#123: 12 strategies for becoming more consistent

October 25, 2022

#123: 12 strategies for becoming more consistent
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Sharing how you can become better at hitting deadlines and publishing consistently

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Hello my friend! Welcome to a short, audio-only episode of Creative Elements.

First off, we're taking a break from uploading to YouTube this week. So I'll share a little bit behind the scenes for why that is (and why it's scary). Then we'll get into a 12-part framework for how YOU can become more consistent with publishing and hitting deadlines.

This framework was first covered in my newsletter, Creator Science! If you don't already subscribe, I recommend you do below.

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Jay Clouse 00:14

Hello, my friend, welcome back to another episode of creative elements. This is a special audio only episode of the show. This is only for my loyal audio audience who have been here since the beginning. I see you, I appreciate you. We decided this week that we're going to take a week off of publishing on YouTube. And this episode is gonna be dedicated to talking a little bit about that decision, because it's something I've been wanting to talk about for a while. And as a starting point, we need to go back to episode number 113, my interview with Austin Bell sack because he said something in an interview that I haven't been able to stop thinking about. Finally, I


Austin Belcak 00:52

sat down and I said, here's what I'm gonna do, I'm going to sit down, I'm going to write LinkedIn posts, and I'm not going to publish them, I'm just going to sit down every day, I'm going to write a post, I'm gonna save it. And I'm just going to build a massive backlog of content. And that's what I did. And I basically built out like 30 to 50 posts, I don't remember the exact number. And then I said, Okay, if I post a couple of times per week, I basically have several months of content here. And if I can write one or two new posts every week, that backlog is just going to keep extending, and hopefully that gives me enough runway to figure this thing out. And that's exactly what happened. I started posting semi weekly, I had the backlog, I dedicated time every day to writing and that clicked and that eventually worked for me.


Jay Clouse 01:31

I am so good at hitting deadlines. When I say I'm going to ship something, I ship something, I have published a newsletter every week for the last six years at least once mostly has been two times per week. I published this show every single Tuesday since launching it in March of 2020. But if I'm honest, if you actually looked at my work during the week, I am creating that work days before it publishes. And when Austin said this on the show, I just wanted to like crawl up in a ball and die. Because what this reminded me is that I went about this the absolute wrong way. Even though yes, I hit my deadlines I can publish when I say I'm going to publish, I am constantly under deadline, I am constantly under pressure to get this thing done. That's going out in a couple of days sincerely. I'm usually recording audio for this podcast just a couple days before it airs. And I'm usually writing my newsletter on Friday before it ships on Sunday. Now as I'm recording this Connor and I just finished the edit on my interview with Nick gray. That episode was intended to publish Today, October 25. However, I'm realizing now that we have this and I'm recording this on Wednesday, October 19, for full transparency, now that we have basically a week ahead of having the show done. It feels nice to be ahead. And Congress taking a few days off to travel. That's why we actually got ahead for once, but he's coming back on Monday. And so if this episode were to publish on Tuesday, he's coming right back in and we're right back on the same treadmill of have, you know, a week to publish this next episode. So I said to Connor, what if we just aired an audio only episode to talk about building runway and took a week off of YouTube. At the end of the day, it's not going to hurt the YouTube channel to not have an upload this week. And the potential upside of Connor and I not being under a sub one week turnaround for this show is going to be so great for both of us. And so that's what we're going to do this week. I will tell you the scary thing about doing this, even though I know there's not like a systemic issue with not uploading to YouTube this week is momentum. I am feeling a lot of really positive momentum right now with my work with the YouTube channel with the podcast with my writing. Everything is going well and seems to be accelerating. But in this world as a creator, you have to sustain momentum because it's difficult to get, and it's easy to lose. So the scary thing about not publishing on YouTube this week is does that slow momentum in the eyes of the YouTube viewer? Maybe two weeks from now I don't think it matters. You know if this was stopping for more than one week, I think it would be far worse but stopping for one week, I don't think it will really matter especially we come back strong with some new episodes. And we have more than a dozen episodes scheduled and more than a half dozen already recorded so we're good on pipeline. But it is scary to think about losing momentum because you work so so hard to get to a point where I feel like I am right now which is people are taking notice the work is good the work is is being enjoyed by the people that I want to enjoy it. It's helping people if you slow down you give that up. That feels like a risk. But ultimately it's a risk that I'm willing to take for the sustainability of both Connor and I and honestly I think this is the time of you year to do it, we're getting close to Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year's. If you want to pause, build a backlog, maybe you can't get to the 30 to 50 posts that Austin was talking about. But if you want to pause and build a backlog and get ahead of schedule, to not be on the razor's edge constantly, if that's you as well, I think this is a good time of year to do it. And I appreciate you listening to this, because every interaction I've had with listeners of the show has been so supportive, so positive, and I know people aren't going to be so upset that I'm not putting out a new interview this week, people enjoy the solo episodes that I do, even though I do them very infrequently. That's actually something we have on the schedule to figure out for next year, because we want to have more direct from me style episodes, both in audio and on video. And so maybe this is a type of thing that you like, and if you do, you should tweet at me, let me know that you enjoy these solo episodes, even if they are a little bit more off the cuff. Now, I want this episode to be valuable to be very helpful. And so what I'm going to do is share with you a framework I developed to help you be more consistent. If you feel like you're not publishing consistently or delivering consistently, if you can't hit deadlines, I have a few steps for you that I think will be helpful. And that's what I'm going to cover in the rest of this episode. And that will start right after this.


