Posted on November 10th, 2015

Every so often I’ll have a moment of inspiration where I feel the need and ability to accomplish a million wonderful things. I’ve found that these moments have become ever more crucial the less time I have to myself. Back in college, although I was generally “busy”, I owned my time. When a moment of inspiration struck, not only could I have a go at it, but more importantly I knew I’d be able to dive as deeply into the endeavour as I liked. All-nighters were less disruptive, and my schedule more flexible. And if I didn’t dive in right away, the opportunity would probably come around again shortly after.

When one has a job or other commitments, there is less leeway, and a bit more organisation can go a long way. I think the key is regularity. No matter how intense your burst of inspiration, sporadic effort will only get you so far. What’s worse is that as you build up memories of stillborn endeavours, a pile of negative precedent begins to build up in your mind. Every new moment of inspiration begins with a recollection of the previous dead-ends, and the self-doubt can become paralysing. Even if you manage to overcome this, or are somehow free of it, there is another cost to sporadic inspiration: depreciation. The more time left before picking up the relay baton from your past self, the harder it is to do so. More effort and time go into getting yourself back up to speed and in the zone. Sometimes I think of it as a loan, where all the fluff is interest and productive or enjoyable time is principal. You want to have a very low interest to principal ratio. This analogy is probably useful in other contexts as well, such as minimising the “activation energy” it takes to get into the zone in general, but I’ll avoid going off on that tangent for now.

So the question is when you do feel a moment of inspiration, what do you do? Such events are beautifully free-form, and any rigidity would probably detract from them and be self-defeating. But I do think there is one very important habit to be nurtured: ask yourself at that moment how you will build in regularity over the longer term. It’s really a blessing to feel passion for something; it’s your mind and soul telling you very clearly, “I care about this” - at least for starters. And to respect that endeavour is to recognise that most of the time, it will not come to full fruition with a single Red Bull all-nighter. Like I said, no amount of intensity will match regularity over a sufficient period of time. Ask yourself how you’ll build the core element of the thought at hand into your daily or weekly schedule. The impact will be much greater, and I think it’s the only way to internalise things and grow as a person. Perhaps most importantly, dead-ends will turn into fond memories.

There is one caveat here: don’t use regularity as an excuse to avoid intensity or rigour. A tough workout three times a week will probably make you really fit; a five minute walk every hour less so. It’s about balance, as always (or as “most of the time” :). There’s nothing wrong with Red Bull and an all-nighter (although they’re probably not great for your health). But the key point is that repetition will matter more in the long-run. Perhaps a decent jog a few times a week will suffice, and perhaps you will need to sprint occasionally.

So next time you and I experience that moment of inspiration, let’s dive in. But let’s also take a moment to build it into our lives with regularity. We’ll likely learn more, have a blast, and perhaps even accomplish some (great) things.