To be creative, should you "go with the flow" or schedule out your day?
Consider your relationship to “deadlines”.
Some people work well by giving themselves due dates. Others avoid it and prefer to “go with the flow”.
Either way can work… as long as we make the choice consciously, and thereby be accepting of the results that occur (or don’t occur).
If we “go with the flow”, we need to accept that we probably won’t reach our time-based goals… or that goals may constantly change based on our whims or other people’s requests.
On the other hand, if you want to set a vision, have goals, and achieve them within a timeline, then you need to have a good relationship with deadlines, especially the ones you set for yourself.
Call it due dates, milestones, or lifelines, or any other word that energizes you.
Consider the following 3 ways of being…
1. Go with the flow.
This can work well if you are already financially secure, or if you don't need to achieve results within specific timelines. Accept whatever comes with your lifestyle.
Many artists prefer this way. Sometimes, this may also mean accepting the resulting lack of material growth. Don’t set goals that are likely to disappoint. Learn to want what you’re given. Flow with whatever comes.
Total acceptance is a deep spiritual practice.
The person I most respect for deeply committing to "go with the flow" is Peace Pilgrim. She did it from a deep service to humanity and spiritual growth. She was homeless and simply 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. I highly recommend listening to her audiobook, which is free to hear online: Peace Pilgrim Audiobook.
Unfortunately, that’s not how most people "go with the flow" -- they give into their unwise habits and serve baser appetites, and then they wonder why they aren't able to fulfill the goals they set.
In other words, most people actually go with an unconscious, untrained flow.
A reader wrote to me:
“Last year, I had the time and money to do everything I wanted. So I went with the flow. But my ‘flow’ was ‘I don't feel good, I'm gonna watch TV or do music’. But I felt empty. I had everything I wanted, but I felt useless and alone. Going with the flow is good for certain things like visiting a city and letting yourself discover the streets... Going with the flow is good when you don't have any goal, want, need in a given situation, or more precisely when your goal is not to have a goal. But we all need structure to some point, or we’re at the risk of getting right into depression.”
Let’s look at the complete opposite of “go with the flow”...
2. Scheduled Performance.
Many successful people work in this way. (But it’s not the only way to success.)
Think of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time. When he was practicing and competing, just about every 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 highest athletic performance.
The same goes with people who are financially successful: they often have their work day scheduled down to the 5-minute mark.
In this mode, you schedule everything, and expect yourself to show up fully optimized for that activity. You’ve made the stakes high for every hour of the workday.
This is a very challenging way to live, and probably not something most of us aim for.
Let’s explore a middle way…
3. Scheduled Flow.
This is what I aim for.
During my work day, I live by a schedule, down to the 30-minute increment.
I look at my calendar frequently, and do whatever the calendar (my faithful assistant!) says to do.
Here’s the difference:
Whatever task I’ve scheduled to do, I just go with the flow within that task. I aim to enjoy the task itself, without forcing myself to “perform” or achieve an “optimal” 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 always perfect at this method, but Scheduled Flow is a practice I keep coming back to, again and again. I do the work for its own sake, and aim to apply 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 12pm. 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.
What about the results?
I believe -- and have seen from years of experimentation -- that if I show up consistently to practice joyful productivity in the moment, and let go of pressuring myself to achieve results, I tend to accomplish a lot over time, and with more graceful calm.
I’ve long been 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.”
Stay with the Process
The key to making this work is to stay with the task that I’ve scheduled, even if I don’t feel like it. 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. (And if it’s not a good plan, I’ll learn to plan better for the next time!)
Within the task, I’m not afraid of making mistakes, because I don’t have a set performance result that I “must” achieve.
Of course, just like anyone else, I would enjoy having wonderful results, but I don’t require it in the moment. I trust that over time, as I continue to show up for the work, I will naturally grow the skills and confidence to get better results, without having to try too hard.
Whether the results are “good” or not, the better question I ask myself is whether the process was good? Was I mindful, did I enjoy the work, was it compassionate, and aligned with my values?
If you’re going to avoid deadlines and due dates, and want to go with the flow, then be accepting that Life will give you whatever It wants to… sometimes demanding tasks you don’t feel like doing but end up “having to”.
Instead, perhaps we can create a new and healthier relationship to deadlines?
Let’s practice setting goals and deadlines (or lifelines) as our compass, and at the same time, journey joyfully.
Work towards our “goals” with a playful experimentation and curiosity, appreciating the learning and the moment-by-moment process.
George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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