Winning the Consuming vs Creating Battle

“Our mantra: brutal prioritization, maniacal focus.” – Jeffrey Kalmikoff 

writers-blockLast time, I talked about how there’s a battle you face every day between consuming and creating.  As letter artists, we often have trouble organizing and making the most of the time available to us.

We have to fight against temptation from the constant stream of information we have before us, and make the decision to create for ourselves. The Resistance rears its ugly head and you’re locked in a fight that determines the rest of your day.  Here’s how I win.


I have a daily action list for every day of the week. In this way, I can keep track of my hourly rate which is challenging when you are a freelancer. I’ve kept this list on paper, in Basecamp, in Evernote, and a text document in my Dropbox.  It doesn’t matter where you keep it – just that you keep one.

On my list, I have every day of the week along with what I want to accomplish that day. Everything gets ranked with what I have to get done (high priority) down to what would be nice to get done (low priority) .  Along with that priority, each action also has a time limit on it.  I know, time limits sound childish but it’s how I structure out my day, .  My list might look like this:

  • Start work day – 8 am
  • Check email, social media, and Google reader – 25 mins
  • Edit some recent work in photoshop and backup online – 45 mins
  • Draft and refine one blog post for publication – 25 mins
  • Get out (photo walk, excursion, or anything to get out of the house ) – 1 hour
  • Brainstorm/journal for personal projects and series – 25 mins
  • Explore (see what others are doing that inspires) – 25 mins

Having this action list in place, I know exactly what I need to be working on.  Those times can be fluid but the priority of those orders are pretty set. Additionally, my time is split with the heavy emphasis on creating, and only a small portion for consuming. As the day continues, I make sure to actually cross off the items on my to-do list until they are ALL complete.

If I allow fluidity and don’t commit to crossing off every task, it’s far too tempting to want to put off a harder task until tomorrow even if it’s a higher priority one.

Bottom line: Set your plans in STONE, not in Jello. Make your plans and complete them.
If you take it day by day in this way, it’s much easier to organize your goals and work toward bigger goals a bit at a time.


With my action list, I know exactly what I need to accomplish that day.  Now it’s just a matter of doing it.  Personally, I adopt the Pomodoro Technique on my list.  Developed as a time management technique, you split up each task into 25 minute increments and then set a kitchen timer to ring at the end of that time slot.  Every 25 minutes, you take a 5-minute break.  Every four “pomodoros”, you take a longer break )15-20 minutes.

For me, I tweak those Pomodoro lengths to fit better with the list when I need to.  The main idea behind it is to set time frames, meet them, and then take a break so you don’t stay in one spot all day.

With those actions, I only focus on that for the time frame.  So I only work on a blog post or only work on creating that series page.  The focus must be tight on it or I’ll find myself surfing the web again without even realizing it.  The worst part comes when I try to justify clicking around on Digg as research for creating that page.  Focus on the action required at hand.


These methods may sound crazy or childish (or both).  Lists?  Actions?  Time limits?  This sounds like a bad 9-5 job that requires no thinking.  How can this possibly work?

It works because it’s simple.  Brutal Prioritization.  Maniacal Focus.  That’s how you get things done.  That’s how you win the battle and create rather than just consume.

What’re your secrets for winning? (Insert Charlie Sheen joke here).