Create, collaborate, chill

I wanted to share this email I received from Podcaster and productivity writer Graham Alcott because it’s a great way to rethink how you divide your attention. Importantly, I think, is Graham’s note around ‘Good Chill’, and planning in your recharge time as you would for time to create and collaborate.

When we forget managing time, and instead think about how we manage attention, then good things happen. It’s a key theme in my first book, How to be a Productivity Ninja, as well as in my work generally.

When I’m scheduling my own weeks, I tend to think about three different ways I can use my attention: to Create, to Collaborate, or to Chill. Here’s why these three things are important:

Most people I work with could really use some more ‘create’ time in their weeks. This is the periods of time where we have the discipline and focus to do what Cal Newport calls the ‘Deep Work’. It’s about getting our heads down into the harder, more challenging things, and making progress on what matters most. For me, creating could be writing something, doing a podcast, reading/research for a podcast, writing one of these emails, giving detailed feedback to someone on their work, editing my book, and so on. I tend to try and get at least one three hour session of ‘Create’ time in at least four times a week (I don’t work Fridays, so in practice this means it’s pretty much how I spend most of my mornings). But you might simply need three hours a week, or a day a month, or something else. When I’m in Create mode, my mindset is disciplined, closed and distraction-free.

This is what most of us do as a default. We answer emails, sit in meetings, help other people with the things on their to-do lists, or have important conversations. This is useful and important stuff when we work in teams and especially when we manage people. The trouble is that with collaboration, there isn’t an easily defined end point, and it’s easier to get started Collaborating than it is Creating, because, well, most people are good and helpful, so we want to help them back. We tend to feel more guilty when we abandon collaboration because we’re neglecting others, whereas Create time is more solitary and we tend to not mind letting ourselves down in quite the same way. When I’m in Collaborate mode, my mindset is open and curious. I don’t bother myself with managing time or worrying too much about distractions, because I’m safe in the knowledge that my job here is to help other people doing their jobs, not to get my own work done.

Being more mindful about the differences, entry points and exit points of Create time versus Collaborate time is a great way to radically improve focus at work (and in life). And it helps to spend a few minutes thinking about and listing different parts of your job that fit into these two modes – there are usually some grey areas or creases worth ironing out.

And finally, there’s Chill. Downtime. Recharging. Most of us don’t design this one at all. We tend to leave Chill the final scraps of our attention at the end of a long day at the office or perched at the kitchen table. What this means is that Netflix and Instagram win as the easy defaults over beautiful walks, sneaking in catch the last couple of hours of play at Wimbledon, or going to a gig. Good Chill, at least to my mind, involves planning – even if ‘good chill’ means “spending time playing with my kid without phones”! 

They each feed off each other. When we Chill well, it means we come back more inspired ready to Create, and with more patience and understanding for the Collaboration ahead. We must never see Chill as something to feel guilty about. Quite the opposite. It’s an investment in our productivity, and in being the best versions of ourselves.

There is of course loads more to say on this: how to pick the right times in our days for Create, Collaborate and Chill, how to make sure our intentions are matched by reality, how to say no to collaboration we don’t want, how to chill when we’re exhausted, and so on. Getting the 3 C’s right is one of the hardest balancing acts of our whole lives, and even though there are loads of things to say, we don’t hold conversations about it very often.

So my invitation to you this week is to think about the 3 C’s – Create, Collaborate and Chill – and whether you have the balance right for you:

– Are you clear with yourself about which activities fit into these three
– What’s working? Who can you role-model this to? (don’t be shy. It might help them!).
– What’s not working? What do you want to change? (and don’t be shy here either – write a specific intention into your diary, tell someone to hold you accountable, and make a change this week, however small)
– What feels out of your reach right now, but can act as a guide for the kind of lifestyle or workstyle you want in the future?

Some nice ideas here.



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