125: David Kadavy – Mind Management Not Time Management

You Need the Right Mindset to Write, Not More Time

Speaker 1: Welcome to the authors who lead podcast. This podcast is dedicated to you. People who want to be inspired by authors leaders and the messages they share. This is such an important podcast to us because we help uncover what goes on behind the scenes. When authors are writing their book, we talk about the process. We talk about where they get big ideas and you can listen in on those conversations. We can't wait for you to join us. So let's get started. Everybody else still on us here,

Speaker 2: Author, she lead. I'm thrilled to have my guest today is David cademy. We're going to talk about his book today and we've had him on the show. We don't have a lot of repeat guests, but he's one of them. He has so much to offer to any of you who are looking to write a book. Those who've written multiple, and those who are new to writing David, welcome to the show as well. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah. You know, it's so great. Because last time we spoke, I think we were speaking last time, not just about the books that we were writing, but some of the coaching we were doing with others. And, you know, what's really interesting as we write books or if we're helping others, the process is so different. Like helping someone else get their manuscript out of them seems a little bit obvious working on your own could be a little bit painstaking.

Speaker 2: Let's talk a little bit about your book, your most recent book. Talk about where the idea came out. Mine management, not time management, which I really loved, loved the principle of love the title. And let's talk about where did this, the intersection of this idea begin? Yeah, this all started with my first book designed for hackers. I got a book deal. I was not a writer. I didn't consider myself a writer. I'm one of these people who did not like writing as a kid did not think about becoming a writer, in fact, really disliked writing, but somehow ended up doing some writing, ended up with an opportunity to publish a book. And I, for some reason, decided to go ahead and do it. And I am a productivity enthusiasts. I've, I'm a big getting things done advocate. I'm always messing with different ways of organizing how I get things done, messing with different apps, to be more productive, trying to come up with habits that make me more productive.

Speaker 2: And I found that nothing I had learned about productivity prepared me for the process of writing a book, especially as somebody with no experience doing so, you know, my first instinct was time management, but let's clear away as much time as I possibly can and dedicate it all to writing this book. And that's what I did. I fired all my clients. I cut off most of my social life. I started outsourcing things like my cooking and my cleaning and my grocery shopping. And I had plenty of time. But for some reason I still wasn't getting anything done on a book. And I did eventually suffer through writing that book. But through that process, I started to notice some patterns in how I ended up accomplishing getting that writing done, because I would have an entire day dedicated, cleared away to let's write this book, but I would spend most of that day, just kind of an agony, trying to get anything to come out.

Speaker 2: But then every once in a while to have these 15 minute windows of time where suddenly I'd hit flow, where suddenly I would be able to write an entire chapter with no problem. And I found myself wondering like, well, why can't I just sit down and write for that 15 minutes and then get on with the rest of my day, why do I have to bang my head against the wall for 12 hours to finally hit that point where the writing has come easily? And so that was 10 years ago. So since that time I have been dissecting kind of the patterns that I found looking into research on creativity and the neuroscience of creativity and trying to develop some kind of a cohesive framework or system to make creative work happen without all that pain. And so now I'm finally to the point where I'm ready to share everything that I've learned with the world, and I'm excited to even have the book for my own reference as well, because it has been a long time,

Speaker 3: Right? What I love about the concept in general, as you laid out in the book is, is how really people are trying to save time or create time or be more productive as another way maybe to say it, but that your book's premise is it really pushes on this idea. That time is not the challenge that most people are facing that they're trying to fix for a couple of reasons. And I think one of the things that you mentioned is this whole notion of worshiping time management, like this idea of being in this idea, that being productive for productivity sake or being efficient, isn't all that it's cracked up to be for several different reasons. And you talk about some of the false assumptions of time management. Maybe we talked a little bit about that with us here. So people get a sense of what this book's premise is so that they can understand why this is so important.

Speaker 2: Sure. So time management is really a Relic of the industrial revolution. We've adapted it to knowledge work, and really it kind of all began with Frederick Taylor, sitting there with a stopwatch, watching a guy move chunks of iron in the Bethlehem steel yard and saying, you know, grab it in this way and move in this way and walk over here and okay. Stop. And, and really just trying to feel all the time available with efficient movements so that work could get done. And so this is where one of the false assumptions of time management comes in is that time management assumes that, that there's a direct input and output to work that you do this work and you get this result. And you know, another assumption that time management makes is that there are, that productivity is really what you're looking for when it comes to creative work.

