Being a creator and having a day job is tough. Your process will never look the same as a full-time creator.
Deep work? Forget it. Cabin in the woods? Nope.
Instead, you have to deal with limited time, kids, jobs, partners, and you know… a life.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t create an epic amount of content that rivals full-time creators. You just need a few tricks to manage the chaos that is real life and being a creator.
Most people assume I create content full time. That could not be further from reality. I work a full-time job in marketing here in Sydney, I’m married, I have family, friends, hobbies… all the things.
So, I like to think of my creator life like a boxer. If you’ve ever watched a boxing match you’ll see that boxers stay light on their feet. Moving quickly, avoiding their appointment. And when the time is right, throwing that one punch.
In the same way, my creator process revolves around small light touches that take minimal effort in a single moment but make huge incremental progress over a long period. And it’s the very reason that I’m able to hit publish most days of the week despite what else is going on in my life. Here’s how it works…
The brain dump is my number one rule of idea capture. And because ideas can happen anywhere, anytime you have to be ready to brain dump anytime, anywhere.
When I have an idea for content, whether it is a tweet, essay, article or even a book or course, I’ll take a few minutes to write down a few lines about it, some bullet points, a scratching in stone — ANYTHING to get it out of my head.
I find every idea is strongest at the point of that first spark. So I use that momentum energy to get as much of it down on paper. My future self thanks me for it every time. Especially when I sit down to edit & publish, there’s always something to start with.
The great thing about this is that I can do a brain dump for an article or essay and it still feels fresh and easy to write almost a month later. Like this one, I published earlier this month. In January I was on holiday and brain dumped a whopping 337 words in one sitting about why two blogs a week won’t cut it in 2022. I think I got the idea while I was walking, so I stopped for a few minutes and dumped everything into my notes app. It felt easy. Nothing about it was hard because I was following the spark.
So when I was feeling so sparked on a Monday a month later after 3 team meetings and recording two podcasts it wasn’t hard to clean up my brain dump and publish it.
An essay I brain dumped almost a full month before I ended up editing and publishing it.
Using momentum energy with a light touch approach meant that nothing was hard about publishing. The brain dump felt easy, and then there were enough words that it didn’t really take any extra brainpower to edit it when I was completely empty on a Monday afternoon.
Not every essay is like this, some I’ll work on over a few sittings after an initial brain dump which is why I keep a Next Up Pile.
Once you have a lot of ideas it can be easy to get overwhelmed & your brain is working overtime to decide what you should be working on. This is why I keep a few ideas in an Up Next Pile. I could have anywhere between 5–10 ideas on the go at varying stages of completion.
Firstly, this focuses me in. If I have a few moments in my day I don't go down the rabbit hole of all my ideas. I can choose one from a small list that catches my eye and add some more ideas to it.
Second, I’m always moving something forward. Because everything is at different stages, depending on my time & energy I might do some research, work on a headline, edit, do more writing. I don’t have to wait for large chunks of time, I can choose what I need to do next on any piece of content.
Third, It’s my insurance against not publishing. If you’re only working on one idea and you just don’t have anything left in the bank one day it’s most likely that you’ll end up saying ‘This is too hard, I’m not going to publish.’
And that alone creates a roadblock in your mind, where you resist coming back to the content because you last remember it was hard. When you have a few on the go, you don’t have that same roadblock. Your experience of writing & publishing is mostly easy.
See how that works?
My Up Next Pile & Breadcrumb Notes to make it easy to jump back into any of my content.
And because I’m writing a few things on the go, I leave myself little breadcrumb notes so I can jump straight back in where I left off, rather than having to remember what I was up to.
Before putting any of the final content together I’ll do a quick search of my permanent notes library to see if there are any notes that can be used in the content.
Because I’ve done the work of taking notes as I read and processing them into my permanent notes library, this makes writing content EVEN easier, because I have these atomic thoughts that act as lego bricks that I can pull in and use in any number of different ways.
A glimpse into my permanent notes library where I take the time to think and write notes that I can use and re-use in so many different ways.
This means treating note-taking more than just highlights & collecting quotes. But a permanent note library will become an asset of knowledge that you can use over and over again in so many different ways.
If you look back at most of my essays I use a really simple framework that Nicolas Cole taught while I was in ship30. It’s called 1–3–1. Start with one sentence as a hook. Then write a 3 line paragraph to give context. And wrap it up with one sentence to drive the point home.
Now, whenever I’m writing an essay I’m never wondering how to start it, how to structure it. There are no decisions. There is just the framework that my idea fits into. It makes constructing content from my original ideas insanely easy.
Constraints are your friend as a part-time creator. The fewer decisions your brain needs to make, the easier it is going to feel to create content. And the easier it feels, the more you will actually want to create rather than feel like you have to.
If you want more of Cole’s frameworks he has an excellent article called Prep The Page. Collect all the frameworks that you can be it for essays, articles, even tweets and keep them in a list that you can pull out whenever you need.
Now that I have a bunch of ideas in my Up Next Pile, have added notes & chosen a template, I keep my Up Next Pile is always pinned to my Roam sidebar. I find having it visually in front of me helps to keep it front and centre in my mind.
And when new ideas come I can just quickly jot down thoughts as I’m going about my day (because I work in Roam most of the day).
My Up Next Pile is always pinned to my Roam Research sidebar so I can add ideas throughout the day
But you can make this happen in any app that you use, or even write the ideas down on 3x5 cards and keep them next to your computer. Whatever helps to keep them front and centre for you.
What I love about the simmer model is that I can pull out my notes anywhere and noodle over them. Sitting on the bus, out on the balcony, down at the beach. I’m not waiting for a perfect time to sit and write for 2 hours. I can take 5 minutes and focus in one idea, jot notes down for another, have a couple of ideas for a good headline on another.
You don’t have to wait for the perfect time. 5 minutes here or there can move you forward in significant ways.
Working this way and making Incremental progress has meant that my ideas have space to breathe. Rather than rushing something out on the day I write it, my ideas become richer over time. I have more time to think about the idea, the way I want to structure it, the headline & how I position it.
I end up with a much better output than if I just sat and banged on the keyboard for 90 minutes.
If you are the type of person who likes to simmer on an idea and think about it for a while, then the incremental progress model could work for you while still being able to publish consistently.
When I first started writing I would get my essay written and published first thing in the morning. Otherwise, I would get anxious that it wouldn’t get done later in the day.
These days, publishing is the easy part because I’ve done all that heavy lifting prior. So by the time I pour a glass of wine at 5pm (it worked for Joan Didion, so I figure it will work for me) my essay is pretty much published already.
Joan Didion would sit down between 5–6pm to edit her work from that day. She said the wine took the sting off bad writing!
I basically sit down, make some edits, add a headline and hit publish.
My aim is to constantly make publishing feel effortless and by taking small moments, using light touches throughout the day, breaking down the process & always having something to work on, I’m able to publish most days with very little effort, even though there is a fair bit of work in it.
You don’t need to quit your day job and become a full-time creator in order to be prolific. You might just need to adjust your process for a lighter touch and rely on the momentum energy of incremental progress.
If you liked this post here are 3 things you can do to support me: