How Not to Cheat on Work Session Quality


To get anywhere we start with two skills:

  • showing up to the daily work session
  • staying in that work session for your targeted time

Getting good at these two skills takes time, much more time than we ever think it will. And if we do, there is a third required skill comes after that.

If we can keep at it, we get to our daily work session and we stay in it. But it’s not enough. We need another skill that’s hard to attain:

  • The skill of doing quality work in each work session

My focus here is not on the quality of our work but the quality of our working.

What is Quality Working?

Our state of mind and state of heart tells us if we are doing quality work:

  • We face our work straight-on
  • We feel increasingly engaged as each minute goes by
  • We feel we are honestly giving all we can muster for that day
  • We feel connected to our work even if it is very challenging, not going well, confusing,  etc.
  • We stay in the work session not skip out early
  • We are so concentrated we feel outside of clock time
  • The entire world is right in front of us

How We Cheat on Session Quality

  • We drag distractions into our work sessions. A little background music is fine but television, web surfing, having the cell phone around, large cafe crowds, and the such, is too much. We have to get over our grade school habits of half-way working as we do our homework, half watching entertainment (old days, TV; now TV and cell phone).
  • We avoid the real work. We do everything but the hard stuff. Instead, we research, organize, purchase, plan….anything but the core of our work which is usually very challenging and not easy.
  • We bring in the mindset that today is not important. There will always be plenty of tomorrows to get serious, get down to it, to do things right.

Keeping Quality High(er)

The skill, keeping good work session quality, takes time to learn and isn’t easy to master. But there are some things we can do make it more likely we will get this skill under our control.

>Pause and Make a Real Felt Shift
Take a few moments to gather yourself and to leave what you have been doing behind. Mentally let it go. Pause. Now take a moment to feel and see yourself shifting into your work. Visualize yourself working a few minutes before you actually pick up your tools to begin. To get this right you will need bring yourself to a complete stop and then work through the steps justs listed. If you don’t stop, you will impatiently skip through the steps and defeat the purpose of making a shift.

>Go Cold Turkey
Don’t bring distractions into your session. Put your work front and center and if there are distractions blocking you, move them aside. Give yourself to your work even if it is difficult to let everything else go. Trust the work process and yourself that you can get through this without bring some form of distraction along. Cold turkey. Immerse yourself in your work.

>Read the Definition of Work Session Quality Daily
Memorize the list above of the qualities of quality sessions by reading the list daily. In time, you will be naturally led towards maintaining work session quality by your unconscious.

>Work in the Presence of Others
There is something about working with others that helps us be more focused on our work. It probably has to do with the social skills and connections hard-wired into most humans. When others are working around us we kick-up our game to a higher level than if we working alone. We are naturally more accountable for showing up, staying focused on our work, and maintaing quality work.

Find a work partner or partners. Committ to having a check-in at the end of the work session and have people report on work session quality, not just what was produced.

If you can’t find partners in the flesh, turn to visualization. Visualize that you have invited someone who is important to you to be with you in every work session. By choosing someone important/respect, the visualization will call up some of the same accountability that happens when working with real work partners. What would be o.k. (read as sloppy) work for ourselves becomes more unacceptable in the presence of our visualized partner. Think of it now: How would you act/perform in a session if a special person was there, not judging your work, but evaluating if you are giving enough of yourself to your work?


Protect your work sessions.  How many can you afford to waste to poor quality working?


The Finish Line Trap – It feels so good to quit


We’ve made it thru a tremendous amount of work. We have beat back all the temptations not to do our work or to continue our work and we have arrived, at the finish line at last. The finish line can be any big project, finally completed.

Ah, the joys of having done it. Time to celebrate. Time to catch our breath after this big accomplishment. Time to let in the little inner demon who tricks us never to do anything big again.

Standing around every significant finish line is our inner demon who says:

-“Quit now and you go out on top of your game.”
-“Quit now, you’ve done your part.”
-“Quit now, you’ve done ten years, 20 projects, this is your __ birthday, or some other milestone date or quantity.”
-“Quit now, you don’t want to repeat yourself.”

These are very common statements we hear all around us. Something we’ve heard in movies, literature or myth and it feels like we have reached a time to quit because it feels like a point of power. It is powerful. Hitting 100 podcasts, the writer-producer of these shows as me if it made sense to quit doing his very successful show because he hit that milestone. He didn’t ask me that when he was at his 87th show or probably he would not mention it right after he put show 123 in the can. That magical 100 is a powerful place to be. It is so inviting: “Hey, I pumped out 100 shows before I stopped my show.”

