Rarely do we get the chance to create something over the arc of life itself, without a deadline looming. Often, it’s only our personal projects that enjoy the benefits of slow cooking, usually by necessity not choice. While these projects tend to be neglected, when (and if) they actually do come to fruition they are extraordinary.
For me, writing has always been the one thing that I cook slowly. While building Behance, everything was a race. Sure, we iterated product carefully and paced the critical decisions, but always with an eye on the clock, a community of impatient customers, and a declining balance of funds to build the business. Our 99U conferences, like all events, always had a deadline that forced quick decisions.
The only thing I could —and continue to —work on slowly is my own writing. Article ideas, observations from other entrepreneurs, insights for starting and leading a business; I write down these thoughts and then I come back to them again and again without a deadline in mind. Sometimes I’ll write down a question or an inkling and then, two years later, I’ll come back to it and add more or finish a sentence. Over the years, I’ll refine these little musings, delete pieces, add layers, and just let them evolve naturally.
In 2010, after seven or so years of doing this, I took some time to harvest part of the crop for my book Making Ideas Happen. And, when nudged by Jocelyn (99U Editor-in-Chief) or Sean (99U Managing Editor), or my friends at OPEN Forum or LinkedIn, I’m reminded to take a scan of what’s cooking and look at my notes with a fresh perspective.
Few of us, except for the most legendary painters and novelists, can “slow cook” for a living. Amidst everyday demands, we are line cooks obsessed with turning out results, and quickly. And this is a good thing—it’s how we keep up with demand and how we keep the lights on.
But we can round out our work by keeping a few slow-cooked projects going in the background of our frenetic day-to-day lives. The secret of slow cooking is to not to forget what you’ve got on the stove, and keep coming back to it. See if you can give these “slow projects” five percent of your time as part of your routine.
The insight here is to know the difference between the work that requires pressure and deadlines, and the few things in life that should be slow-cooked. Your living is likely the result of the former, your masterpieces the latter.