Speaker 2: That it's really just about production. It's about the output about the level of output. And that's true in industrial work, that if you're stacking bricks, you stack a certain number of bricks in a certain amount of time, you get yourself a wall. It doesn't work this way was creativity, you know, in creativity for one, all ideas are not of equal value. Some ideas are worthless ideas. Some ideas are million dollar ideas, and it can take the same amount of time to have one idea versus having another idea, which is where another place where time management gets it wrong is that it assumes that time is this production unit that you can just put more input, get if there's more time, that means that you get more output and it doesn't really work that way. So it doesn't take any time to have an idea. Ideas are either there's an infinite scale indifference in the value of ideas.

Speaker 2: All the value of ideas are not equal. Some ideas are worthless, some ideas are extremely valuable. It doesn't take any time to have those ideas. And the input of work that you put in does not necessarily mean the output. You know, I'm, I was sitting there banging my head against the wall for 12 hours that didn't result in very much output. I today can sit down and in 15 minutes do much more work than I could have done in an entire day back then, because I have learned how to manage my creative energy instead of my time in such a way that I can put valuable ideas out there in very little time, just by managing my energy. And so, because time management has been around for the last, I guess it was really coined in the seventies, but it kind of started with that.

Speaker 2: Frederick Taylor scientific management movement has been roughly a hundred years or so that people even really kind of knew what time it was and were paying attention to how they use their time. But you can see in our culture, we have kind of like you said, time worship in that oftentimes we look at time is like, that's the thing that we are trying to optimize for. You can be sitting there years deep in some code, as I did back when I was a web developer and a co-worker could come up to you and tap you on the shoulder. And what are they going to say? They'll say, do you have a minute? And it's a subtle thing, but the way that we use language says a lot about what's important to us. And is it a minute that you're trying to get here? What about, can I break your focus?

Speaker 2: Do you have the energy or the interest in this is, are you in the middle of something? I guess you might hear that every once in a while, but really it's more about how much time is it going to take? Oh, it's just going to take you a minute. Well, wait a minute. I've been focused on this work here, and if I give you a minute, I've just lost all of that. And now I've, I'll lose my entire afternoon. So it's funny when you look at these times, I'm even saying time right now in everyday life where we're talking about time. And if you really think about it, that's not necessarily the thing that we should be trying to optimize for in those moments.

Speaker 3: Right. You know, what's interesting. And we had you on, like I mentioned before at the top of show thing, episode 25, where you talked about sort of, even in your first book, the dangers of having like a wild successful first book, and this is relating to, to mine management, perhaps why the success of your first book can be dangerous, but why things like concepts, like the old way of thinking about time management can be really maybe misperceived. So let's apply this to this book. So you said you now can apply some of these tools to write where you might've been staring at the page, staring at documents before you wrote where now you can be more productive. How practically, what does it look like? How is it different? Somebody observing what it looks like to be more productive and focusing more on mindful practices at those two, just counting minutes.

Speaker 2: I think it all starts with looking at sort of the basic building blocks of what we're trying to do when creativity matters in our work. And it does matter more and more, if you can follow a series of steps to do it, then a computer can do it or we'll be able to do it very soon. So it's creativity that we're optimizing for. And the basic building block of creativity is the moment of insight. And this is what neuroscientists who study creativity often study is the moment of insight. And so this can be basically solving an insight problem where to say, there's a word, try out of three words. And you're trying to think of the one word that goes with all those words. Well, this is one of these things where you can give people these puzzles and they'll have this aha moment where suddenly the idea appears in their minds and you can actually see it in their brain is just as the brain goes quiet.

Speaker 2: And then there's this burst of activity. And the idea just appears to them. And this is kind of the basic building blocks of what we're looking for when we're doing creative work is that we want to, these are called remote associates test that I'm talking about because the way that you solve them is that you find words that are associated with each of the keywords, and then eventually your brain strikes the word that matches up with all of them. And it's one of these things that doesn't tend to happen procedurally it's it just sort of happens. And this is what we're often doing with creative work. Like if you are writing something and you're not just trying to cover the subject, you're also thinking about the way that what you're talking about now fits into the larger scheme of things and into the larger book or the way the rhythm works and what words are going to use and where the secondary meanings of these words.

