Make Before You Manage

Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.

―Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Not long ago, a creature died in the walls of my home. To be precise, it gave up the ghost in the heating system, so that death fumes were conveniently deposited directly into my bedroom.

My girlfriend and I discovered this around 11 p.m. as we tucked into bed. We could turn off the heat and freeze, or we could bathe in the stench of what I assumed was a raccoon carcass. The whole thing made my eyes itch. I imagined it downing a last meal—pig entrails? moldy socks? nattō?—before defiantly jamming its bloating body into my HVAC.

But the kamikaze raccoon was just the first surprise guest. The opening act.

In short order, my dog got horribly sick, overdue paperwork popped out of nowhere, and onboarding new contractors ran into trouble. Then I pulled out of a parking spot and scraped the entire side of the car next to me. Later that afternoon, Christmas presents I’d ordered online ran out of stock and were auto-cancelled, sending me scrambling. More and more clowns kept piling into the clown car for a shit show that lasted 3–4 weeks.

There are rare times when I feel like I’m in the zone. Those are great.

Then there are times when I ask myself, “How in holy hell have I become the janitor of a mountain of bullshit?”

Put another way, sometimes you’re the boxer and sometimes you’re the punching bag. We all get our turn as the punching bag. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter how “successful” you become, you have always grabbed a number at the deli counter of getting your ass kicked by the universe.

During these periods of fire fighting, I get fidgety and frustrated. I feel like I’m treading water, and patience wears thin, especially with myself.

My instinct is to try to fix things as quickly as possible. That’s all well and good, but I’ve realized that from a place of “WTF?!,” I often rush and create more problems. This is particularly catastrophic when I try to sprint immediately upon waking up.

The mantra that saved me during this most recent 3–4-week period was simple:

“Make before you manage.”

Each morning, before plugging holes, fixing things, calling vets, answering text messages, delegating things, or yanking out dead raccoons, this mantra was a reminder to make something. 

Even the most time-sensitive items can usually wait 60 minutes, and by make something, I mean anything.

You just need to feel like you’ve pushed a millimeter ahead in some creative direction.

For me, even a 90-second video of calligraphy could set a better emotional tone for the day, helping me to more calmly handle problems. Or maybe I attempt to jumpstart my writing with an Instagram caption. It’s practically nothing, but it’s enough. Even token efforts allow me to reassure myself with “Don’t worry. You did produce something today.”

The psychological difference between zero acts of creation and one act of creation, no matter how small, is impossible to overstate. If you’re lucky, sometimes that one idea, one sentence, or one shitty first draft can turn into something bigger. But the point is to be able to say to yourself, even for five minutes, “Hark! I am a creator, not just a janitor of bullshit! Here is proof that I can—and will!—do more than just manage minutiae… ”

We all spend time on the struggle bus. At the very least, this mantra has helped me to find a window seat when it’s my turn.

When in doubt, try it out: make before you manage.

Related:
Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” commencement speech
Paul Graham’s “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” essay

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with over 400 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply to David Palmer Cancel reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

110 Replies to “Make Before You Manage”

    1. This is like the idea of “making” your bed in the morning to get a sense of accomplishment and the whole ball rolling – it sounds silly when you frame it as making a bed but when you turn it into making something else, it seems far more sensible.

      1. I agree. I find making my bed most satisfying each morning!! And same with “making my outfit” for the day (creativity)

      2. I agree as well. I’ve always made my bed when I get out of it because I think doing so makes the whole room look better and more organized. That sets my mind to start the day off feeling squared away on on the right foot.

  1. I’m so thankful that you are blogging again Tim! This article is a perfect reminder for me right now and will be relevant to many others too, I am sure!

  2. Good to see the commitment coming to fruition, and I completely empathize with the dumpster fire situations that we all experience at one time or another.

    Fortunately, those situations usually give us some fodder for creative projects (like this article). Great work! I’m looking forward to next week!

  3. For a couple of years my mantra has been, “create before consuming”. I run an online business so this impacts my bottom line. Love your advice as well.

  4. I like this idea a lot.

    Some of the self help masterminds tell you that if you must wake up at 4:30, and have a defined routine involving learning, creating, journaling and working out.

    I found out that even reading a few pages of a book for half an hour before the planned alarm time is a good start, if the book teaches you something.

    You can then cross that item off the list of the achievements for the day, and the rest will be a bonus.

    Alternatively, spending time learning a new language or skill is a good way to move forward.

