If you work in a creative job as I do, you won’t be surprised by the latest findings that morale impacts our ability to get things done. According to the study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, focusing on negative aspects will cause defensiveness and fatigue. Instead, focus on actionable solutions and ideas that improve the situation.
As a graphic designer, I have more ideas when clients and staff have a positive attitude. When the inevitable changes come through, I feel most productive when the client focuses on the next step rather than lamenting on what’s wrong with an earlier version.
In a study on the trade off between office privacy and communication published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that a sense of privacy changed the perceived level of workplace satisfaction. Authors Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear of The University of Sydney noted that each type of office layouts had noted similar quality issues with their work. Those who had private offices were most likely to be satisfied with the level of distraction and proximity. Making interaction between team members easier was a small benefit to open floor plans, yet this minimal gain wasn’t offset by the many problems that arise.
Even if you happen to work in an open office space, it’s helpful to be able to have some private areas. I happen to have a private office and have found that others who are in more open areas tend to use my office or the conference room when they need an escape
You might be surprised to find out that your diet can make you more or less creative. A study from British Psychological Society found a diet higher in fruit and vegetable consumption correlates with a greater sense of curiosity and creativity. On days when they ate more fruits and vegetables, the sample group of 405 young adults reported a greater feeling of creativity compared to when they ate less. The data analysis found no carry-over of consumption to the next day.
If you’re anything like me or the rest of the human race, you have put things off that in theory you would want to do. Yet the time to act is never right now. You haven’t decided when. Even if you did know when, then we have to figure out how. Trying to move an idea from imagination to completion is really tough!
I always tell friends or even strangers that I’m waiting for my roommate, Lamount Montgomery to do all the things. Lamount doesn’t wash dishes, load laundry or vacuum. Laziest roommate ever, I lament. I’m not doing it until he does! Unfortunately for both of us, Lamount is just my Cabbage Patch kid that I’ve had since I was a child.
The story starts in the boom of the 80s. My mom wanted to get the uber popular toy for her three kids. Sold out everywher, she took advantage of a local bank that traded the toys in exchange for opening a bank account for kids. In all these decades since, he doesn’t have much to say for himself. No matter how long I wait, nothing seems to get done. Maybe a few of these tips could help me and Lamount out?
Write it down, don’t memorize
DON’T be too quick to judge your ideas as good, bad or impossible.
DO write thoughts in the most convenient way possible. Tweet this
In one of the most popular productivity books out there – Getting Things Done, David Allen sets forth the basic principle of productivity: Write it down. Rather than stewing in worry, find a place to write all things down. We can make it a habit of writing down a next step rather than worrying. The “next step” is a doable task.
Write your task where ever it makes sense. It might be on your calendar, on your to do list, just in a strip of notes. I keep endless notes in the “cloud” using Google Tasks and an Android app. I save all articles, thoughts, and titles that come to mind. When I sit down to paint or draw, I already have all of my ideas ready for me to act. This isn’t the time when we ask if an idea is important, good, or bad. I keep track of the terrible ideas as much as I do with the good ones. That’s something I can figure out in the next steps.
Lamount doesn’t write things down. I can’t solely blame him when I know he has the memory of a doll. He’ll never be able to get anything done. Your memory is only slightly better than a doll.
“Rename your “To-Do” list to your “Opportunities” list. Each day is a treasure chest filled with limitless opportunities; take joy in checking many off your list.” Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You
Procrastinate, don’t procrastinate
DON’T deny your tendencies to procrastinate.
DO procrastinate on one task by doing another on your list. Tweet this
“If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it,” John Perry wrote in his 1995 online essay Structured Procrastination. “However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.”
I’ve definitely found this to be true. The path of least resistance for washing dishes, cleaning, or vacuuming is when I’m running late to work. I’m most productive at work when I’m trying to leave work and get to the gym. I get the most blogging done when I placed my podcast on the top of my list. We can exploit this idea just by making our top priorities the lesser tasks. If I made vacuuming every morning a priority, my procrastinating brain will tell me to get out of the house that much faster.