Speaker 2: And just trying to hone in on that thing. That is just right for this moment, right here. Well, the state of mind that we want to be in when we are being creative or when we're prone to having these insights is very different from this state of mind that we want to be in. If we're trying to solve math problems, or even if we're trying to edit our work and make sure that our spelling and our grammar is correct, these are very different States of mind. And it, it shows up in our brain activity. So, so that some of the people who are the best at solving these remote associates tests, that where people can work that are best solved through insight through these bursts, these aha moments, some of the people who are the best at solving, those are people that have prefrontal cortex damage.

Speaker 2: And the prefrontal cortex is evolutionarily. The newest part of our brain is the part of our brain that helps us with planning and with urge suppression. And it really kind of fields all the ideas from the rest of the brain and helps us decide that no, no we're going to cook it home tonight because we're saving for that trip to Hawaii. Prefrontal cortex is like the CEO of the brain sitting at a big mahogany desk and fielding all the proposals and saying, Oh, this idea is not good. This idea is good. Well, it turns out the people with damaged prefrontal cortices are insight machines. Now it's hard for them to follow through on their ideas because you do not want prefrontal cortex damage, if you can help it. But it does tell us something about the state of mind that we want to be in when we're being creative.

Speaker 2: And so this is one of the things that I've changed about the way that I approach writing is that I look for what I call the creative sweet spot. What is the time of day during which you are most prone to having these insights where your, your brain is thinking widely and able to collect ideas from various regions and to connect them to potentially have great ideas. And for me, for a lot of people, this is first thing in the morning. A lot of us are, especially if you're not a morning person, which I don't think that I am, I've kind of tended to start waking up in the morning more, but that's mostly because I'm trying to take advantage of that time, because that's when I'm a little groggy and you know, you don't want to be driving a forklift or conducting surgery when you're a little groggy, but it's a great time to write.

Speaker 2: It's a great time to do creative work. It's a great time to do the divergent thinking, the thinking where you are making those connections. And they're not all going to be great ideas. They're not all gonna be great connections. It's a great time to do that. And then, you know, as you, then you find other times of your day where you are a little bit better at looking over those ideas and coaling through them and making them, making them actually shippable work. So that's the first thing for me is just understanding that really not all hours are equal. You know, most of us have maybe a couple hours a day where that's our prime creative time. You don't have 24 hours a day, you just have a couple hours. And so when you start looking at it that way, it starts to be a little bit more urgency. And if you take advantage of those couple hours, you can be way more productive during those times than you can during other times of day, if you find the right time, when you have the right state of mind to do the type of creative that you're trying to do,

Speaker 3: That makes sense. When people say that they are maybe they're motivated or inspired or do work well under pressure, what do you think they're implying when they say that? And is it an oxymoron or, or are they just creating some sort of structure? They have to do something.

Speaker 2: I think it can be the case that you can work better under pressure. I think that it does matter what your level of skill is with work. That is like this, you know, so take, when I was writing this book, for example, I was working under a lot of pressure, but I think the book could have been better if I had more time, but because I didn't know how to write something of that scale. I didn't know the right process to go through. Now, contrast that with, if I'm writing in intro for one of my podcasts episodes and I've listened to it and I've taken notes and I've prepared for it and now, Oh, there's a deadline I got to get to get. I have to get to my production team on time. That can be a good kind of pressure because it's creative work, but it's like, you know, there's big C and small C creativity.

