? And do you have an assistant? Do you have a team of people to help you to take those things that we talked about earlier? Like the production line things? So do you have people to help you with the production line elements of the process? While you can focus on the creative end?
Good question. Yeah, I do have a really reliable podcast, production team. And I’m not great at managing. But the leader of this team is a great manager. And so he does the managing of the people who were who are actually doing the technical, much of the technical work, and he’s just very organised. And I just can always feel confident that if I, if I fill out the things that are in my system, which I’ve got an air table spreadsheet, essentially, air tables are great, like Google Docs alternative for spreadsheets.
Right here. I’m a notion person.
Yeah, so I’ve got the stuff in an airtable. And then I have also I’ve got it set up where when I schedule a new episode in airtable, Zapier, using an automation creates my to do list tasks. For that, and so they just all just show up in to do it. And so I just can look into this and say, oh, okay, looks like I need to do that part of this, of this, of this project of this episode, or whatever. And so, and that those are broken down into tasks that are small enough that I tend to not procrastinate on them. And they’re spaced out actually, particularly, to take advantage of incubation.
Which we can talk about more if you if you want at some point. But let’s save that for the next book. Because I’ll talk more about your book. Tell me about your book, because we’re gonna have to speak again, because I’ve got, like about 20 different things I want to ask you, but we know more about your book today. So tell me about the book. What are the things we’re going to learn when we read about when we read your book?
Yeah, so the book is called Mind Management, Not Time Management. Here’s my little preview edition. Right now, which I’m so excited. It’s just such a great feeling to to, to get a proof of your book on the
mesa every time.
I write books and published books, and every time I get a copy of a book, I’ve got lots of books myself. I sniff them. It’s like a new baby because it smells different.
Yeah, it’s fantastic. isn’t a perfect moment congratulate, again for another book. So talk to me about the book.
Sure, some Yeah, Mind Management, Not Time Management is a lot about a lot of the stuff that we’ve been talking about just, it is about how to be productive when being creative matters. And that the way to do that is not through time management. And it’s, I had to particularly address time management in the book, because it’s so pervasive, because we’re really a time worship culture. You know, you’ll notice like, everything is about time, if we, we negotiate with time, you know, if I remember working in office, somebody comes in, tapped you on the shoulder, and they’re like, well, you have a minute. Well, it’s not the minute that I’m concerned about what I’m concerned about is my energy, my focus, my motivation, like if I’m in the middle of something that I’m switching from thing to thing is, yeah, I’m such a resource stealer.
And when we’re young, we’re so in so many different interactions, we act as if time is the only thing that that is important. And and notice that, you know, we we refer to our unused time as free time. When you know, if it’s if it’s, if it’s somebody else’s time, or you’re free, you’re doing on your free time. And it’s really so pervasive.
And so this is my proposal to humanity – let’s switch to more of a mind management world, where it’s not always about time where it is about energy, and it is about what’s the what’s the better. How, what’s the better time to do this, based upon your energy levels, what’s the better time to do this based upon the stage, we’re in the process? input output, that, just because you put time into this, that somehow means that it, you did something valuable. And because you can actually find this is something I talked about in the book.
I was talking about with the podcast episodes, that, for example, writing an intro for the podcast, say I have a an interview with Seth Godin. And it’s an hour long, and I’m like, he’s blown my mind throughout the entire interview. And now I’ve got to think about what was that about? What was that really even about, and I’ve got to make some show notes or an intro on that? Well, what I used to do was sit and listen to it, and then try to make notes. But I’ve learned through breaking apart the creative process, that there’s actually different pieces to this, to where now that that can be a thing where I’m kind of listening to the episode, as I go about my day, and do that a few times. And then there’s a few different tasks in my task management system, there are five minutes each. And they’re spaced out to take advantage of incubation, I call it your passive genius, which we just tend to not use as much as we really could. And so now is this thing that used to take me an hour or so that I would dread that would that it would feel totally drained after it was done. It’s broken up into 15 minutes, three different little five minute tasks that are easy to do and fun to do, and that I don’t procrastinate on.
