For years, I tried to use workflows, software (and people) to get me to do things that, for whatever reason, I wasn’t doing.

I thought they could act as an alarm clock for Important Work. I wasn’t wrong, but there’s something important I failed to notice about an alarm clock.

An alarm clock doesn’t help you get up. An alarm clock helps you get up at a specific time. Getting up is something the vast majority of people (and animals) already do.

Applying an alarm clock, a specific adjustment/enhancement, to something you aren’t doing, is broken.

Yes, this has been said to me in many different ways over the years (Just Do It), but my obsession with tools and ideas and optimizations and Thought Technologies™ always seduced me into believing that if I could just find a better workflow, I would do this stuff that eludes me.

See, I have experienced benefits from workflow obsession. As someone for whom mouse usage and email became obvious problems early in my career as a video editor/creative consultant, applying the alarm clock of GTD-ish concepts and keyboard shortcuts saved my ability to work.

But I was already editing video every day and responding to emails every day. These enhanced workflows improved everything I was already doing.

Then I tried to apply workflows to writing the screenplays I wasn’t writing. This quickly becomes a dark pattern.

To be charitable, even this mistaken way of going about work has led to good things. Some of the greatest tools ever were built by frustrated artists who convinced themselves the tools were the problem. And the tools were a problem, just not their problem.

In many cases, these toolmakers ultimately found their own joy and creative expression in creating these tools and contributing them to the world. I think that’s beautiful, even if it began in confused frustration.

One example from my life currently: For years, I’ve tried to get my todo list to help me do my creative work. Revealing to you how many iterations of this I’ve been through feels like an alcoholic admitting to a therapist how much he drinks.

Too many. We’ll leave it at that.

For the first time ever (really really actually this time), I’m turning to my (not over-engineered) todo list to help me with what I’m already doing creatively. It’s providing a little clarity and prompts for next actions. It’s behaving the way an alarm clock really behaves.

These threads/posts that I’m writing every day, if they serve no other purpose (they do), they are a foundation of writing activity that opens up a world of possibilities/directions/enhancements/workflows/whatever-I-feel-like. They are a baseline of creative flow.

If I’m not doing anything, there’s nothing to practice or improve.

Ultimately, I had to consider creative practice from the opposite angle: What is the simplest, easiest, most sustainable thing-I-could-call-creative that I can do RIGHT NOW?

Then alarm clocks from there.

For the record, once you marry/partner with a lark or have kids (I did both), an alarm clock isn’t really a thing anymore, but I digress.