Are doodle makers bad at focusing?

“I have noticed, that some people start drawing things in a small notebook, every time they get even a few minutes. Why do they do this? Is it some technique to keep your mind from distractions, and always occupied?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

The research shows that yes, doodling does help keep your mind away from distractions:

UC-Blog-Square-Doodle

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Should creatives specialize or generalize? Yes

“Is it really good to be Generalist? Will it pay-off someday as it does for Specialists?

Recently came across this interesting article on Harvard Business Review: All Hail the Generalist. And was wondering what is the general verdict on this topic.”
Anonymous (via Quora)

I majored in fine art with concentrations in both fine art and piano. I remember my advisor and a trusted artist professor told me that I needed to pick a single route and focus. At this point I had really decided art was my route. Piano performance was too risky if I tied it to my financial future. I’d worry about hitting all of the right notes, both figuratively and literally. As a hobby it’s a huge stress reliever to just zone out creating music.

As my degree progressed I gravitated toward painting while working as a designer. I started both college and my job at the same time in the fall of the year 2000. My sister worked at this company in customer relations and she connected me with the position. I really enjoyed the job right away. Since I was a kid, I loved computers and technical detail. This career path merged art and computers, I’ve stuck with the career path ever since.

Engaging with your areas of interest

 “Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.”
Marie Forleo

How do we know when to specialize and when to generalize? Involve exploration as part of your decision-making process by taking small steps. Because of confirmation bias, we’ll tend to try to prove our own assumptions. If we believe generalization is best, we’ll tend to look evidence for generalization. The reverse is true for believers in specialization.

Many college students pursue their degrees and careers without engaging with their careers. In my personal anecdote, I worked as a graphic designer and performed as a pianist as I pursued my degree. Having a more realistic expectation for the lower salary of creative careers prepared me.

I know I’d have to take more small risks during my career and be more conscious of my spending and saving rates to finance this. To this day, I frequently test making bold designs and float my ideas that push past the limits of projects. The feedback from these smaller actions is invaluable in quickly discovering what ideas my clients are open to. In practice, I’m taking a risk by specializing in certain types of design that interest me most. At the same time, I am prepared to shift gears to more general and approachable visuals with mass appeal.

Taking small steps of engagement allows for specialists to generalize and vice versa.
“If your target audience isn't listening, it's not their fault, it's yours.” Seth Godin

Compartmentalize your skill-set to target your audience

Many apparent specialists are generalists who are skilled at compartmentalizing. Target your audience. At work as a design, very rarely does anyone need to know that I’m a skilled piano player who regularly memorizes sheet music. If coworkers ask about my above average memory, I’ll share that this is skill that has come with practice.

“If your target audience isn’t listening, it’s not their fault, it’s yours.”
Seth Godin

Often different descriptions of the same circumstance arises in different conclusions. This is a type of cognitive bias called the framing effect by psychologist. Without this bias, different descriptions wouldn’t affect the outcome.

The ideas presented differently should still equal. In technical logic speak, we might call the framing bias a “violation of extensionality”. After all, don’t “1+1” or “2” or “105-103” mean the exact same thing? I’m a designer, however, so I will believe presentation matters.

What if we had to choose between two candidates with an equal list of skills? It’s natural that a hiring manager will prefer the candidate who is able to focus and prioritize the most relevant skills. That candidate appears to be more of a specialist.

An experiment published in Psychological Science demonstrates targeting specific personality traits. The ads were deemed more effective if they understood an individuals needs. Some value openness of experience, so the ads emphasizing that strength had a bigger impact on those individuals. Extraverts were most appealed to with ads demonstrating social benefits. Understanding the benefits to the most likely listeners will make them more open to the skill set you have.

