In the previous post, I detailed my process for creating a magic trick, which involves breaking it into its component parts so I know exactly what I need to work on. Today, I’m talking about why the checklist system works, and how to find the time to work in the first place.
The reason that a specific list works is because it shifts my work from a time-based approach to a volume-based approach. Writing for three hours might produce ten pages one day and three pages the next, depending on your state of mind. Committing to seven pages/day until you finish your novel is a far more productive approach because you have guaranteed output.
But magic is different from writing in that it has extra steps, including prop creation, rote practice, script practice, method creation, and full rehearsals. Each day of work, then, inherently looks different, which is why I live by my to-do list.
You might be wondering “is he really trying to pretend he came up with a to-do list?” No, of course not. What I am trying to sell you on is that “abstract” complex processes, like creating a magic trick or coming up with a new dish to cook, can be broken into component steps. And once I complete those steps, I know I’m done for the day.
This is the checklist I used for work on January 16th. Like all things with magic, you might not understand the purpose of everything on the list. But the point is that I combine my tasks into their smallest component parts so that I can easily accomplish each one once I start. With a checklist, I very easily know when each task is done. Working based on volume almost always beats working based on time. And I’d rather have lots of small goals that I can easily accomplish than one big goal that intimidates me.
The much harder problem is finding time to work in the first place.
It's easy to find a pocket of time here or there, or fool myself into thinking that ruminating on my project while I walk to class counts as doing the work. Thinking on the walk to class helps, for sure, but there is no substitute for sitting down with my phone on airplane mode and putting in the time. And that time is hard to find.
It’s hard because I’m in college and I have class and readings and friends I want to hang out with. I’m sure you’re the same way. As college students, it is extremely hard to find time to do genuine, meaningful work that isn’t required, even though we love it.
But you know what I am good at, and I bet you are too? Putting things on Google Calendar and sticking to them.
See, I know I’m capable of sticking to a schedule. One of my biggest hobbies is running, and I’m currently training for my third marathon. Last summer, during marathon training, I found it very easy to make time for running and stick to the schedule. I was confused with how easy that felt, and simultaneously, how clueless I felt when I was rehearsing.
But then I figured it out. My running schedule is easy because it is clearly defined in multiple ways. My training plan says exactly how far I need to run on each day. Once I do the run, I am done. It is black and white.
Additionally, I wear specific clothes when I run, and when I take those clothes off, I know I’m not running anymore. My clothes, then, help define when I start and stop.
Finally, my long-runs are scheduled, which means I can anticipate them weeks or months in advance.
With the intention of posting this, I tried three new strategies all based on what makes running so simple. Specifically, I put myself into a specific set of clothes with a clearly defined goal at a set time.
I’m happy to say the strategies worked great and I will be continuing them. The strategies are:
Scheduling time to work on magic in my calendar
Changing clothes immediately before and immediately after rehearsal
Finishing with gas in the tank
Let’s dissect each. On Friday, January 14th, I scheduled time to work on magic for the upcoming week, starting on Sunday the 16th. Each slot was two hours long, minimum. I treated each work session the same way I treat anything in my calendar–I showed up on time–prepared, fed, and ready to work.
Changing clothes may not work for everyone, but it worked for me. I wore the same “magic clothes,” for each work session. I put on music every time I “suited up,” and it completely changed my mindset from “sitting on the couch on Instagram” to “it’s time to make something great.” To be clear, my “magic clothes” were just a pair of Chinos and a comfy t-shirt. What matters is the consistency. For this week, I only wore these clothes to work on magic.
Finally, I finished each session with gas in the tank. Translation: I purposefully did not burn myself out. Two hours per session in the middle of being a full time student is a lot, and I’m perfectly happy with that. I have the rest of my life to be a full-time magician, and school still matters. Additionally, it is way more important to practice working consistently than to work once for a long time (check out Atomic Habits by James Clear for more on habit-building).
Finally, I make my checklist for the next work session at the end of each work session. When I do that, I don’t even have to think about rehearsal until the next day, because I know I’ve already handled it.
The next question is how to decide what to prioritize–should I work on magic or school? I don’t have a black and white answer, but I’ll talk about my process for figuring it out next week.