    The important is to get a baby steps towards crafting our future ideal self.

  5. Good one, Tim. I honestly even consider meditation or prayer to be “making something” because you are actually contributing positivity to the universe before you “suck energy” from it. Similar to create vs. consume mentality.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ben. I agree. The “create” can certainly be a contribution of some type that sets the emotional tone.

      1. This is great Tim. Just what I needed to read right now, and Ben your addition of prayer or meditation was what I was thinking aswell.
        This has inspired me to move forward in a direction I’ve been holding off from becuase I’m not sure where to start and not sure if I’m qualified to contribute.
        Thanks Gents.

  6. “Make before you manage”

    I have connected in some parts to your blog, books, and podcasts. I particularly respected your honestly throughout. That being said “Make before you manage” has come at the most opportune time when I myself am currently the proverbial punching bag. You are correct when you say just creating that one thing does give you that small sense of balance and stability when you seem at odds with the universe.

    Thanks for the honestly, forever being the human guinea pig, and thank your for “Make before you manage”

    Lindsey

  7. The janitor of a mountain of bullshit, grabbing a number at the deli counter of getting your ass kicked by the universe, the struggle bus…wonderful to have your very visual turns of phrase back in the cyberpages!

  8. You hit me just right. Such a simple message, and I love the reframing because even an Instagram caption is SOMETHING. I’m sure I’ll be repeating this mantra to myself to make the rest of the year quite productive. Thanks Tim, as always.

    Quick question… are you batch-writing these new blog posts?

  9. I can’t express how thrilled I am that you are blogging again. Great message when it often feels like there is no ‘off-switch’ for the next task or call.

    I’m really looking forward to the continued content. Glad you’ve thrown your hat back into this arena!

  10. Last week I felt like I was the punching bag. In my darkest moment, I decided to make something: a blog post called My Fucking Feelings. Incredibly, it was the impetus that I needed to make meaningful action later on. I got such clarity that the bad situation seemed like it was a godsend instead of the real tragedy that it was.

  11. Thanks Tim, such interesting timing reading this now. I recently had a similar spate of ‘bad luck’. My dishwasher died then my air conditioner broke down in summer here, finally my computer wouldn’t start up and I lost some data as dropbox had recently stopped syncing. Like you I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to fix things but created more and more bad luck. Finally decided just to let it be. They say bad luck comes in 3’s but as you say you can create more bad luck through anxious / negative energy. I was thinking maybe its a ying and yang thing and if so we are both due some good luck from the universe in the near future ! Great quote and reminder about staying focused and creating. Perhaps this was a test I needed to pass, to see if I stay the course or look for excuses not to create. Better get creating… Thanks again !

  12. I’d really love if you would somehow structure the blogs out of podcast episodes so I can easily and quickly find everything going forward.
    And really looking forward to You getting back in the game 🙂

  13. Love this! My routine upon waking of: ignoring my phone that is in the other room and leaving it on airplane mode, getting a cup of coffee brewed, reading and meditating over the Bible, doing a light workout or basking in the sun on a morning walk and then sitting down and writing whatever is on my mind– is staring to turn every day into a successful and productive day! After all of this is done I can check my phone and email, but only after, otherwise it is hard for me get out of a reactive mode all day.

    1. Oooh that really resounded with me- reactive mode due to responding to email, text etc. I’ve been feeling this and I love the phone airplane mode idea and doing something else first thing in the morning.

  14. Tim, great to start getting posts from you again! This is a great opener. So true! I am going to tell myself that each morning before I sit down and get buried in email.

  15. Thanks for teaching another valuable lesson, the amount of success or weltth does not exclude us from hardship and bad luck and right now I need that reminder. My father used to ignore it and just try to act normal but using the tools of creating, the path could be made easier allowing both a shift of mindset and for good things to be created even when bad stuff is happening.

  16. Really great stuff. I just shared with my kids who are just finishing up Finals week at college…Hopefully this will help next time around for them.

  17. This is the best, as you’ve pointed out before we typically only see the best presentation via social media. Nice to know we all get our fair share of ass kickings…

    “As far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter how “successful” you become, you have always grabbed a number at the deli counter of getting your ass kicked by the universe.”