Jay Clouse 06:15

All right, welcome back. Let's talk about how to be more consistent. This is something that I wrote for my newsletter creator science and published on September 9, I'm gonna run through it here. If you've already read that issue that essay, this might not be new to you, it might be a good reminder though, if you haven't read it, then I think you're really going to enjoy this. And if you do enjoy this, you should subscribe to that newsletter creator science.com. This is the type of thing that I'm shipping on a weekly basis. In January 2017, I decided that I was going to publish an email newsletter every day for a year. And for 365 days, I did exactly that. After that year of daily publishing, though, I realized that I was subjecting my readers to some form of cruel and unusual punishment by force feeding them half baked, generally unrelated thoughts. But that didn't matter. What mattered was that I set an intense goal, and I succeeded with it. Since that first year, I've continued to publish this newsletter, often twice weekly, without fail for nearly six years. And not only that, but I've also managed to sustain a weekly podcast, this podcast at times to weekly podcasts for several years as well. And as a result, people often ask me how I am so consistent. To be honest, I've struggled to articulate why in the past, it's just something that has become second nature to me. But I think there are three elements at play. The first is an incredible fear of public failure. The second is a deep respect for deadlines. And the third is a system of accountability. Now, I can't give you my fear of public failure, I can't make you be mortified by the idea of not following through on a promise that you've made. And even if I could, I'm not sure that I would want to. But I've been able to take that flaw and make it useful for myself. Maybe there's a weakness in your own neurology that you can turn into a strength as well. But what I can help you with are deadlines and accountability. Even better, I've identified 12 Total methods to help you become more consistent. So let's talk about each one of them. Number one, set achievable deadlines. For the first two years of college I studied journalism, journalism is based on publishing stories in a physical print layout, think newspapers or magazines. Every time a publication goes to print, there's an actual person who manages the layout to make sure the words written for that edition actually fit within the physical confines of the publication. It's literally a word puzzle. It takes time to do print layout. So writers are given deadlines for finishing their drafts so that their editors could tighten up the writing and hit their own deadline for sending those stories to the layout team is a chain of dependencies, you need to hit your deadline as a writer so that your editor could hit their deadline. So that layout could hit their deadline, and the publication could go to print in time for the paper to hit the stands in the morning. That puts a lot of pressure on your deadline. As a writer. If you miss your deadline, your editor who is sometimes your boss looks bad, and now you can't print on time, or there's a blank space in the paper. So journalism taught me a lot of things, but it really taught me to respect deadlines. Missing a deadline simply wasn't an option if you wanted to continue to have a job. And as a result, when I was given a deadline, I hit that deadline again, because I had a fear of failure. And over time, this builds a strong association in my mind that when I had any deadline, I would hit it somehow, some way I was going to hit that deadline. Even if the final product wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. I've noticed that few creators have the same respect for deadlines. If your mind doesn't register a deadline as non negotiable, you will consistently negotiate yourself out of it. You need to build a respect for deadlines. You need to build respect for yourself that when you commit to something thing that commitment means something. If you allow yourself to negotiate your way out of a commitment, your subconscious registers that as an option, and you need to break that cycle is about trusting the promises that you make to yourself. If you can't trust yourself, why would anyone else. So the first step is setting an achievable deadline, you need to create a pattern of setting a deadline, hitting that deadline. And doing that over and over again, even if your first several deadlines are almost laughably easy. If you miss a deadline, you need to wipe your mental slate clean, and tell yourself I am no longer someone who misses deadlines, that will not happen again, and start the process over again. Little by little, you will build a self respect and expectation that when you commit to a deadline, you hit that deadline, deadlines become non negotiable. Strategy number two, develop a routine. Humans are creatures of habit, you can routinize anything. And for anything that feels hard routines can be especially helpful. When I walk my dog out the back door and into the yard, he goes to the bathroom, he has been trained and conditioned that this is the appropriate behavior in that environment. He doesn't walk onto just any piece of grass and immediately go to the bathroom. But he's had enough repetitions of going through this specific door and into this specific area of grass that he's conditioned to go into body mode. That is an environmental trigger. And it's not just the backyard that creates that trigger. When we