Except for time spent on meditation practice, you’re not sitting around doing literally nothing. Place the least important tasks and smallest as the top priority on your to do list. Plan to watch a few YouTube videos. Give yourself time to read on the internet. Which apparently you’ve already found time to do by reading my blog, so thanks for that. Imagine that you’re procrastinating on those tasks too. Either you’ll get a lot of quick dusting done, or you might just finally get to painting your next masterpiece.
While I’m procrastinating on that talk I need to have with Lamount Montgomery about how are rent is due and how he is not contributing, I might as well get some of my artwork done or at least sketch a little.
“Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.” Paul Rudnick
Work together, not alone
DON’T just get help, be a helper yourself.
DO include others in your creative process. Tweet this
This is often a difficult idea for the most creative souls. We get so used to doing tasks on our own. Get support from others in your network. It’s not an all or nothing proposition, sometimes we’ll work alone and other times we collaborate. We don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s often appropriate to seek criticism, ask friends to remind us, or just reach out and talk about our work. The point of productivity is to both keep moving forward and hopefully finish tasks. Build in ways to take care of each other, both give and receive help freely.
As much as I enjoy waiting for Lamount Montgomery’s help with my chores, it often makes a lot more sense to just take care of things myself and relieve my Cabbage Patch roommate of the pressure.
“He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it.” Dante Alighieri
While flying by the seat of our pants is a huge part of the process, giving it some structure actually helps! How do you color outside of the lines without knowing where the lines are? (tweet this) Set deadlines and make outlines. Let’s say I was typing a blog post. Which I am currently doing, coincidentally enough. It helps to brain storm a few short phrases on the main ideas, organize them, and then fill inthe blanks. Sure, when I research, read, and type it often turns out my initially assumptions were wrong. Making mistakes and successfully failing is where true innovation comes from. We can’t solve problems unless we have problems.
It would be naive of me if I decide to wait for whenever Lamount is ready. I know him well enough to trust that he won’t stick to any schedule I set up. Fool me once, Lamount Montgomery. Fool me once. As much as I’d love for the sun to set at midnight and for a doll to do all things for me, it makes more sense to allow for that possibility and plan accordingly.
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
And yeah, I procrastinated on writing a post about productivity and instead just wrote a passive aggressive letter to my roommate. I don’t expect him to ever learn. I can only hope these ideas will help you experiment with how you look at productivity.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
Get It Done Process Poster: Based on the Book Getting Things Done
Capture: Where do you start? Anywhere! Write down anything and everything related your goals. Keep an ongoing list as you live your life. “Do laundry.” “Answer Joan’s email.” “Talk to Tim about the Johnson Report.” There are tons of list apps for any technology platform. Everyone has their favorites. If you’re a paper and pencil kind of person, that’s always an option too. Capture thoughts as you work to keep them out of your mind. If you have a thought on how you get your ideas down, please share in the comments.
Is it actionable? As you decide whether a task is actionable, try to think of the smallest practical task. Think of a task in a way that’s big enough that you’re not wasting time listing the baby steps. And yet not so large as to make the task overwhelming. “Write the Johnson Report” would be a great project, not a task. Smaller tasks make up a project when a goal is too big to be a single task. What’s needed for your report? Who do you need to talk to? Think your goal out as much as you possibly can. For any task that tasks less than two minutes or so, just knock it out and cross the item off your list right way.
Smaller tasks make up a project when a goal is too big to be a single task. What’s needed for your report? Who do you need to talk to? Think your goal out as much as you possibly can. For any task that tasks less than two minutes or so, just knock it out and cross the item off your list right way. If an item is not now actionable, then:
Forget it: If the idea is something that would be nice and at the same time does not need to get done, is it best to forget it completely? Maybe you don’t need to talk to Tim about the report after all. His insights would be nice to have and still are not completely necessary. Drop the idea from your list. You might also change your original task at this point. Perhaps you’ll just email Tim thanking him for offering to talk your idea through. Let him know that due to time constraints you’re going to give it a go and if a stall happens you’ll check in.
You might also change your original task at this point. Perhaps you’ll just email Tim thanking him for offering to talk your idea through. Let him know that due to time constraints you’re going to give it a go and if a stall happens you’ll check in.
Someday/Maybe List: For tasks that are so low priority that you’d like to revisit them later and have no clear or necessary deadline, add them here. Perhaps you’re okay with a messy desk for a while. Someday you’ll organize things and for now, you can live with it.