Transferable skills complicate the answer

My habit of diligent practice comes from being a classical pianist. In many contexts, sharing that unimportant background information that would cloud my message. The important part is that I’m able to transfer the skill of quickly learning and memorizing music to learning the ins and outs of Adobe Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

“Design is one of the few disciplines that is a science as well as an art. Effective, meaningful design requires intellectual, rational rigor along with the ability to elicit emotions and beliefs. Thus, designers must balance both the logic and lyricism of humanity every time they design something, a task that requires a singularly mysterious skill.”
Debbie Millman, How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

A common complaint in my field is that graphic design job listings often ask for generalists. The most successful candidates realize that the hiring managers treat job posts as a wish list. For many years, I specialized working in the print and magazine industry. While working as a magazine designer, presenting myself as a print designer specializing in programming and technology expertise.

As the demand for publication design specialists changes, the ability to work on a variety of projects is a huge advantage. A generalist will be more adaptable when markets change.

Advantages of diversity

Changing market conditions change the demand for specialists during generalists. In a case study, the University of Richmond examined 134 counties and cities in Virginia looking at the impact specialization and diversity. They found that faster growth of any one industry hampers regional growth across all industries examined.

As an aside, a study by MIT economists found that more gender diverse workplaces performed better by having a greater number of skills involved.

From a market standpoint, having a balance between specialists and generalists may be the best move. On the individual level, adaptability for a variety of circumstances is possible and ideal for most people.

Readers, do you prefer to specialize or generalize?

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How does hardship impact your creativity?

Today’s Q&A Monday question asks about the link between hardship and creativity:

What is the quality of the science behind the idea that “hardship increases creativity”?

While artists and engineers can both grow by playing intellectual games with artificial constraints, is real hardship actually correlated with increased creativity and productive output?

Context: All those office perks? They’re ruining creativity.
Anonymous (via Quora)

The linked piece by Eric Weiner for The LA Times is written as an opinion piece. It’s written in that context. That said, some people who experience hardship are certainly able to channel that creatively:

However, these experiments show that creativity can be boosted by hardship. They did not find hardship necessary for creativity. Workplaces also have other factors that pure creativity: happiness, retention, and profit. Many creative workers who are simply don’t want hardship. They won’t tolerate it. The economics of business development are more complicated than simple creativity.

Many “fun” perks are popular in industries where employees have many job options. They’re also often designed to keep employees within the office longer. Even if  these employees are not purely working at all times. Making longer office hours more acceptable may generate increased overall productivity.

Amenities may be a consolation prize for the other hardships involved in very difficult work.

Readers, have you had a difficult experiences that helped with your creative projects?

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Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps

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.

Then the only habit I have to really have is to check the lists or calendar. It’s a lot more freeform then it may sound, basically just write things down. I have designed this “Choose Your Own Adventure” style Getting Things Done cheat sheet that I’ve hung up at my desk at work:

Getting Things Done Process Poster
Getting Things Done Process Poster. Downloadable as a pdf.

The system shown here helps with my graphic design work as I decide how to accomplish all of my daily priorities. At the same time, when thoughts drift to personal tasks and ideas that could be distracting I can quickly make a note on my shopping list.

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

How do you organize your ideas? 5 StepsSketching 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.

Blogging and social media can help!

Steal-Like-An-Artist-Cover
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

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

Project Lists

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.

A lot of procrastination happens when I don’t have a clear direction. I dread having to think through a project after each step. Figuring out the whole scope within 15 seconds of typing makes it all go by really quickly

Someday Maybe Lists

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.

Context lists

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?

How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps

 

 

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What habits help you be creative? 3 Strategies

Today’s Q&A Monday explores creative habits:

“What habits help you be more creative?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, a book on habit change
Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

To focus on creativity I have several habit strategies including:

  1. Act creatively now or as soon as possible
  2. Make habits convenient helps
  3. Change the external circumstances.

I find audiobooks and podcasts to be an incredibly inspiring habit. Listening to other creatives and being exposed to their work. That helps me want to create work of my own. Many audiobooks are free online via my local library. If your library offers this, I can’t recommend it enough.

I recently listened to the “Happier at Home” by researcher Gretchen Rubin in which she focuses on changing her habits one step at a time. She makes her decisions based on her research into the science of human behavior.

1. Act creatively now

Don’t let life get in the way or life will always be in the way. Learn to face the fears that keep you from acting. In  Happier at Home, Rubin discusses how easy it is to plan and difficult it can be to act. If we let it be difficult. “It’s so easy to wish that we’d made an effort in the past, so that we’d happily be enjoying the benefit now, but when now is the time when that effort must be made, as it always is, that prospect is much less inviting.”

“The future depends on what you do today.”
Mahatma Gandhi

So having a habit of focus on how can I be my most creative self right now in this moment. We’ll imagine that after if we clean our house, do our errands, and plan our project that at that point we’ll finally have energy. Of course, after that’s all done we just want to rest. New errands will prop up and we’ll be on a never-ending cycle.

“You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”
C.G. Jung

One procrastination study found that people creating retirement plans in terms of DAYS plan to start saving 4 times sooner compared to when thinking in months or years.We tend to attend to our present. We trust that we will handle needs in the future. This is demonstrated by a procrastination study published in Psychological Science. By framing future events as days instead of months or years, they helped participants perceive future events as more imminent. Those studied who were presented retirement in terms of days would estimate planning 4 times sooner.

2. Make your habits convenient

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, has a solution. Make creativity a priority for right now by setting smaller activities and sticking to them. Rather than “cleaning” and “drawing”, decide that you’ll do a specific small tasks:

  • “I’ll fill a piece of paper thumbnails in 30 minutes.”
  • “I’ll load the dishwasher.”
  • “Pick a thumbnail to draw a more detailed piece.”
  • “I’ll run to the store and pick up a specific list of items.”

Note how each task is as specific and least sprawling as possible. I’ve found this method useful and less stressful for many situations. Small tasks are less overwhelming and more convenient. Gretchen Rubin refers to this as the “Strategy of Convenience”: “70 percent of long-term gym memberships are mostly unused, but a dog needs walking every day.”

Setting priorities is key here for me. It is important that I get that dishwasher loaded. It’s very important that I make it to the store. It’s also important that I find ways to be creative as often as possible. Breaking life into small and manageable tasks makes finding balance that much easier.

“I firmly believe that everyone deserves to live within walking distance of either beauty or convenience, if not both.” Victoria Moran

Living within Baltimore City makes many errands and event very convenient. My gym is even close by and I stick with the group classes because that let’s them determine the schedule. Letting go and allowing external forces to control certain aspects of my life is just embracing the inevitable. I can’t control many or most things, so I might as well make a conscious choice to focus on what to let go of.

I have a Choose Your Own Adventure-style free downloadable flowchart based on the Getting Things Done principles. With a little preparation, you can set yourself up for conveniece

3. Change the external circumstances

Most of our current behaviors are incredibly well-practiced and fairly automatic, according to a study on intentions published in Psychological Bulletin. Students were most likely to change their daily habits by transferring to a different university compared to a control group.

“There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.” Dr. B.J. Fogg, Director of Stanford Persuasive Lab

If you’re the kind of person who is motivated by external goals, then find ways to set them. Explore and test ways to collaborate, interact, and include others. Create your best work and share what you create. You might figure out all of your friends birthdays and plan make birthday cards.

If you need something more concrete, take a class. Craigslist is useful for finding art shows, classes and related events. I’ve found many free events related to art and culture on in the events sections of Yelp and Facebook.

Make a habit of volunteering

Volunteering also presents excellent opportunities to both be creative and to be inspired. You’ll meet other artists and creatives, see their work and hopefully do something good for your community.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” Barack Obama

Putting yourself in the position to really have to tackle your goals. Volunteering whether directly related to my work also helps me structure my time and creates a feeling of overall well being, which is always a good thing!

Sites like volunteermatch.org will help you get involved in local arts programs. Research by the University of Exeter Medical School reported on WebMD used data from over 40 published papers related to volunteering and happiness. They found that volunteers were less susceptible to depression and more satisfied with their lives. Volunteers were also at a 20% less risk of death than non-volunteers.

Readers, what habits help you be more creative? Add your answer in the comments.

What habits help you be creative? 3 Strategies

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.