approach the backyard from the front of the house, he doesn't have the same behavior, it's triggered by going through the back door, and probably even more fueled by my command go potty. You can create environmental triggers for yourself to choose location for you to do whatever creative act you're trying to do consistently. It takes time. But you can create a whole chain of actions that condition and prime your mind for this creative work. For me, it's going into my basement studio. When I walk through the doorway and sit down, I'm sending a signal to my body that it's time to create. I've added a couple other cues as well. When I'm trying to write I listened to low fi music. And that's about the only time that I listen to low fi music. So now even as I'm writing today, if I'm not in the basement, I can turn on low fi music and more quickly get into writing flow. You can condition yourself with locations, actions, such as opening a notebook grabbing a certain pen telling yourself some sort of affirmation, music or sense you can light a certain candle when you're trying to get into creative flow, define these conditions for your routine and practice them. Strategy number three, create momentum by taking the first step. When I was editing my own podcast, I knew that I had a solid four to five hours of work ahead of me, and knowing that often paralyzed me. As I sat there paralyzed, the time passed with nothing to show for it. And I began to dread the work even more, it felt terrible and I wasn't making progress is often a downward spiral, I would sometimes waste a solid four to five hours just thinking about getting started. That all changed. When I realized my resistance wasn't to doing the work, it was to starting the work, I discovered that all I really needed to do was create a new project in GarageBand. That was it. As long as I got myself to take the first step and open a new project, the work would begin. James clear talks about this in atomic habits. He gives the example that if you want to build a habit of going to the gym, master the first step of putting on your shoes, then add on the next step of getting out the door, then into the car, then into the gym, you just need to find your point of no return the threshold that you need to cross in order to start the process of flow. If you ever took a physics class, you may remember the concept of activation energy, the minimum energy required to start a chemical reaction, there can be some energy present. But if it's not enough, nothing happens. You can create momentum with your work by taking the first step in the work itself. But if you're really stuck, if you can't even take that first step, just create momentum by successfully doing something, even something small. Every morning when I wake up, I let the dog out. I feed the pets, I clean the litter box, I empty the dishwasher I make coffee, I can't tell you how helpful it is to build that momentum. Even though those tasks aren't related to the actual work I need to do. I'm stacking up little wins that I'm moving forward, I'm proving to myself that I can start and finish things today. And that momentum carries me right into the workday. Strategy number four for being more consistent, break things down into small pieces. Writing a long form essay every week is pretty intimidating. Knowing that I will probably crank out one to 3000 Good words each week feels like a pretty tall mountain to climb. So I break the essay down into smaller pieces five of them. The first is the idea. The second is the outline. The third is the body, fourth is editing and fifth is publishing. Those five steps are all sequential. It's much easier to write when I know what I'm writing about. But even just the idea feels too big usually until I start making an outline with an outline which is usually headers and a bulleted list. I have a bunch of bite sized topics that I can write a few paragraphs about that helps with the body. This helped me a lot with my podcast editing process too. As I mentioned earlier, editing an episode of the show would usually take me four to five hours. And that felt like a daunting task. But I realized it was actually three distinct tasks. So instead of thinking about post production as one five hour thing, I started thinking about it as three smaller things. The first was editing and layout, which would take two to three hours. The second was scripting my voiceover, which would be about an hour, and the third was recording my voice over again about an hour. Even more importantly, I realized that these three tasks had high switching costs between them. Part of the reason it was so hard to do it was that I needed different types of energy and focus for each. So instead of trying to find five hours of open space in one day, I would just try to get the first two to three hours of editing done early in the week. This was actually pretty straightforward work that required time more than it did creativity, scripting would take another hour and require my mind to be sharp and creative. So I needed to do that in a morning someday, then recording was the quickest and easiest tasks that really just required me to be in a good mood. I stopped dreading this huge task of editing, when I realized that I actually had three smaller tasks that I could do throughout the week. All right, we are four strategies in to recap that was set achievable deadlines, develop a routine, create momentum, and break things down into smaller pieces. I've got eight more to go, four of them coming right up after a quick break.