  18. I think this what every person in this universe has to face. The question is: How do you handle it? Most people ignore and think that’s just the ay life is. I think this is not true. There is synchronicity at play here meaning if there is one thing going wrong is can lead to a downwards spiral. So how can you prevent this? Actually there is no possibility to prevent this from happening, the key is to intervene early. The first step is to be aware that there are times when everything seems to crash. Try to notice this as early as possible. This can already help. The next step of course would be to take action and that’s much more difficult. I start by trying to win the small battles like getting up early every day, making my bed first thing in the morning, going to gym…. Though I’m still searching for the ultimate remedy.

  19. This mantra sums up how I’ve been feelin’ as I’ve done a lotta managing, but very little making. Thanks for the soft kick in the a$$! 🤪

  20. One especially great thing about this approach is that your ability to create is very dependent on your state. What you can create in the morning from a more fresh place is usually going to have more clarity than what you would create after doing battle over minutiae.

  21. Hi Tim – I loved hearing about the content of your new (postponed) book and look forward to reading the re-packaged content on your blog as you test your material on saying “no”.

    Have considered including Gretchen Rubin’s 4 tendency framework in your research on saying “no”? I ask because I fall under the Obliger tendency, which means I readily meet outer expectations (e.g. work deadlines) but struggle to meet inner expectations (e.g. wanting to meditate daily). Learning how to say “no” in a work setting was much more difficult and agonizing for me (an Obliger) as compared with my colleague who did the exact same job as me but was a Questioner (questions all expectations, outer and inner, alike). We were both lawyers working at a large national law firm based in Toronto. It was a pressure-cooker type environment, as most big law firms are, with constant demands being places on our time. My failure to say “no” in my work life (whether it be saying “no” to to work assignments, requests to help recruit students to the firm, participate in firm social events, head up business development initiatives, and mentor junior lawyers) lead me to burnout and quit my job last year. While many lawyers hate their jobs, I actually liked it. I felt I had to quit out of self preservation. If I had been able to consistently say “no” without the accompanying feelings of agony, I could still be lawyering today.

    It would be helpful if you could include an examination/discussion of why saying “no” is more difficult/painful for some people versus others and how to mitigate that. Whether the answer is Gretchen’s 4 tendency framework or something else, I would be very interested to read your thoughts and proposed solutions for this problem. Although the larger % of your audience is comprised of men, I think that if your women listeners/fans (like me) could master saying “no”, it would have a profound impact.

    All the best,
    Nelly

    P.S. Thanks for all that you do. Your books and podcast interviews have had a huge impact on me and I am so very grateful to you for putting out such thoughtful content. Hope you have a great holiday season!

  22. From a small business owner in Australia, nice one. I’ve been the boxing bag for the last three weeks so will use this from tomorrow

  23. I always thought that such trick is more like “postponing critical stuff in favor of less frustrating things”. But I must admit that I also sometimes do some relatively simple but also important task in order to make myself feeling like I achieve something. It indeed motivates

  24. I am truly torn on what I like more about this blog…… The fantastic practical advice or the timeless quotes I’ll be using for decades… (and giving credit where credit is due of course)

    “How in holy hell have I become the janitor of a mountain of bullshit?”

    As far as I can tell, it doesn’t matter how “successful” you become, you have always grabbed a number at the deli counter of getting your ass kicked by the universe.

    Thanks Tim !!!!

  25. How to get your personal email @tferriss because
    Your website is real slam to me saying there are alot of mails in my inbox, so yours might get unnoticed…

    ❓❓❓

  26. That moment when you read something that you know is dead-on……… Why do I feel so shitty in a year where I have accomplished a ton from my to-do list? Because that was being a janitor versus a creator. I’ll be damned.

  27. Hi Tim,
    My go to is the “instant Happy journal” by Karen Salmansohn.
    It prompts a brief writing exercise for each day of the year. I always set aside the few minutes it takes to make an entry. I highly recommend it. I have several completed copies in a box.
    (Not inserting a link in case those get marked as spam.)

  28. I like this idea a lot.

    Some of the self help masterminds tell you that if you must wake up at 4:30, and have a defined routine involving learning, creating, journaling and working out.

    I found out that even reading a few pages of a book for half an hour before the planned alarm time is a good start, if the book teaches you something.

    You can then cross that item off the list of the achievements for the day, and the rest will be a bonus.

    Alternatively, spending time learning a new language or skill is a good way to move forward.

    The important is to get a baby steps towards crafting our future ideal self…

  29. Thank you for your honesty about being imperfect and living an imperfect life. It’s so easy to talk about how great life is and seemingly “easy”. And all the GREAT speakers you have on the podcast that live such GREAT lives. I prefer hearing this-it’s SO real. It is a reminder that I’m not alone and that everyone goes through tough times. Made me laugh and so relatable. Thanks!

