The First Fifteen Minutes

Most creative tasks I engage in consistently have shaky starts to them. Take for example Writing and Coding. Getting into the flow is often more difficult than actually producing anything meaningful.

I find that the first fifteen minutes are the most difficult to get through. The process of staring down at a blank page, or a blank screen. Tuning out imperfection from the instrument and warming up the voice.

These first fifteen minutes are the most uncomfortable and also the most introspective. The process of pointing the gaze inward and dedicating attention to a single activity. This period at the beginning of a task functions to me as the make or break period. If I can get through the first fifteen minutes of writing, I’m generally off to a good start. With enough free time, I’m then capable of going thirty to forty-five minutes more. Maybe even longer before risking burnout.

I treat these first fifteen minutes as a warm-up, like stretching or Kata. I dedicate as much capacity as I can to focusing on the task at hand. During this period I know that I won’t be able to produce anything meaningful. But know that if I can get through it, there is a chance that I produce something good.

My most creative experience lately has been taking the first fifteen minutes of the day to write. I go to the kitchen where I make coffee or tea. I write freely as the sun rises through my windows pointing east. I can generally write a page or two if I’m lucky. If I can continue to write after that, I’m pleased. If not, and I burn out, then the writing exercise functions as a mental stretch in preparation for the day.

Unlike writing, I can’t code first thing in the morning. And I can’t force myself to. It almost makes me ill to look at a computer screen before 9AM. Generally, on the computer I’m the most productive at night, sometime after dinner. I sit for fifteen minutes in my IDE and stare at the problem. Sometimes refactor some code to get familiar with the task at hand. Then get to work and fix the problem if I can avoid social media and distractions.

Although the first fifteen minutes are difficult, I’ve found that there are workarounds.

Timers help to set linear structure. If I’m struggling, I’ll set a timer for anywhere between forty-five minutes to one hour. That ensures that I can sit an adequate time with the task to make at least some progress. I’ll often forget about the timer and realize only when it rings that I’ve made progress.

After the designated time period, I’ll step away so as not to burn out. Productivity feels empty and meaningless if I’m not enjoying what I’m doing. I don’t get too involved in what I’m producing, as long as I’m making progress and setting aside time each day.