Jay Clouse 16:34

Welcome back to this episode, focusing on how you can be more consistent. We've had four ideas so far. Now we have number five, which is identify and remove friction. For a long time, I hated doing anything on video, and particular about how things look and feel. So a webcam just isn't good enough for me. But it was so intimidating to think about getting a good camera, setting up the shot, making sure it had enough battery to do the thing, getting the lighting and the settings right. So every time I had an idea for some video that I wanted to make, the amount of work required to do the work I actually wanted to do was too daunting. I had too much friction. And for me to consistently create things on video, I needed to remove that friction. So I worked with a consultant to get my studio set up, they gave me gear recommendations helped me set it up with the right settings helped me get the frame, right, I got a wired battery, and I leave all the gear, camera lights, everything set up in my studio, I never take them down. And then I connected my lights to an Amazon Echo using smart plugs. I can just walk into my studio and say, Alexa, turn on studio.


Jay Clouse 17:40

Okay, and the lights turn on. Now there is zero friction to recording great looking and great sounding video, it's all ready for me to go. So if there are tasks that you just can't seem to get yourself to do, there are points of friction that you can identify and remove. Whenever a voice inside your head says, Well, I can't do this right now. Dig deeper and ask yourself, why not? Whatever the answer is, try and find a way to remove that friction make it a non issue, the lower the friction to making things, the more things you will make. Strategy number six, create a system of accountability. It's really easy to negotiate your way out of a deadline when you're the only person who knows about that deadline. It's a victimless crime, right? If you're the only person who knows that you didn't follow through who will care? Well, you're kind of right, you're robbing the world of your voice. But the world doesn't know that yet. However, both you and I know that you want to follow through. So you need to find some accountability. When I started my daily newsletter in 2017, I made it public with MailChimp, because I knew my fear of letting people down. If I told people that they would get an email from me, and they trusted me to follow through, I knew I wouldn't fail. Seriously, I'm so good at performing under pressure that I will often put myself in a position where I can fail in order to ensure that I don't, which I recognize is pretty insane. Maybe that works for you. Maybe it doesn't. But you can also just find an accountability buddy. Find one other person who can check in with you and ensure that you hit the deadlines you tell them you want to hit. This gets even more powerful. If they have their own deadlines, especially if they match yours. You can scale that up to a whole group of people. And now it's much harder for the whole system to fail. The more people holding you accountable, the less likely you'll be able to slip through the cracks. Whether it's one person, two people, a small group or your entire audience, declaring your intentions and asking for accountability is a powerful motivating tool. Strategy number seven, one of my favorites. One of the strategies that we started this episode talking about build runway. This is the item on this list that I wish I would have learned and implemented Much, much sooner. It's what Austin Belzec was talking about in that clip. When people think about consistency. They think about the consistency they see the thing about consistent publishing