Speaker 2: It's not like I'm trying to come up with a new company strategy. I'm just, I'm being creative, but it's something that I have a level of comfort and experience with. So I think that's a good distinction to make when you are designing your schedule and trying to figure out what you want to accomplish and how best to motivate yourself to accomplish that is to think about, well, what is my level of skill and comfort with this thing? Because if you just have no idea where to begin, if you've never done anything like this particular project, before it can help to have some of that open exploration there, but then if you're in that case and you're in a situation like that, and you have the deadline breathing down your neck, that can start to get into the point where it is anxiety, inducing and anxiety certainly shuts down creativity, stress shuts down creativity, and it can, it can totally backfire. So I think it's really a matter of what, you know, your personality matters, but also what is the level of complexity of what you're trying to accomplish and your level of skill and experience with that type of work,

Speaker 3: Right? You know, that, that brings up a good point. This yesterday I had, I was contributing to an anthology for a book and I knew it was on my calendar for a couple of weeks. I just didn't, I really didn't have the mental space over time to do it because I was traveling. I was still traveling yesterday, but I had to submit the chapter. It was maybe 2000 words. It had a specific focus. I had a specific topic. I woke up early. I wrote it in about 45 minutes. I went back and looked at it. I was like, actually, this is not bad. This is better than some of the word agonized over. It just happened to be bright and early in the morning. So I was really surprised by that. But what I did notice was that it was done. It was done well, and it isn't even the time I normally would that I'm the most productive, but because the task of writing, isn't the challenge.

Speaker 3: It was the creativity to make it all come together. So I think I can relate to that notion that normally I wouldn't have said it was my best time of day to do work, but it was a really good time to actually write in writing this book. What were some of the biggest challenges? I mean, you're writing about a topic using a skill of managing your time. You're sort of very metacognitive, like way big picture thinking about this, but as you wrote this book, what was different about the way you approach this book? Did it take any less time? Did it function any differently than your previous

Speaker 2: Books? You know, ironically it took way more time, uh, six months, uh, having never written a book of just six months of complete dedication. And it was really a very unhealthy process to be honest. And that was part of what drove me and motivated me to try to crack this was that I did come to the realization that, Oh, I actually, I don't want to say that I love writing, but it's satisfying. It's gratifying. It has a sense of meaning. It gives me a sense of meaning. I feel like it, it has, uh, an impact and it, I came to the conclusion while this is something that I want to do more of. But when I really looked at what the process was like, I mean, it was bad. Like I, that was a dark time in my life, those six months. And I realized, well, I can't keep doing it that way.

Speaker 2: So that was part of the reason why I wanted to really figure this out. And so there were various parts of the process. So it makes it very difficult to even say how long it took to write it. It was 10 years ago that I was writing that first book. So I had to sort of develop the framework first, using myself as, as the Guinea pig and also sharing ideas on my podcast and in my writing. And once that happened, then I had to also, I had to also write the book and along the way, there was even deciding what the book was. You know, I knew that I wanted to write another book. I sensed that it had something to do with creative productivity. I had ideas right under my nose, that it took me a long time to realize that they fit into it.

Speaker 2: And, you know, it took me a long time to realize the positioning of the book, like what given the, the change that I want to make and readers what's the right way to get there. You know, for a while I was thinking about, because I had challenges with, uh, digital distraction and, uh, and I as being somebody who was a product designer, startups in Silicon Valley for a while there, I was thinking, Oh, well, maybe this is like a book on how to overcome digital distraction, but I, I did end up realizing that, no, I think it's, it's, it's more powerful to, to this, uh, desire that so many of us have to create something, um, that only each of us can create. And that's a special and unique challenge that the information that's out there right now doesn't really prepare us for. And so that was years.

Speaker 2: So I'll say 2010 was writing the first book. Uh, 2012, I wrote a blog post called mine management, not time management. I take, I took what I called a week of one where I just cleared my schedule for a week. I talked about this in the book too, why this is an important thing to do is clearly my schedule for a week and just let myself explore whatever I wanted. One of the things that came out of that was this blog post called my management, not time management. And then I think it was another 18 months later or so that behavioral scientist, Dan Arielli had read my blog post and reached out to me and wanted to know if I wanted to help work on a productivity app based upon what I had written in that blog post. And also some also his ideas on behavioral science and behavior change.

Speaker 2: And so then I ended up working with that startup and another 18 months after that, or so two years Google bought that startup and started integrating some of those features into Google calendar. So I at time were around 2015 or so, and early 2016 was when I really said, okay, well now I really have a sense of what I would, uh, what this is. This idea of the system of productivity would look like of creative productivity, but I really need to redesign my life so that this works the way that I want it to. And I was looking at the writing that I had done, and I realized, well, all the best writing I've done, I've done in Metagene Columbia. And I was living in Chicago at the time and I decided, well, I'm going to double down on writing. I want to experiment with this system and try to design a life where I can smoothly and relatively, relatively effortlessly, get my creative work out into the world.

