Cal, Ramp, and Play

At the beginning of every day, it is possible to perform a set of activities to get ready for the day. This morning practice can become somewhat automatic, especially for people who follow some sort of routine, sleeping in the same bed every night and going to the same job every morning at the same time. Not everyone is this well defined. Creators and innovators sometimes radically change the way they spend their time from day to day, in part because they may have the freedom to do so and in part because it is their natural proclivity to do so.

This extreme desire for degrees of freedom manifest by many creative people can get in the way of productivity which has caused some highly prolific creators and innovators to invent routines of behaviors they would like to automate or habituate. In some circles, this may be called a Morning Practice and in others a Habit Loop. Indeed, there are many more possible names, but the principle is the same.

If one can identify an excellent behavior, it is worth making it somewhat automatic to increase the likelihood of it occurring by reducing the overhead associated with performing the said behavior to as little as possible. For some lucky souls, their daily work is so enjoyable as to feel like play. In fact, the primary activities of musicians and athletes they are paid to perform are called play, not work. And the “work” they do on the way to “playing” is often called “warming up.” They have to get in the right zone, sometimes called flow, to function at the highest levels. I call this wearing up period ramping and regard it as an on-ramp to the main activities I need to dedicate the majority of the day to. Since I think about many different topics all of the time, I have found it to be useful to get in the zone of the activities I need to be performing at the current point in life where I find myself.

In my case, I ramp up in three domains, the physical, musical and keynoting areas. I swim some laps to get my body ready to be physical, I write some music to stay prepared to go further in that primary domain of composing and orchestrating. I also work a bit on activities related to my keynoting which generally include writing about some insight and posting to my blog, after proofreading and light editing. I try to gets all of this done before my workday begins at 9 or 10. My ramping is specific to the domain I primarily operate within, being a concertizing keynoter, someone who combines music and public speaking. These both require physical strength and energy hence the morning laps in the pool, and if that is not possible, I jump on a rowing machine called an Erg to do the equivalent warmup. Therefore to Play, I first Ramp on weekdays.

Additionally, there is something else I do before Ramping and Playing, which I call Calibrating or Cal for short. The calibration is a more generalized activity to get ready for life, not specifically focused on being a concertizing keynoter. I call this activity getting into SOR or a state of readiness. As my brain functions in three very different modalities, I exercise them all every morning not just during the “Play Week.” The three modes are characterized by Notes, Words, and Diagrams and they use entirely different parts of the brain (or at least of my mind).

The Notes are dealt with by something I call Morning Music which consists of playing some instrument or singing for long enough to connect my unconscious, waking emotional state to be ready to communicate more intellectually. This can take as little as five or as long as 90 minutes depending upon my psychological turbulence and how tired I may be from inadequate rest. Since this feels really terrific, I sometimes do it for a lot longer than necessary as it part of my identity too play music. You might wonder what the difference between this and the ramping music and the more focused playing music later in the day is. The main differentiator is this Morning Music is not about anything other than changing my psychological state. It is not about composing, preparing for a concert, recording, editing, mastering or posting. It is merely about having a special relationship with sound where I can create and modify a universe I want to live in. It is not work, it is not warming up. It is merely being and in some ways my most natural function, the thing I was born to do. All I can say is it works better for me than meditating, praying, eating, exercise, nature and yes even sex or lovemaking. It is a primary way for me to relate to the universe and make myself whole by directly tactually managing acoustical energy in a conceptually abstract manner at a very high level. It is private, personal and can be at times a source of musical ideas as well. And I have been productively doing it for years.

The second part utilizing Words which are more literal and linear than music is an exercise I call Jam Journaling desired to get me into a state of flow, that is not as purely psychological and emotional as the Notes within the Morning Music but is slightly more cerebral and intellectual. A more bounded exercise this activity is measured regarding total words, total minutes and words per minute which indicate flow state.

The third part I call modified KanBan Diagramming is a mechanism I employ to perform what I call Just-In-Time Scoping and Planning. Diagramming reveals structural and temporal dependencies are permitting one to refine just what is going to do and what order they intend to do it in. This diagramming uses yet another part of the brain which differs from the musical and the verbal. It adds the perspective of zooming out to observe much at the same time, which belong to a set of tools and practices, I refer to as Complexity Processing.

This triple calibration or TriCal as I call it is a compelling way to get emotionally, intellectually and logistically centered in relatively not very much time. It also seems to work no matter what my state of mind or body and can generally be completed within under an hour although occasionally has lasted as long as two or three hours if there was both the need and the time as on the weekend.

This combination of TriCal, TriRamp, and TriPlay make for an incredibly powerful way for me to get things done, and to be calm, centered and prioritized at the same time. The short phrase Cal, Ramp and Play also serves to remind me that my life work is really Play, that to Play you can get warmed up moving through an on-Ramp, and that to be ready to Ramp it is a good idea first to be Calibrated.