something publicly. But publishing consistently is actually much easier than creating consistently, you can publish consistently simply by building runway. runway is a startup term that means the amount of some resource you have before you run out. If you publish weekly, and you've already written four articles, you've bought yourself four weeks of runway before you actually need to create anything else. The reason most people aren't consistent is that they have no runway, you can give yourself a huge advantage by simply waiting to publish anything until you've built yourself a comfortable runway. Honestly, unless you're currently benefiting from momentum as I shared earlier, or you've sold space in your work to advertisers, your best move may be to stop publishing entirely for a few weeks in order to simply build runway. When you don't have the pressure of a deadline to create something, you will create something that is better and more true to who you are. Pressure to create doesn't usually result in your best work. Instead, give yourself space to create without the pressure of a deadline build runway. And once you feel like you've created sufficient runway that you can consistently publish and carve out time to continue creating. That's when you start publishing again, a lot of creators that I know use a technique called batching. Instead of trying to create on the same schedule that you publish, put some time aside to create a lot of things that can be published over time. You don't actually need a ton of runway. Let's pretend that you publish a video on YouTube every week. Even if you have a hard time batch creating. If you're able to produce three videos over a two week period, you're getting ahead of schedule, you're building runway, do that for a year, and you'll be in a great place. All right, strategy number eight, say no to everything else. Being consistent as a creator requires a lot of restraint. This muscle of setting and hitting deadlines takes time to build. And even once you've gotten a few successful cycles in, you may not have truly built that muscle yet. Your goal should be to become more consistent in one medium or on one platform. Don't overwhelm the system by trying to do too many things at once. This requires discipline. And it all comes down to saying no. Say no to that podcast idea until you can publish a newsletter every week. Say no to starting a YouTube channel until you can publish on Tik Tok once per day, saying no to the new idea is a hug and a big yes to the habit of consistency that you're already working on. If you're able to master being consistent in one domain, it'll be much easier to add in other projects later and utilize that same muscle. But like someone trying to squat an extra 100 pounds. If you try to take on too much too quickly, you'll get crushed under the weight of your own ambition. All right, we're two thirds the way through those four ideas were identify and remove friction, create a system of accountability, build runway and say no to everything else. We have four more strategies for you to be more consistent coming up right after this quick break.


Jay Clouse 23:06

Welcome back to this episode helping you become more consistent. We are up to strategy number nine, which is generate an idea engine. If you do this creative thing for long enough, you realize that you have to publish a lot of ideas, who has that many ideas? It's actually easier than you think. When I was starting my writing practice in 2017, Facebook served me an ad for a masterclass by Steve Martin. And in that ad, Steve Martin says, Remember,


Steve Martin 23:32

you are a thought machine. Everything you see here, experience is usable.