Speaker 2: And so I sold everything and moved to Metagene Columbia getting close to five years now. And that's when I started to really get a more strict writing habit going. That's when I started looking a lot more closely at my creative energy and start to explore what this book, what would eventually become this book. And along with that process, I must've started maybe five different drafts of this book or what would become this book. You know, some of those went in the garbage one of them. I ended up cutting out part of it and making it into the heart to start my other book, which is, you know, more about starting resistance because there's different components to this idea of getting creative work out in the world. And then it was, I guess, a year ago, a little more than a year ago where I really decided, well, now I'm just going to go at a much slower pace than usual and do 250 words a day, which sometimes took me only 15 minutes. And after about a year, I had, uh, the draft done in a pretty well edited draft because it was my, you know, like I say, fifth stab at it, or so, and that's the majority of that is what is this book now,

Speaker 3: Right in your book, you talk about this idea, which you said you borrowed from Robert McKee, who's the screenwriter instructor about writing from the inside out. It's a principle that really resonates with me, but how help people understand why this is a principle that could apply it to mind management? Like, what is, what's the principle that he kind of shares? And what is it that, that helps us see taking creative work and putting it into a different frame of thinking?

Speaker 2: Well, I think that if you're going to do creative work and be efficient at it, one of the most important things you have to recognize is that you don't just sit down and do it. And it took me such a long time to learn this. And this was part of my problem when I first started trying to write my book was that I thought that, you know, if you're writing a book, you sit down and you write and you write it from beginning to end and there you've got a book. And I think that this is something that you can see even more intensely with screenwriting. And I was surprised to learn this as I learned from Robert McKee, which is that you think a screenplay, if you re, if you read a screenplay, you think it's, Oh, it's you, you write dialogue, you write description, you write, I don't know if you call it stage direction or whatever, but D descriptions and dialogue.

Speaker 2: And there you've, you've got a screenplay. Uh, but as Robert McKee explains in his book story, that part of writing that is really only 25% of the work of writing a screenplay, that there's actually 75% of that work is just designing the story, coming up with the characters, how they interact, thinking, identifying what are the themes in this story? And he even says that of that 75% of work that 75% of that work is really just working on the climax, not the dialogue or the description of the climax, the what's going to happen. You know, at the end of the second act that is, uh, is going to really grip the viewers and, and really make the movie. And so that's really encountered a counterintuitive thing. If you struggle with creative work and you haven't, you know, if you don't have a ton of experience with it, is that like, Oh, that's how all of these people who are so great make this look so easy is that you're only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Speaker 2: And this is something that Hemingway talked about was that part of the grace of an iceberg is that what you see that sticking out of the ocean is like 10% of the iceberg. It's the tip of the iceberg. All the rest of it is underwater. And that's what gives it that confidence. And so I think this is an important thing to recognize with creative work and it's something that's. And I believe that chapter is where I talk about the four stages of creativity, which is that there are these four stages that have been identified or that are identified over and over again in research papers about creativity of preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. That illumination is that moment of insight that I talked about that might happen as you're writing, but it often happen as you're in the shower or you're on a walk that's illumination.

Speaker 2: And so before that is the preparation, that is the collecting of all the information that is going to be connected in that moment of illumination. That is the Lillian Hellman is somebody to talk about who is a playwright who would write a hundred thousand words, describing her characters, describing the story, describing the setting, building the world. But that wasn't what showed up in the play. That that was way fewer words, but writing tons and tons and that's, that can be preparation. Those are the things that, at that moment, when you're deciding what this character's going to say, what you're thinking about, all that you've written about, the theme, all that you've written about, that character, all you've written about the world that they live in, and what are the mechanics that make that world work, that one or two words that you pick in this line of dialogue, that's maybe happening in the climax that has thousands of words of knowledge behind it.