Reference: Save the thought for reference. Perhaps this bit of information you captured isn’t necessarily something you need to act on. If the idea appears useful for your tasks, save the thought in a place that’ll you’ll be able to find it quickly. Many of my reference ideas end up being useful when I’m writing blog posts and emails
Right away? If the idea is an actionable task, the next question is whether a task must be done by you. If so, if it’s possible and necessary to do right away. This means that it’s a high priority task! Add the task to your “To Do/Action List” as a top priority. If the task is not necessarily a top priority task, consider your options:
Someday/Maybe List: See above. Send the task back up to the maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow list!
Delegate: Is this task better suited for someone else? That coworker who’s playing solitaire might want to feel useful. This also could refer to hiring a temp, freelance, or full-time employee if no one is around. If you can afford a housekeeper, you might delegate some of your cleaning. We live in a service economy, don’t feel as if you must do it all! Schedule a time to follow-up and let those you delegate tasks know that you are available
Schedule It: Add the task to your calendar. Today’s lower priority might be tomorrow’s number one task! This is also great for tasks that are better suited for certain days. Save that discussion for your weekly team meeting or quarterly review if it makes more sense. Call back your mom when you’re having a less busy day or during lunch.
Scheduling is a very powerful tool! I always schedule haircuts, dentist appointments, get-togethers with friends, and anything else I can! Also schedule reminders and conversations. I like to check in at some point before meetings to make sure that it’s still a good date. Also, schedule a time to check your tasks. At work, I like to do a quick check in the morning and after lunch.
Waiting List: If you’re waiting for a response, for files, or any other information then the Waiting List is where you’ll want to keep such tasks. If there’s a certain point where a Waiting List item becomes more critical, add it to your schedule. Wait and if you don’t hear back from Cindy in a week, you can schedule a follow up email. This is a powerful place to keep items that need some attention eventually, and that you can forget about for now.
Organize: There are many ways to organize all of your information. Calendars, lists, and apps are all popular goal trackers. Decide on rules keep these categories separate. You’ll be able to find clear answers as you work and keep moving. Always know what your highest priority task is! If you don’t, go back through the above steps.
Get it done! Work through your tasks in order of priority, one tiny step at a time. If thoughts pop into your head, capture them. Feel free to get back to that idea later unless you’re sure the thought is more important than what you’re doing. What steps add to your creative process? Let’s talk about your goals in the comments!
I respond by explaining in detail how I design. I drew for years as a child. Educate others kindly that creating is truly difficult work. I’ve worked as a designer the moment I turned 18, while also studying Fine Art (and classical piano). I learned to love studying computer programs and reading books on design and productivity. Slowly putting that knowledge to use every day. Spent the last 17 years learning techniques from many amazing colleagues. That said when others (even clients) are excited to tackle a design project I encourage them to do so. If they can stick with it and do it themselves, good for them!
Facebook isn’t email
Most people don’t even see your posts. The FB algorithm shows only what they think will keep you on FB. All of your friends are hidden.
“I learned a real profound lesson with the Inside news app. You can get 500,000 people to download an app, but only 1 percent or less will use it a day. And then I realized, I took the same information that was in the app, I emailed it to the same audience and 40, 50, 60 percent opened it every day.” Jason Calacanis on Recode Media Podcast
On the user end, email is super easy to control. You own it. Most email programs make it easy for users to sort email automatically, search, and surface content when you want it.
Hit Makers make content popular, not viral sharing
Viral sharing is over rated. Tracking memes and “viral content”, analytics discussed in the new book Hit Makers show that they stay within small circles until famous hit makers and influences get involved. Distribution is more similar to traditional broadcast media than you think. And most people find out about content through the big broadcasters promoting.
“Facebook initially went ‘viral,’ not by building a product that every person might share with five other people, like a disease, but by using networks that existed. They digitized the Harvard network that existed, and the Ivy League networks that already existed.” Derek Thompson, Atlantic Senior Editor
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
In today’s Q&A Monday, methods for organizing your ideas that make it so much more convenient to act:
How do you store your ideas to be organised and easily accessible to use as raw material in different projects? Anonymous (via Quora)
I find ways to make storing ideas fun and rewarding. I have little “rules” that help it feel like a game. The basic outline of my system includes sketching, lists and a calendar. I keep as little in my brain as possible. Delegate remembering any thoughts and ideas to the system.