So this a little bit of what this book is about is how can you actually take these things that are happening with your mind. And instead of tracking your time, and using your time as the precious resource using your energy as the precious resource, your creative energy, and figuring out how to get the most out of that creative energy?
Wow. I’ve already read the book. So I know. And I’m dying to get my hands on the real copy of it. When when is the book coming out October
or October 27 is the date and it’s available for pre order right now on Amazon. The book, the Kindle and paperback might be ready for pre order
I’m going to start I promised you I wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes but we do have we will have to speak again because I’d like about 100 things I want to ask you more about so when I have I have one question that I ask everybody this question and it’s my favourite question in the world is: when was the last time you did something for the first time?
was the last time I did something for the first time.
You have to cut out a lot of silence here.
Because I’m trying to think about the last time I did something for the first time. Well, I think maybe the first time I used a I the first time that I used a mechanical keyboard. Maybe it wasn’t my first time. What isn’t my use that right? Is it the one those with the heavy switches that are like clickety. Click Click, I finally just got one. And, you know, there’s all these it’s one of these things that people who are tech geeks and stuff are just swear by. And I like it. It’s nice. I like it. Because I like it. I like my mind who makes nice clicks, but it’s not that firm touch click that you know that. So is it quite a firm touch?
Well, I’ve got the brown switches, which are the standard switches, which are kind of in between, like the red switches, I think are the softer ones. And I haven’t even tried all the different ones that I don’t think that I would actually be suit. I don’t want to get super particular about it. Actually, um, but But yeah, now actually, I do have some times I need to use a different keyboard. And I did finally notice like, oh, wow, this is really just not there’s not a lot of resistance to this, this keyboard. And, and so I do wonder whether it feels like I’m typing faster, more accurately with it. But I wonder if that’s just because it’s louder, that my mind tricks me into thinking that I’m being more productive somehow.
Whatever, whatever works for you that makes you feel like more productive. That works for me, too. I love that idea. Okay, so now your books coming out in October. And we can get it from Kindle and he knows get from your website, which is Kadavy.net And that’s where they can sign up to your newsletter which are newsletter. By the way, I love your newsletter, I have frequently send you little messages saying Oh, I love that newsletter. Because one of the things that I love the most about you in that newsletter is how revealing you are about your process about what’s happening, what you’ve done and what what’s working and what’s not working. And that for me is that that makes a really strong connection for me. So thank you for your newsletter.
Yeah, to get to get exactly to that newsletter. a really easy way to do that. Because if you’re just need to type it in and while listening to audio or watching video, it’s just kdv.co/n. And for newsletter kdv.co/n they’ll take you right there. Little three letter domain make it easy.
Yeah, I love it and your podcast, we can get that high.
That is anywhere that you listen to podcasts, including, including YouTube. So Apple podcasts, overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, you name it. If you can listen to podcasts there. Chances are you will find love your work there. With my face on the cover.
I just need to get a promise on air now that you’re going to come back and we can do this again in a couple of months. That’d be wonderful. I’ve had the books gone. Your promotion, how how, how it’s gone down what the reviews are like. So that would be fantastic to catch up with you maybe in the new year.
Great. Yeah, it’s I mean, I’m learning as I go here, all the time. This is this is my second major self published book. And so it’s always an adventure.
So you’ve just opened another line of inquiry for me for my next podcast with you as well, about that, too. So, thank you so much, David. And we’ll speak again soon, no doubt.
Wonderful. Thank you Debbie
David on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/kadavy/
David’s Podcast – https://kadavy.net/blog/archive/love-your-work/
Referenced in the recording:
Clock Time vs Event Time – https://kadavy.net/blog/posts/clock-time-event-time/
Frederick Taylor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Winslow_Taylor
Hermann von Helmholtz: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermann_von_Helmholtz
Graham Wallas: https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/08/28/the-art-of-thought-graham-wallas-stages/