Speaker 2: And so I think once you accept that, and once you realize that there has to be a lot of preparation that happens before you can have those moments of insight. And by the way, there's that second stage of incubation preparation, incubation, illumination verification. That's the time in between where you've written about or research these characters, and you've gone on vacation, or you've just slept or taken a nap, or just gone in for a coffee break. And in the meantime, your brain is making these connections. It's getting rid of the bad connections and preparing you for that moment of illumination, where you're going to have that great idea that I used to think you used to be something that you just sat down and did, but no, you have to prepare to make that happen. And once you get comfortable with that, then you start to realize that, Oh, this isn't a creative block. This is just a lack of preparation.

Speaker 3: All right. I think that makes so much sense there isn't that struck me when I read it about the way you pointed out, what are my key said was that I usually, when I'm coaching authors, I make them wait several weeks before they even let them do any writing, because we're trying to get their brain organized and separate themselves from what a book is. The idea that books are lots of words on a page and get to the heart of what they're trying to talk about. That only they can talk about it in this way. And that takes time. And sometimes it's time on the page. Sometimes it's time on a walk. Sometimes it's visually mapping it out as a visual, but oftentimes it's not the words I tell them words, get in the way sometimes of really great ideas and really great books, because the words are just pointing you in the direction to what you mean.

Speaker 3: They aren't necessarily what you're saying. It's usually something in the world that's meaningful or is there just like a very simple shell of what it could be. So for me, the preparation is giving yourself the time and space, not to rush to words. Sometimes they do come out, great ideas do come out in the words, but more times than not, they're more like lost in those amazing words. And you have to find them. If you had advice after writing this book and focusing on idea of mind management, not time management, what advice would you have for any authors out there who want to apply this principle to their work?

Speaker 2: I would say, start with finding that creative, sweet spot, finding some time of day or even within your week. That is consistently going to be a time that you can sit down and produce and you're not producing necessarily finished work. You're just producing something. And then from there you can go back and revise that work. Now I get into a lot more detail in the book. There's the four stages of, of creative thinking. And then there's the seven mental States that I identified that take place throughout the act of creative work. And that's all a little complex for this short talk, but that's a good start is just to find that creative, sweet spot and to look for, to use that time, to generate the ideas, to not be trying to achieve the solution necessarily, but to consistently be doing that. And then I think on top of that, I would also say to make some time available to plan the bits and pieces in your life that might interfere with that.

Speaker 2: So I like to do a weekly review once a week, takes a maybe an hour or so, looking over everything that's, that's going on over the, over the week, trying to make sure that I've got time cleared away, where meetings aren't going to get in the way of the creative work, where, uh, any personal errands that I have to do, aren't going to pop up as surprises during the week, because those can be the first thing that we go to when we decide to procrastinate. So I would say just with that, think of it as like the big rock. There's a story I tell in the book about Stephen Covey, walking into a seminar and putting a jar on the table and putting a bunch of big rocks in the jar and asking the class is the jar full. And then they say, well, yeah, sure.

Speaker 2: And he puts it, put some gravel in there. And then he's asking is the jar full? And they're skeptical obviously. And then he puts sand in there and then he puts water in there. And people think that it's, that people thought his lesson was, Oh, whatever there is in your schedule, you can always put in more. But what his point really was was that you have to put in the big stuff first. So if creative output is important to you, you need to find some time. That is where it is your job to do that, and be gentle with yourself on reaching the solution on reaching that crispness. You can sit down and Barb, something out and the next day, come back and go back over it. And you'll be amazed at how much easier it is to tackle it. Awesome. Great advice. I know a lot of people don't want to get this book.

Speaker 2: I will definitely link it up in the show notes. Where else would they find you? I'm sure they're gonna want to follow. You have a lovely podcast called lovey work, but where would they go to find you and follow you to listen, to, uh, love your work? That's my podcast also, I'm very active on Twitter at, at [inaudible] I'm on Instagram, not as active there at Academy. And then, uh, also my website is [inaudible] dot net. And if they're interested in the tools that I use to manage my creative energy, I do have a free tool kit available that is at ktv.com/tools. Awesome. Thanks again, David would coming back and sharing and I love this book. There's so much we could, I mean, we, could've done three different episodes on your book. It's very dense. It's very intense, but a wonderful and so insightful. Thanks again for coming back. Those of you listening, we want you to be inspired to be an author, to write that book, start that book, or write your next book, and we hope you will join us in our next programs that authors are linked.com. Again, David, thank you for being a guest. Thanks to Zoltan honor. Thank you for

Speaker 1: Listening again, to another episode of authors who lead, we appreciate you being here and we hope you subscribe. So you get this delivered to your device every week. And if you haven't left us a review, please do so. It really helps. And if you have a book in your heart, you've been wanting to write a book, please go to authors who lead.com and join us on this journey of becoming a published author.

