How to deliver
If you are a creative, is there a way to become more productive without turning yourself into a robot zombie dingdong?
So much advice out there is geared towards maximum efficiency. (Who in the world decided that 53 minutes was the optimum time for a work session? What in the everloving fuck?) There are a million productivity apps out there, and most of them involve timers and metrics and lots and lots of left-brain thinking.
That's great if your job involves work that you can start and stop on a dime, but what if you are tackling creative work that involves lots of noodling? What if you need a long mental runway, or you do your best work when naps are involved?
I know about productivity apps because I USE those apps. And they're OK - up to a point. But I have started to realize that they're teaching me to think like a software developer. Or a factory worker. Or a corporate drone. Whoops and Screw that!
Here are two tricks I learned recently. Both have made me a happier person. Maybe they will help you, too.
The first trick I learned is built around the idea of Russian nesting dolls. Remember those things? (Look at these cuties from Etsy, I want them:)
I learned this trick from Vanessa Van Edwards. It's deceptively simple. Ready? It involves index cards - some white, some colored. Write the name of your goal or project on a colored index card. For example, "write a blog post." <cough> Then write all the smaller tasks on the white index cards, and stack 'em up. These are your dolls, metaphorically speaking. As you work your way down your list/stack, you get the pleasure of crumpling that index card and throwing it wherever. (And when you reach the final, colored card, you ARE DONE, and it is time for ice cream and some roundhouse kicks, just because.)
Why does this technique work? I don't know. But it does. It involves tactile objects, which makes the project work feel more real - and that is great when the work is mostly mental or exists in the ether. It's a visible progress bar. We are hardwired to respond to progress, so the bigger my pile grows, the more motivated I become. And it's aggressive. I am making a mess. And messes feel GREAT. Index cards are stiff, you have to crunch like you mean it. Creative work can be frustrating and hard, and it's nice to have a way, however small, to say "Fuck this and fuck you, I win." If art is war, then let's play to win, dammit.
So that first trick was all about being more productive. This second trick is about being more creative. It involves climbing your (artistic) family tree.
THIS trick I learned from Austin Kleon and his wonderful book Steal Like An Artist. In it, he writes:
[Find one creative] you really love. Study everything there is to know about them. Then find three people that [creative] loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your own tree, it's time to start your own branch.
I have my own tree up on my wall. It's a shocker, to be honest. It scares me. But it's undeniable - THIS is what I love. So now I know what I want to do, and where I have to go next. This is terrifying and useful information to have.
Try building out your own family tree, and see where it takes you.
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