To be creative, should you “go with the flow” or schedule out your day?

What’s your relationship to “deadlines”? Do you work well by giving yourself due dates, or do you avoid it and prefer to “go with the flow”?

Either way can work. Understand your choice, and be accepting of whatever consequences occur as a result.

If you go with the flow, then be accepting that you may never meet your goals… that your goals may constantly change based on your internal whims, or other people’s external requests.

On the other hand, if you want to set a vision, have goals and achieve them, then you need to have a good relationship with deadlines, especially the ones you set for yourself. Call it due dates, milestones, deadlines, lifelines, or any other word that energizes you.

Consider these 3 ways of being:

1. Go with the flow.

This way can work well if you are already financially secure or don’t need to achieve specific results. Accept whatever comes with just going with the flow.

Many artists prefer this way… but usually they end up with a lack of material comforts.

Just know this: If you aren’t going to be reliable, you can’t expect others to be reliable for you. Don’t expect Life to give you want you want. You’ll need to learn to completely flow with whatever comes.

Total acceptance is a profound spiritual practice.

The one person whom I most respect for “go with the flow” is Peace Pilgrim, but she went with the flow out of deep service to humanity and spiritual growth. She was homeless and just served everyone. She walked until given food or shelter, and just helped people wherever she went. She was deeply happy and many people consider her to be very spiritually realized.

But most people that think “go with the flow” are out of service to their own appetites and desires, and then they wonder why they aren’t able to fulfill them.

2. Scheduled Performance.

Many successful people work in this way. Think of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. When he was practicing and competing, just about every waking minute was scheduled, whether it was swim practice, or rest, or meals. Everything was regimented, so that he could optimize his time and life energy for the best athletic performance.

The same goes with people who are financially successful: they often have their work day scheduled down to the 5-minute mark.

3. Scheduled Flow.

This is what I aim for…

I live by a schedule every work day.

I look at my calendar throughout the day, and do whatever I have in my calendar.

Here’s the difference: Whenever I do the tasks I’ve scheduled, I just go with the flow within that task. I aim to enjoy the task itself, without forcing myself to “perform” or achieve a “perfect” result.

To say it differently: I make sure I show up for the task I’ve scheduled (left-brained), and then I allow my creativity and intuition to guide me within that task (right-brained.)

Not that I’m perfect at always doing this, but Scheduled Flow is a practice I keep coming back to, again and again. I do the work for its own sake, and practice mindfulness and joyfulness within the work, no matter how the results turn out.

This is how I’m writing this post now. I have a deadline that I need to write and post this by 1pm. Am I nervous, anxious, and “hustling”? I’ve practiced just letting my fingers flow. Whatever words come out (based on a theme I pre-set), and I edit lightly, is what you’ll end up reading :)

I’m inspired by this passage from the Bhagavad Gita:

“To action alone has thou a right, and never at all to its fruits;
Let not the fruits of action be thy motive;
Neither let there be in thou any attachment to inaction….
Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty,
For by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.”

The key is that I stay with the task. I don’t allow myself to get distracted and “go with the flow” in terms of changing tasks, surfing the net, etc.

I stay with what I planned to do. Yet, I’m not afraid of making mistakes, because I don’t have a set performance result that I “must” achieve.

Granted, I am much more able to do this because I am a solopreneur. I get to decide what work product is adequate. I’m not having to please anyone… not even myself, because I care more about the process than the “perfection” of the result.

However, even if you have a job and need to produce results for your boss, there is a great benefit in learning to flow within the task, rather than obsess about the results.

Here’s a great passage from the book “The Practicing Mind” by Thomas Sterner:

“We become fixated on our intended goal and completely miss out on the joy present in the process of achieving it. We erroneously think that there is a magical point that we will reach and then we will be happy. We look at the process of getting there as almost a necessary nuisance we have to go through in order to get to our goal.

It’s a paradox. When you focus on the process, the desired product takes care of itself with fluid ease. When you focus on the product, you immediately begin to fight yourself and experience boredom, restlessness, frustration, and impatience with the process.

The reason for this is not hard to understand. When you focus your mind on the present moment, on the process of what you are doing right now, you are always where you want to be and where you should be. All your energy goes into what you are doing.

However, when you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you are never where you are, and you exhaust your energy with unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing.

This awareness of being where you are and in the present gives you the constant positive reinforcement of reaching your goal over and over again.

However, when your mind is only on the finished product, not only do you feel frustrated in every second that you have not met that goal, but you experience anxiety in every “mistake” you make while practicing. You view each mistake as a barrier, something delaying you from realizing your goal and experiencing the joy that reaching that goal is going to give you.”

So we are repairing our relationship with deadlines by reframing what “mistakes” are.

They are a learning opportunity as we aim for a goal, but whether we achieve the goal or not, we value the process and the learning more.

Ironically by doing this, we tend to achieve better results anyway, but let us not focus on results. Whether the results are “good” or not, the question is whether the process was good? Were we mindful, did we enjoy the work, was it compassionate, and aligned with our values?

If you’re going to avoid deadlines and due dates, and want to go with the flow, then be fully accepting that Life will give you whatever it wants to, sometimes demanding things you don’t feel like doing but have to, to stay alive or out of trouble!

Instead, why don’t we create a new and healthier relationship to deadlines?

Let’s set goals and deadlines (or lifelines) as our compass, yet, journey joyfully. Work towards them with a playful experimentation and curiosity, appreciating the learning and the moment-by-moment process.

The above is a chapter from the book Joyful Productivity, which is now available as an audiobook, read by the wonderful voice of Jill Edwards Minyé. Listen to a sample.

Originally published at www.georgekao.com.

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