David Kadavy is a best-selling author whose books help artists be productive. He was a design advisor for behavioral scientist Dan Ariely’s productivity app, where David’s mind management principles were applied to features now used by millions – in Google Calendar.

David is a productivity enthusiast. Today, he talks about his book Mind Management, Not Time Management.

What We Discuss with David Kadavy:

  • The impetus for writing his book Mind Management, Not Time Management
  • Some false assumptions of time management
  • What it looks like to be more productive vs. counting the minutes
  • What it means to work well under pressure
  • David’s book writing process
  • The 4 stages of creativity
  • Putting creative work into a different frame of thinking
  • Message to aspiring authors who wish to apply David’s mind management principles

[02:01] The Impetus for Writing Mind Management

It all started when David got a book deal for his book Design for Hackers. As a productivity enthusiast, David has been a big advocate for getting things done. Eventually, he found that nothing he learned about productivity prepared him for the process of writing a book, more so somebody with no experience. 

Initially, his first instinct was time management. So David cut off most of his social life and started outsourcing things like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping. He incidentally got plenty of time but he still wasn’t getting anything done on the book. 

But through that process, he started to notice some patterns in how he ended up getting his writing done.

That was 10 years ago. Since that time, he has been dissecting one of the patterns. He looked into research on creativity and the neuroscience of creativity. And he tried to develop a cohesive framework or system to make creative work happen without all that pain. 

[06:11] Some False Assumptions of Time Management

  1. Time management assumes that there’s direct input and output in that you do this work and you get this result.
  2. Productivity is really what you’re looking for when it comes to creative work. 
  3. Time is this production unit that if there’s more time, you get more output.

All ideas are not of equal value. Some ideas are worthless, some are extremely valuable. It doesn’t take any time to have an idea.

The input of work that you put in does not necessarily mean the output. 

[12:14] What It Looks Like to Be More Productive vs. Counting the Minutes

The state of mind when we are being creative is very different from the state of mind if we’re trying to solve math problems, or even if we’re trying to edit our work and make sure that our spelling or grammar is correct. 

Creativity is what you want to optimize for. And the basic building block of creativity is the moment of insight. 

Not all hours are equal. You can be way more productive during those times when you have the right state of mind to do the type of creative work you’re trying to do. Look for the creative sweet spot or time of the day when you’re most prone to having these insights. At this time, your brain is thinking widely and you’re able to collect ideas from various regions. 

[18:36] What It Means to Work Well Under Pressure

You can work better under pressure and your level of skill matters. But then if you’re in a situation like that, and you have the deadline breathing down your neck, you can get into the point where you’re inducing anxiety.

Stress shuts down creativity and it can totally backfire. 

Your personality matters. Your level of complexity, of what you’re trying to accomplish, and your level of skill and experience with that type of work are important.

[29:48] Putting Creative Work Into a Different Frame of Thinking

If you’re going to do creative work and be efficient at it, one of the most important things you have to recognize is you don’t just sit down and do it. 

The 4 stages of creativity:

  • Preparation – the collection of all information
  • Incubation – the time in between where you’ve written about or research these characters and the time you’ve taken a break
  • Illumination – the moment of insight
  • Verification

[36:54] Message to Aspiring Authors Who Wish to Apply David’s Mind Management Principles

Find that creative sweet spot, which is the time of day, or even within your week, that is consistently going to be a time that you can sit down and produce.

Use that time to generate the ideas to not be trying to achieve the solution necessarily, but to consistently be doing that. 

Do a weekly review. Make sure you’ve got time cleared away where meetings or other errands aren’t going to get in the way of the creative work.

Episode Resources:

Listen to a previous episode with David on Episode 25: Why Success for Your First Book Can Be Dangerous

Get David’s free tool kit on kdv.co/tools.

David’s books on Amazon, including:

Mind Management, Not Time Management

Design for Hackers

Follow David on:



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