The Charming Poetry of the Finishing-Line Demon

We can be tempted to quit something because it is so damn poetic, so going out with drama, the thought of missing that moment is painful. Perfect mythic moments don’t come around every day or after some uninspiring number of projects completed.

It feels so cool, so right, I’m going to walk out the door and never look back is a great thing to visualize. Movies are filled with this stuff.

Pushing Back on the Quit Now Moment

-Pull back from the drama you can feel at this moment. Visualize it being anything but a magical, mythical moment.

-See it like any other finish line.

-Remember that the Finishing Line Demon is around you, tempting you, dazzling you with the poetry of quitting.

-Make a list of reasons of why you don’t need to quit at that finish line. What would prevent you from working towards another?

-Ask some friends about what they think, should you quit now or should you go on longer?

-Make a list of alternative finishing lines you can shoot for that use most of the skills you have been using to get to where you are. Make them real with real ideas of how and when they can be started. It is so easy to quit with vague plans of what we are going to do next and our skills fade because we wait too long to get down to them.

If you do decide to quit after all, at least, using the steps here, you were free of the Finishing Line Demon’s spell, and it is your true decision. Your decision should be your own, not the demon’s

Don’t Ask Your Inner Rejector Questions

wizard-of-ozOf course, it is alright to ask questions like:

  • What project do I want to do?
  • What creative field do I want to explore?
  • Who should I approach to learn more?
  • How can I apply this or that to my life?
  • What do I feel like doing?
  • When should I get started?

Those questions and more are fine.  They are about what direction you should follow and commitment of energy, time, and money you should make.  The questioning is fine but….asking the wrong person for advice will get you the wrong answer. The answer you will get is something like this:

  • No, that won’t work out.
  • No, that isn’t the direction for you because_____fill in the blank____
  • No, you can’t do that.
  • No, that’s already been done
  • No, that doesn’t feel right.
  • No, no, no, no.

Ever come home after a day of work and someone asks you if your want to do something? Everything they suggest just doesn’t “feel right.”  Sound familiar?

“Noooo, I don’t want to do that.”
“Well, what about _______? ”
“Noooo, I don’t want to do that.”
” Ok, what the hell do you WANT to do!!!!?????  Just forget it. I give up.”

Our thoughts: “Nothing looks good so I guess I want to do… nothing. Strange.  Usually, I want to do something but…this is weird. Hmmmm.”

Secret:  We have an Inner Rejector who, in summary, hates anything other than sure pleasures, like chocolate sundaes, beach vacations, massages, puppies and kittens, tantalizing images, gossip, impulse buying, chips, and summer breezes.

The pleasure-safety-comfort complex controls us far more  than we realize. Sometimes it stops us and almost always, it is tugging at us.

This complex has the purpose of protecting us from the extremes of:

+ never resting,
+ never slowing down to think before acting,
+ never taking time to smell the roses.

That is the light side of the complex. The dark side gets us to:
– resting too much,
– hanging too loose,
– loving inertia,
– accepting self-doubt as a perpetual condition

As you can see the light-side has a real purpose but, without balance, we can allow the dark side to be the side that is always facing up. We will talk about balance later.

The Inner Rejector is a direct relative of Depression. They link up and Depression gives the feeling tone the Inner Rejector needs to really get going. Now all the pleasures and comfort things and processes that have worked for us before, now those really suck, too. Chips and chocolate are like rotten food and eating cement. A horrible combination, that Inner Rejector and Depression, but they are frequently hanging around.

The Better Choice for Your Questions
We are far better off not asking straight-forward questions because our Inner Rejector will pull them right to itself and fire back, machine gun-like, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.”

Instead, quietly look around your memory.  Look for clues:

  • what has attracted your attention,
  • what has charmed you,
  • what has fascinated you,
  • what has caused you to take spontaneous or almost spontaneous actions
  • what has given off the air of rightness
  • what have you done in the best of times (and maybe the worst of times)

From this inner archeology, you will get strong but quiet indications of what to do next; where to go; where is likely to be the right fit for you;  how you might approach something or someone; how you can find more resources or, at least, further clues.

Shhh…don’t be too loud. You don’t need perfect information to start something or take your next move. You are not a mind-reader or a sooth-sayer, so stop acting like one, scanning for information you can’t get.  Go with what you got. If you start poking around too much you will make too much noise and stir your Inner Rejector to come on over to “help you out.”  That help sucks.