Jay Clouse 23:39

A conversation you have with a friend, family member or roommate can turn into an idea. A question that you've been asked on a podcast can turn into an idea, a question someone else's asked on a podcast can be turned into an idea, a YouTube video where someone shares their opinion, is a prompt to share your own opinion on that topic. It's a skill of also observing your life while you're experiencing it. What opinions do you express throughout the day? What actions do you take that other people in your position may not take? What do you like about that tool you chose to us instead of this other tool, all of it is material. All of it takes into account some thought pattern or opinion you are having even if it's at a subconscious level. You can even outsource some of this. When someone subscribes to my newsletter, they get an email from me to ask if I were to dedicate an issue of this newsletter to a problem you're currently facing. What would that be? So now multiple times per day, I receive new content ideas delivered straight to my inbox. And this past week I also tweeted, if I agreed to be your personal creator coach for a month, what would you want me to help you with? The responses that tweet told me two things, first problems my audience is facing. And second things my audience perceive me to be good enough at that I can help them or read that again. If I agreed to be your personal coach for month, what would you want me to help you with? I got so many responses that I could generate month's worth of content from that tweet alone. And by the time I run out, enough time has passed that I could simply tweet it again. So that was generate an idea engine. Strategy number 10 is start a note taking practice, I find that people are actually pretty good at having or noticing ideas in real time, but they usually come at unpredictable or inconvenient times. The problem is an idea generation is idea documentation, you need a low friction way to capture ideas and take notes as they happen. For a long time, the fastest path from idea to documented idea for me was sending myself a text message, and I leave my text messages unread. So the unread messages are a visual cue to document those ideas in my notes app notion. Once I was back at my computer, recently, I worked with a member of the lab, her name is Christina, and actually created a notion dashboard and widget on my phone homescreen so that I can quickly add ideas into an inbox database that I can use on my notion homepage and process later. Your notes can be sloppy, they only need to make sense to you and help you remember the important thoughts that you had in the moment. We've reached Strategy number 11, the penultimate strategy, and that is don't break the chain twice. Look, no one does any of this stuff perfectly, you will fail at times, and that is okay. Usually it's your own fault. But sometimes there are circumstances that are out of your control, it's important to give yourself some grace, don't be harder on yourself than you would be to someone else. But then you need to wipe the slate clean and start a new streak. Jerry Seinfeld is famous for his concept of not breaking the chain, the idea is really simple. You want to keep your streak going for as long as possible, think of each successful cycle of consistency as a link in the chain. And you don't want to break that chain. But sometimes you will. And when you do, it's important that you don't break the chain twice. After that failed cycle, you need to get right back on the horse and start a new streak a new unbroken chain. I'm a big fan of making this chain something you can actually visualize like a calendar or a whiteboard. By putting your streak in plain sight, you'll have a constant visual reminder of what your priority is right now. And for some people, myself included, this is incredibly motivating. Finally, strategy number 12. Think in years or even decades, I don't think being consistent ever really becomes a true habit. At least for me, there is still willpower required day in and day out, there is still resistance. It's painful to be consistent and is a natural human response, especially in Western culture, that we want to see results of that pain and sacrifice as soon as possible. But the reality is, you won't see results quickly. And when you do see results. They won't be linear. Sometimes you take huge steps forward, sometimes you plateau. And sometimes you actually take steps backwards. On a short time horizon, those periods of stagnation and decay feel terrible. It can be really terrifying to feel like your hard work is actually hurting your progress. But when you zoom out and look your progress over years, you'll see that plateaus and downturns happen within a positive overall trendline you just have to be playing a long enough game. Those were our final four strategies for being more consistent, generate an idea engine, start a note taking practice. Don't break the chain twice and think in years or decades. No one is born consistent. Consistency is a skill that you build and anyone can do it. Thank you the methods that I've shared here as tools and a tool belt. You don't need to use all of them they can be used individually or together. Some of these methods will work for you better than others. I'd be willing to bet that you know yourself well enough to know which of these tools will naturally complement your own neurology. Give them a shot. Your streak can start this week. And if it does, how long can you keep it going? Thanks for listening to this episode. I hope you enjoyed it. Once again. This was originally written for my newsletter creator science so you can subscribe to that at creator science.com I think you will enjoy it. I would love to hear what you think about this episode. You can tweet at me at Jay Clouse or you can tag me on instagram either way, shoot me a message. Let me know what you think. Let me know if you want more solo episodes. If you do enjoy this show. As always, I would love a rating or review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. It goes a long, long way. And we will be back next week with a new episode interviewing Nick gray. Thanks for being here. I'll talk to you next week.


Steve Martin 29:55

A Sonic universe