  30. For last couple of weeks I kept comparing similar stretch of unfortunate events since August to feeling of drowning. It’s like if you were swimming in the calm ocean of life towards your paradise island and then one rogue wave hits you disrupting your pace, then next one, then next. All of a sudden you realize that you lost your direction in the swirl and it’s a storm you didn’t see coming. Now you just fight to survive, draining your energy with each stroke. Panic sets in as next wave pulls you down and now you are drowning. All you want is a grasp of a fresh air. Somehow you finish one crisis and that’s your momentary relief of getting fresh air. But then next wave pulls you down in the abyss right away.

  31. Have been lucky enough to figure out the make before you manage with a slightly different spin on it. When taking a course in Legal Research and Writing, a one-time comment to self became a mantra for everything that looks overwhelming at first: “I can probably do this as well as anyone else can.”

    So I hear ya’ on your mantra.

  32. So hugely reassuring to read of other Peeps that us ‘normal’ folk regard as ‘supers’, also enduring runs of inverted luck!
    Thank you Tim/deep sigh of relief….and lets all keep on keeping on in 20-20!!
    I’m beyond words to express how much good you’ve done me down the years, sincerely, Mark.

  33. Thank you for the email about this (among other items). Apparently I’m not subscribed via WordPress or the notifications are getting filtered. I’d have missed this beauty, which will fit nicely into the pre-2020 refinement of my life systems. Hope you have a peace-filled Christmas!

  34. Tim I believe this maybe good for many people, but I’m unsure if it’s good for me. I’m a big procrastinator. I wait until an issue becomes a crisis, then I jump in. I’m working on approaching problems head on as soon as they arise. To me, this method seems like just another form of procrastination for me.

  35. Always great info on Living a better
    Life. Look forward to reading every week
    Brings you to places out of your comfort
    Zone
    Merry Christmas Happy New Year

  36. Another way I have heard this sentiment is “ slay the lambs before the lion”
    You can’t ignore the lion, but if you start there, the lambs run off and you miss your chance.

  37. OMG Tim .. experienced the same mountain of things this Christmas week .. and I live in a foreign country Thailand on my own .. great advice .. I think we tend to try to fix the problems which is always an emotional drain .. rather than MAKE first 🙂

  38. What an intro! Inspiring and useful advice, excited to experiment with the mantra. Thanks once again Tim 💪🏼 And happy holidays 🙂🎄

    1. the janitor of a mountain of bullshit?” oh man, I feel you. I am so sorry you had such a run of crap to deal with, Tim. That dead racoon sounds horrible. And scraping up yours and another’s car just makes one feel like a total dweeb. Shit happens. Make before you manage. As a creative myself, this is really appealing. Like having desert before dinner. Thank you.

  39. Needed this today. Thanks for sharing. Momentum fuels motivation… not sure where I picked that up but I say it to myself all the time.

  40. Sorry to hijack your blog post for an admin problem: your new website blog header is so big I don’t see any content on the page when I open a browser. You’ve been my browser home page for 12 years ever since I read 4HWW and gave up news. I switched to you from the Washington Post. I had no idea you were posting things after the new website was unveiled until I read your email newsletter a few minutes ago. It’s a problem.

  41. When I have times of conflict… tends to happen to me every 1.5 years or so… I get a “Reiki Tune-Up”… I feel my energy must be off or ??? IT WORKS!! ALWAYS BREAKS the bad energy I’m attracting or putting out that I’m too busy to figure out why to … never fails me.
    🎄PS love your books, podcasts etc etc! 👍🎄

  42. Hahaha reminds me of the dead mouse bloating on the sticky trap on the passenger floor side of my rv.

    Me: “Where’s a stalker when you need one?”

    He showed up the next day knocking on my door. I said “I am so happy to see you!” To his surprise. Then I asked him to remove the dead mouse and pointed to the garbage can not far away. He did as told.

    Then I told him under no circumstances was he ever to knock on my door again.

    Ever.

    He told me some excuse about wanting my opinion about a friend with a haunted basement (I am an empath) and I told him to have his friend ask the landlord to change the locks and put security bars in the basement window along with a camera. Her “ghost” may have a pulse.

    He never bothered me again, never knocked on my door, never followed me, it was heaven!

    I later observed he had found himself a new obsession .

    Merry Xmas and thank you for your authenticity and sage advice.

    Maria Miccoli
    [Moderator: contact info and website removed.]

  43. The roller coaster of life reminds us we are human and life happens. We just have to get up and keep going. Welcome to Texas and the battle with raccoons. Some how they find a way into our homes. Thanks for the podcast and blog!

  44. Very Interesting Tim,
    I have used many different ways to pull myself out of the “struggle bus” over the years. I feel I have an issue finding new ways though. I am a full time creative (Fine Artist, Business owner ,Tattoo Artist and father to two creatives) so I am coming from the other side of your issue. Where you are trying to do something creative to pull yourself out of a zone. I often hit a wall where I have only been creating and it becomes a curse like burden where everything is a possibility and I have to slow down and stop to get out of the zone. This is where reading your blog comes in! 👍
    Thanks for being you! And Merry Holidays

    Trevor Mackay
    [Moderator: business name removed.]

  45. Thanks to him for that just perfect size bits of encouragement, and doable actions. I will look at my start of the day a little differently. Making my bed and making my coffee or two things I can always do.

  46. Love this! Sometimes I feel like I will never be through my to-do list, and any time I take to do something fun and creative I have to steal. This conscious choice to set aside the time to be creative sounds great. I will try it. Thank you!

  47. Truly appreciated the candor. Trying to buoy out your ship in the middle of a storm feels overwhelming. I appreciate the reminder that the smallest acts of creative and personal grounding can keep us paddling. Thank you. This one resonated.

  48. I was reading the positive accolades at the top of the home banner (3x annual best of the podcast world, 400+m downloads and 8k 5-star reviews) and thought what great accomplishments. Then read this blog post and thought yep even Tim has colossally shitty days sometimes. It is what it is right. Just make before you attempt to manage. I like that. Thanks for keeping it real and helping us all get back on point. Have a great holiday.

  49. this hit the spot and found it so much better than “make your bed”. I’ve done my bed and lots of other things that never seem to add much when i’m feeling like I’m on that bus. Creating something feels more powerful and has jumpstarted me in the past –even as it feels like this bus has been going cross-country for a while now. Cheers!

  50. Tim, agree with the principle. The way it’s expressed though is bloated and temporally scattered leaving the reader with a sense uncertainty. The conclusion is also unsatisfying. There is no discreet anecdote that demonstrates how employing the practise of make before manage left you in a powerful state of mind. The post seems hollow without something like this. I’m a huge fan Tim, I know you’re going for volume rather than quality which I’m sure explains a lot. Keep cranking them out!

  51. Great read! Sometimes when you’re the punching bag it’s hard to know where to start or how to get in the right frame of mind. This is excellent advice on how to approach things from a much better place. I seldom comment, but I’m really grateful for this post. Thank you for sharing Tim.

  52. First time in your blog and this post caught my attention. Wow, sounds like my type of life when issues start arising. I never thought of being creative before starting my day- fact is I am creative. I’m going yo implement this process first thing in the morning and get back to you with my results by the end of Jan. Thank you

  53. I will read the book because I am always very curious.
    My life is a hop on and off but I must admit that since I stopped putting off everything has gone better. I understood that nutrition is essential to feel good about myself and others. After a bad accident with the motorbike 6 years ago I stopped doing sports and I took many kg of weight. I was listless and I was afraid to get back into the game. I spent my days in front of the PC and had fled from food. I put off anything, like signing up for a gym, taking a walk, and sometimes even shaving. One day a friend convinced me to accompany her to work and stop with her for a few minutes. As usual I would have liked to postpone another occasion but luckily I finally moved from my chair and rediscovered the world that was outside my apartment. The will to live and be better have invaded my mood and today I feel good. I have decided not to prtocastinate but to act. [Moderator: link removed.]

  54. Wow….I literally almost spit coffee all over my laptop reading this post!!!! BRILLIANT!

    I have been there so many times – a cacophony of dominoes falling when everything seemed to be smooth sailing.

    My stomach hurts from laughing. Thanks Tim.

  55. God Bless you Tim Ferris. Isn’t it funny how we get into the zone and poof just like that we are out of it. Your writing is stellar and laugh out loud apropos. My mantra is to write 3 pages each morning when I wake. That’s me making something, making my life somewhat manageable.
    Keep it up. You delight me. Cheers from an Aussie currently in Australia who lives in Austin

  56. This is so true. It reminds me of my dad’s mantra of “slow down when you’re in a hurry.” Getting that extra moment of zen before you tackle your to-do’s is priceless.