The Three-Page Sanity Hack


This may sound like a goofy waste of time. Like some self-helpy nonsense. It certainly sounds like that to me.

But hear this out.

I have stuck with this quirky practice for a surprisingly long time. 

And I never stick with anything for long, especially if it’s supposed to make you healthy or more productive. (I did stick with smoking for a while, but eventually gave that up, too.)

Maybe, for marketing purposes, it would be smarter to call this the Three-Page Clarity Hack. 

Or maybe the A.M. Brief. That’s too lawyerly.

Perhaps The Morning Purge.

Anyway, the idea is this:

Every day, before anything else, before checking your email, before your brain even knows you’re out of bed, you sit with a notebook or a pad and write three pages, by hand.

You write three pages, in longhand. (If you remember how.) Write very quickly. Without thinking. 

There is no assigned topic. No mission. No objective. No right way to do it. 

You just immediately start the pen moving, and keep it going for three pages. Maybe 750 words or so. But don’t count them.

The trick is not to ponder or think.  You are not trying for poetry or profundity. 

You are not writing a chronicle for posterity. Nor a diary to chuckle and cringe over in your later years.

You will not be graded on anything. You won’t even go back to read what you write.

This is a purely a mind hack. It’s mostly about right now. 

What you want is whatever streams out from the pen.

The act of doing it is what counts here. The physical act of putting it to paper changes everything. It is not the same as ranting and seething to yourself while driving to the office.

You pick up a pen. (Or pencil, like me.) And start.

Start anywhere, with anything. Immediately.

“Like what?” you say.

Doesn’t matter. Many a time I have started by scratching out “Portulaca Panzanella” fourteen times in a row. Or, the old “this is stupid this is futile I’d rather have a muffin” for a half page or so.

The ingenious thing is, it is neurologically impossible to write NOTHING for three pages.

Your brain will tolerate only so much of that yammering.

At some point, a node in your frontal lobe will get impatient and automatically spill out that gnarly thing that needs spilling. Or something that needs saying, or needs chewing on, or needs figuring out, or getting rid of.  Or what you’re scared of.

And out it comes.

That’s what you’re doing with the pages. 

Rebooting the brain for the day. Purging the tanks. Getting to the nub of what matters. Finding out what you think. Hashing out a dilemma.

The crux seems to be the physical act of scrawling it out.

It is somehow more effective than mere ruminating and cogitating on your morning run. Or rehearsing clever ripostes and excuses while in the shower.

I didn’t make this up, by the way, this three pages thing. I am not that clever.

It comes from a book called the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  The practice is called Morning Pages, devised originally for snowflakey “creatives” like writers and painters and designers. You can Google it. There are videos on YouTube, which you can skip.

And there is also the notion of free-writing, described by Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones. Plus the benefits of journaling which has been known for like a century.

But as I see it, this three-page thing works like gangbusters for business and work. 

Two days ago, for a client, I had to figure out how to make their predictive analytics and machine products seem irresistibly compelling and wonderful.

One morning, I wrote my three pages on how I had no clue how to do that and who wants to buy predictive analytics anyway.

Next morning, I rambled around to, ‘Quit trying to sell predictive analytics and just talk about cool things you can do with it.’  Day after, I lamented how I argued too much on a conference call. I don’t recall what it was the next day.

Tomorrow, you could do a page or so on what you should have said yesterday to that bonehead in the planning meeting.

Then slide into what’s up with that rashy spot on your wrist, and move on to how to explain to your boss that his idea is utterly lame. You can then close the notebook, make coffee and let the cat out.

Meandering and zigzagging is okay. So is repeating yourself redundantly over and over again.

The point is in the doing of it. Three pages, very quickly.

And don’t go back to read these. Toss the pages. Or save the notebooks til you’re 87 and none of it matters any longer. Set the files to autodestruct if you want.

I’m not evangelizing or proselytizing. I’m am just passing this on. I may give up on this myself.

I’m using the Hemingway definition of value.

Something, that if you do it, you feel good after.