Thoughts On Being a Producer Versus a Consumer
Getting shit done is hard these days — perhaps harder than it ever has been for human beings at any other point in history. We live in a world of constant connectivity and while I’m super grateful for little things like T-Mobile’s Free International Data plan while seeking out an vegan French Bistro in Le Marais or Google Maps when traversing cow pastures in Nicaragua, it’s become far too easy for us to slip into a mindset of pure consumption.
I certainly am extremely guilty of this mindset and I need to look no further than the screen time widget on my iPhone to see how much time I logged on Instagram and Reddit over the past week. I’m generally thought of as a highly productive person (emphasis thought of) so I can only begin to imagine how some of my lesser productive friends’ stats rank up.
We may be the first generation to be considered digital consumers but since the invention of the transistor our access to content has logarithmically increased and our collective brains have been on a mission to devour as much of it as possible.
Consumption isn’t evil in nature and instantaneous access to information has unquestionably improved humanity as a whole but there comes a time when we become so plugged in that we stop nurturing our creative abilities.
It’s become too easy to slip into a mindset of passive consumption and as a result, many of us will lose our ability to create.
The goal of this article isn’t to tell you how to avoid consumption, but to encourage you to cultivate a producer mindset. It’s easier than you think to start to shift your perspective and I’d like to share a few tricks I actively use to shift mine.
Start Every Day With A Plan
While this may be harsh — I find it very hard to take someone seriously who “shows up” without a plan. It’s by far the easiest and best thing a person can do to immediately increase their productivity.
There are hundreds of books on time management and while there are a lot of great techniques, here is an approach that I have found useful for establishing a manageable list of things I need to act on. The goal of my approach is to implement a flexible and trackable system to break problems down into tangible tasks. I also realize that there is a limit to our ability to maintain productivity and not all work is created equal so I like to add rules about the amount and types of tasks I put on my daily plan.
Use a pen and paper for this exercise (how old-fashioned) and commit to documenting these items somewhere physical — I’m currently .a fan of the Leuchtturn1917 notebooks.
Create a list of everything you need to accomplish this month on a blank piece of paper or page. Don’t put too much thought into organizing or prioritizing this list but group them into “high brainpower” and “low brainpower” activities. I like to consider things like coding, writing and strategic planning as “high brainpower” activities while things like checking email, posting to social media and client meetings as “low brainpower.”
Now, estimate the amount of time it will take to accomplish each item. You can group tasks into categories of 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, and greater than 2 hours. If something takes more than 2 hours try and break this item down to sub-tasks and assign time weights to them. The end goal here is to create a list of small and easily manageable tasks.
OK — now let’s define our weekly calendar. Open to a new page and create a separate to-do list for each day of the week. Start to populate each day’s to-do list with items from your monthly calendar but — here’s the trick — don’t put more than 6 hours of estimated work on any given day and don’t put more than 1 “high brainpower” activity on any given day.
After completing this activity you should have a clear roadmap for your week. I typically like to do this on a Sunday evening or early Monday morning for the upcoming week.
If you’re familiar with bullet journaling, agile sprints or GTD you’ll certainly see elements of all three methodologies (as well as several others) in my approach towards planning. My task management systems have always been fluid so naturally, one out-of-the box solution hasn’t worked perfectly for me and I encourage you to use this as a blueprint but experiment with what works for you.
Make Time to Be a Producer
Back in my teens and early twenties I used to play in bands. I was a guitarist but realized that I kind of sucked at it. One day I decided that I didn’t want to suck anymore so I went out and bought a brand new Fender American Strat on the condition that I would commit to learning how to play it.
I think I averaged about 4 hours a day of practice during the first year or two and you’d be surprised how quickly I improved. While I would never claim to have been the next Randy Rhodes, I improved enough to be able to hang with most of the other musicians in my circles at the time. Fast forward a decade — my interests have shifted, I rarely make time to practice, and my abilities have suffered accordingly.
We all struggle with self-discipline and while it may seem to come naturally to some more so than others, it is a skill anyone can teach themselves. I also find self-discipline to be an essential part of becoming a master of your craft and it often walks hand-in-hand with creating anything of value. What I’m trying to say is that self-discipline is essential to cultivating a producer mindset.
To get started, I challenge you to block out 30 minutes (or more) per day to devote toward a single activity. It could be writing, playing music, cooking, running, coding a web or mobile app, yoga/meditation — really anything that can hold your interest. While this may not strictly be “producing” by traditional definition, I like to look at this as investing time in refining and perfecting one’s craft.
Whether or not you ever intend to share the fruits of your labor with another person, it’s important to invest in these activities if for no reason other than driving personal advancement.
Set an Actionable Goal and Share it Publicly
Theres no better way to commit to “forced production” then to climb up onto your soapbox and commit publicly to a goal. I’m a big fan of this approach simply because I’ve found that to directly challenge my ego to a proverbial game of chick’un is the surest way to get me to commit to action.
There are a few caveats to taking this approach, however, outlined as follows:
Your goal should be realistic. We all want to be a professional athlete, CEO of the next “unicorn” startup or president of the United States. I don’t want to burst your bubble but guess what — it’s probably not going to happen and you need to set a more realistic goal.
Your goal should be actionable. There is a fine line between a dream and a goal. The differentiator is being able to define a clear plan of action and if you can’t break your goal down to a series of small steps then you need to continue to iterate on it.
Your goal should fundamentally scare the shit out of you. If you haven’t set a goal that keeps you up at night or you dwell upon in the shower you probably should aim higher. By developing a healthy relationship with fear you’ll be amazed at how quickly you rise to the occasion and face a challenge head on.
Now, let’s consider a practical example. Consider both of these statements:
"My goal is to own a Michelin rated restaurant and have a Netflix TV show about my culinary prowess."
“My goal is to learn to cook authentic Thai & Southeast Asian food and open a well-respected restaurant in my city.”
One of these statements is a goal and the other is a dream and I think it’s pretty clear to distinguish one from the other.
A realistic goal can be broken down to tangible steps such as creating a menu and perfecting recipes, finding a commercial storefront to lease, and talking to investors or a bank about capitalizing the operation.
One Parting Thought on Rewarding Yourself
I have to admit that I struggle with the concept of rewarding myself for achieving a goal or hitting a milestone. Whether it’s successfully pulling off another iteration of Asbury Agile or hitting a personal goal of hosting a pop up dinner, my natural proclivity is to focus on what’s next on the punch list and not spending enough time in the moment.
Understanding this facet of my nature has helped to keep this tendency in check and allowed me to take time to reward myself for these accomplishments and I encourage you to do the same.
At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to manage time, build discipline and force yourself into action and these are just a few of the approaches that I have found useful.
If there is one key takeaway I’d like to leave you with, it is to start to experiment with developing your own systems. Regardless of your method, once you commit to a plan, the shift from consumption to production is instantaneous. Furthermore, by cultivating a producer mindset in one part of your life, you’ll quickly see it spill in to the other parts as well.