Longfellow’s Sound Beacon

The ringing sound of metal striking metal is distinctive. We hear, joined:

the solid strength that is the anvil;

the strength of motion delivered by the hammer

the strength of resistance in metal between hammer and anvil;

and, the determined alchemist, the blacksmith.

The ring of the metals is simple, real, necessarily constant, and earthy.  We are drawn out of our thoughts and analysis, right into the center of action, into the world of grit, sweat, work, focus, and the finite.

We are badly in need of a beacon, reminding us that action, almost any action is what we frequently need to break free of stuckness.  We need to start anywhere and just work.  Work enlivens us and leads us to where we need to go. It ends confusion and removes the troubles caused by wandering and slumbering.

Begin today and hammer away.  Hit hard and feel reality’s reverb in your arms, shoulders, and heart. Let go and strike fast, leaving no time for self-doubt or criticism to intervene. Feel resistance slowly move under your focus.

Hold in your ears the blacksmith’s beacon.

Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands; 
The Smith, a mighty man is he, 
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can
And looks the whole world in the face
For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming furge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing floor.
He goes on Sunday to the church
and sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach.
He hears his daughter's voice
singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought!
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Walter Mitty, a Hero for Stuck Creatives



If you know the James Thurber short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you know fantasy is a major pastime for the story’s main character. Elaborate fantasies that keep Mitty in a drab life of little.

Ben Stiller’s recent movie treatment, however, starts with this fruitless fantasizing but leads us to the power of transforming imagination and trust the end of the movie Walter Mitty travels from being stuck to unstuck.

Mitty is a hyper-organized, quiet employee, who works in photo receiving within the large storage library at declining Life magazine. His title, negative assets manager, can be taken two ways: as a real role at Life but personally as the manager of his negative assets.  Those include: high-level shyness; passivity; lack of passion to follow his own dreams; day-dreaming to the point of trancing out; and, inability to see his own worth. These are not terrible negative assets but just the sort of characteristics found in many stuck creatives. Enough to hold him, and us, back.

His early fantasies show Mitty as action hero, creative genius, and great lover.  But those drop away quickly as Mitty is thrown into a situation where he is under pressure to take action and leave his storage room.

He must move onward, but he still lacks the motivating power to do so. A co-worker, played by Kristin Wiig, seems to be only the girl of the boy-meets-girl formula,  but she is more that. She is his muse. His attraction for her draws Mitty into the world, out of the shadows and his fantasies.

Getting to know her requires Mitty to take chances, to push himself beyond his comfort level, to take what may come. He needs these skills throughout the remainder of the movie as the scale of his life booms grander.

His muse, gives him the shield and the energy he needs to go fully on his great travels. Kiig’s character explains a recurring element of Stiller’s movie, David Bowie’s song, Space Oddity. In a great scene we see shy Mitty electrified by this song and Wiig’s image and we can’t but also feel this powerful release from stuckness.

> Practice: Do you have inspiring images? If so, bring them back to vividness. If you don’t, take another look at movies, books, music, places, that have moved you to creativity or inspiration. Still can’t find any? It is o.k. to go in search of one.

At last released, Mitty can now fully launch out to track down the one person who can solve his work problems, a great photojournalist who travels to the world’s very dangerous locations.  Mitty must walk into dangers. At first, shy Mitty seems so much smaller than the daring photographer.  Soon we see, by traveling and taking chances, Mitty has grown to be a co-equal.

Walther Mitty trusts. He trusts that travel and pushing himself to manage the obstacles of travel  will crack him open to a greater life. A rational person, cautious person would say this is all absurd. There are no muses. No reasons to take chances. Visualization will only disrupt life, not add to it. Trust in the unknown and unseen is crazy.

> Practice: You have trusted before. List the times and instances you have trusted; don’t overly focus on the results of that trusting but the trusting itself.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty reminds us in a beautiful and compelling way, that trust frequently pays off.  Life gets bigger and more important when we get off well marked paths and try new trails. It won’t be easy, but it will be stimulating and broadening.

Mitty is different at the end of the movie, of course. But something unexpected awaits him back where he started. He gets to see that his years of slow, quiet, quality work in the negative assets library had made him a hero of sorts and an unsung creative shaping the experience of millions. He was Life magazine, the greatest photojournalism publication in the world.

Movie trailer: