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Why It’s Worth Making Time for This Lengthy Morning Ritual

The habit that will most help you focus and stay sane might initially sound like way too much of an effort.

When business owners go looking for productivity boosters, they're generally thinking of small changes that can help them squeeze more essential business tasks into their days. In other words, tricks and techniques that will speed up their work. But what if the truth was that in order to reach maximum velocity in completing tasks you first had to slow way, way down?

That's the counterintuitive idea behind a practice called "Morning Pages" introduced by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way. Just as you'd suspect from the name, the idea is, basically, to pause each morning to do some writing before you jump into your day. What might shock you is how and how much. Cameron insists that three pages, written out in longhand, are ideal.

Artistry not required

Before you panic at the idea and start experiencing traumatic flashbacks to college essay exams and little blue books, keep in mind that this notion isn't just the ranting of one out-of-touch artist. We'll come to enthusiastic endorsements from several entrepreneurs in a bit. But first it's important to understand what Morning Pages is and isn't.

First, these pages need not be well written or artistic in the slightest. In fact, they'll probably be utterly banal and perhaps annoyingly whiny. As Cameron explains on her website, "There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages--they are not high art. They are not even 'writing.' They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind--and they are for your eyes only... Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page." If that's a reminder to buy kitty litter, great. If it takes the form of a less-than-pleasant grumble about your least congenial client, also fine.

Why bother?

If the content is so utterly boring, what's the point of brain dumping random nonsense as soon as you get up in the morning? Apparently, even though the content is less than compelling, the effects of Morning Pages can be profound. Take it from Chris Winfield, an entrepreneur who was initially skeptical of the idea but has since become a convert.

He confesses his first response to the idea was, "Is she crazy? How the heck am I supposed to find the time to sit down and write out three pages each morning?" but since taking up the practice he claims it has become an essential way to clear his mind, unleash creative ideas, and quiet his inner critic, reducing his anxiety.

He's not the only one. Tumble Design co-founder Nicky Hajal wholeheartedly agrees. "For years I've wanted to write daily but been unable to. The proof is five or six journals filled with just a single entry. Then, I came across Morning Pages," he writes. "They work incredibly well and have had a huge impact on me."

Among the benefits is the ability to stop pointless, circular worrying. "Have you noticed that when something is on your mind you seem to go over it again and again and again?" he asks. "I call these brain loops, and they're devastating to actually accomplishing important tasks... I can't explain it, but the moment you take a thought and type it out, it simply feels wrong to loop through that thought process again. Your brain moves on to other things."

Still not convinced? Inspiration-focused site The Bulb concurs as well: "Morning pages had the most profound effect... My pages would make hideously boring reading for anyone who chose to snoop, but somehow, it works. It clears the detritus from my brain and allows the bubbles of inspiration to float to the surface."

No cheating!

Maybe all this lavish praise has piqued your curiosity. Maybe you're thinking of giving Morning Pages a try, but you're also pondering cutting one itsy-bitsy corner. Longhand, you're probably thinking, really? Yup, insists Winfield. This is one area of life where the pen still rules.

"You figure that you can get it done faster (since you type so much faster then you write). Don't do this," he insists, calling velocity the enemy and praising the slowness of actually writing things out by hand. "Writing by computer is a more emotionally detached practice. It helps keep our Inner Critic alive and well, since we are so easily able to go back and fix our mistakes. It yields us speed and distance, but not the depth that we are looking for," Winfield concludes.

Are you thinking of digging out a notebook and giving Morning Pages a try?

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Last updated: Aug 7, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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