Getting Things Done
I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done by David Allen and base some organization ideas on that. One of the main ideas of Getting Things Done is to write down anything you think of. Then put it in a place where you can remember it. The other principal is separating an actionable task from reference material. Actionable items are broken down into small tasks and included on project task lists.
I keep a Google Tasks app on my phone to keep lists of various thoughts, quotes, links to articles I’ve found. It’s a pretty simple system with some basic categories like painting ideas and quotes. Within each category, a lot of what is captured is in random order.
Step 1: Brainstorm using a trigger list
A trigger list is a short list of keywords that helps with brainstorming even more thoughts. It reminds me to write down ideas I may not have written yet: Boss, Painting, Bills, Important Dates, Weekly Events, Projects, Unfinished tasks. The words themselves jog memories. I jot down any and all thoughts that come to mind when reading my list. Then organize them into the above systems
Sketch when you can
Sketching and doodling is one fun way I really get ideas to paper. I scribble sketches. I really like cheap spiral notebooks. I have sketchbooks where I move up to a different level of finished artwork and design. The cheapness of the notebooks helps me feel less precious and anxious about whatever I’m putting down.
A study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that doodlers remember more than nondoodlers when told to tediously delivered information (via Time.com). Participants had to listen to a fake voicemail filled with rambling information. We’ve all had to do this at some point. Even after they were removed from their papers, doodlers were able to retain more details. The researchers conclude that doodling helps focus and prevents daydreaming.
Step 2: Sort Reference Material and Inspiration
For any thought or idea that isn’t related directly to an action, task, or project I keep on lists by various category. Joan Rivers was known to use index cards to store every joke, as she explained in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”. She would type each on index cards and file them by the subject of the joke. If it’s an idea related to landscape paintings, I have a list for that. I keep lists of quotes, articles, and all kinds of thoughts.
As Austin Kleon wrote in his book Steal Like An Artist, “Do good work and put it where people can see it”. I’ll often write a short blog post combining ideas from various articles, studies, and inspiration. That way they’re available for me when I need it. Often times others will have new points which help with my creative process.
Pinterest is a nice tool for storing inspiration. Anything inspirinh me on the web gets pinned. I also use it to search for visuals. For anything that has an image associated with it gets pinned.
Step 3: Keeping lists of actions
When I have decided on a project, I sift through the lists and put the items in an priority order. For example, if I’ve decided to paint any tasks involved in making the painting onto my task list. You’d be surprised how much putting things in a single place can create inspiration and motivation. It really makes difficult and complex tasks suddenly feel easy
Actions include sketching out thumbnails, working out any drawings, and finally any ideas that might work through the painting. It’s almost magical how separating references from actual tasks helps me to focus. Suddenly it becomes convenient and easy since I have a clear next step to take.
It’s also worth while to set aside ideas that aren’t happening any time soon. It’s a relief to let them go here. When you have free time, having a bunch of ideas that might suddenly become possible or appealing is also a life saver.
Another type of organizational tool I use is having lists based on location or context. This could be “When I’m on my computer”, which I’ll abbreviate @computer. This would have lists reminding me to read a website, pay a bill, or order art supplies from Amazon. Other examples of contexts: Home, Car, Work, Bathroom, TV, Microsoft Word, During Monday’s Meeting.
Step 4: Schedule what you can on your calendars
Some ideas belong in the realm of scheduling. If you can schedule it, then schedule it. Setting simple reminders of days that would be great to sketch help me get on track. Google Calendar let’s me set phone notifications, so I don’t even need to actively check for most things
Perhaps I have an idea to do plein aire painting. Not very useful in the winter. I could leave a note on my calendar reminding myself not to waste the summer and look back into this. Having a loose plan of your day, week, or year is a really amazing way to spark creativity
Step 5: Forget the rest
In a recent episode of her podcast Happier, habits researcher Gretchen Rubin suggests to instead not organize and get rid of clutter. Some ideas may never happen or won’t be useful. Learn when to let them go as your going through this whole process. If any ideas are timely or have a shelf life, make that clear in your system.
Readers, how do you organize your thoughts and ideas?
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
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