#labrat: Are Daily Logbooks Worth the Work?

We have a whole new #labrat experiment to try, and we need your help!

There’s been a lot of buzz this year about a new productivity tactic, one that helps you recognize and fix bad habits, avoid burnout, be happier at work, and have real, tangible progress to keep you moving towards your goals. It’s called journaling, also known as keeping a diary or, our personal favorite, a “logbook.” As Austin Kleon, whose daily logbook inspired us, explains:

From the Wikipedia entry for “logbook”: A logbook was originally a book for recording readings from the log, and is used to determine the distance a ship traveled within a certain amount of time. The readings of the log have been recorded in equal times to give the distance traveled with respect to a given start position…. The distance the ship traveled. I like that.

At the end of every work day, take five minutes to jot down the main events of each day. It can be a bulleted list, have doodles, or not. But getting at least five facts of the day down is the only goal. 

The idea of having a tangible “I was here, I conquered” list sounds wonderful and all, but at the end of my work day, usually the last thing I want to do is spend even five more minutes in the office, much less trying to pull up the mental energy for reflection then. But it’s hard to ignore all of the smart people who have shown it to be a good idea.

So for the next week, Monday, April 7th through Friday, April 11th, I’ll be keeping and sharing my own logbook with you. By the end, I hope to find out if keeping one is actually feasible, and if looking back on that data is actually beneficial as well.

Monday:

Starting was a little uncomfortable. How much do I share? It was hard to decide what was a noteworthy event of the day and what was just noise. Kleon, one of my main, earlier mentioned inspirations, doesn’t include emotions in his — just events. I’d like to use my data to fix issues of stress/bad repeating patterns though, so the clear-cut emotions (this went badly, this was good, etc.) seem important to me.

Side note: feel free to keep your logbook online, on your phone, or whatever kind of medium you prefer. There’s a lot of good suggestions in the comments, and writing it out by hand is just how I remember things best.

Tuesday:

Today I updated my logbook in the little spare chunks of time that presented themselves, instead of the end of the day. This made for an end-of-day wrap up that was much more reflective and less of a scramble to get it done so I could finally leave work. Plus, it meant I added things as I finished them, which also helped to decide what was worth recording.

Wednesday:

Definitely into updating throughout the day; it gives such a sense of validation, even if the entire project itself isn’t complete yet. Also, it’s only been three days, and already it’s becoming clear that mornings are not my thing. For any #labrats who have followed along before, this shouldn’t come as a total surprise though. Have you started to notice any trends you weren’t entirely aware of yet?

Thursday:

I had a lot of juggling to do today, more reactive work, which made filling this out a lot harder. I didn’t really find time to do it until 6 p.m., which at 7:30 p.m. now, was basically the end of my day. I have the itching suspicion that I forgot a lot of smaller tasks or busy work — how many times can you really write “email” though? However, I also know that keeping a more detailed log than this would immediately make me drop it entirely. How specific or exact do you try to be?

Friday:

Last day! I was able to take some data from the other days (like how, by 6 p.m., I’m too burnt out for creative work) and restructured my day today to do all of my creative-producing work in the a.m., with the more mindless, reactive tasks later in the day. Made Friday much more enjoyable, and my work flow totally manageable! I’m thinking now of continuing on on my own, and checking back in a month to see if I can crunch some real big data to then share with everyone the next step of getting the helpful info out of this whole practice.

How did your day go? Keep your own daily logbook and share your progress + photos in the comments, on Twitter, and Instagram with #labrat. Every day I’ll pick my favorites and share it with your fellow labrats.

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  • xaigo

    I’ve been keeping a logbook for the last 2 years steadily. My format is: 3-5 events of the day (only main facts and achievements “been there, done that, took me x hrs y mins” without emotions or reflections (tried to capture them at first too, but found it useless and timeconsuming after a while)), then a weekly summary, then monthly results based on the main weekly achievements. Then one every 3 and 6 months and then the results of the year.
    Sounds tedious, but it’s actually very easy to keep the records once you’ve established the habit.:) The results are that soon you start to feel amazing clarity about your life and can always tell your main achievements, priorities and goals of your last week/month/year and track the progress you’ve made. It gives a very clear perspective on future plans and kills most of the doubt and anxiety that usually accompany them. So for me it’s definitely worth the work.:)

  • Tara

    I’ve been spending the past year studying abroad and that prompted me to keep a daily logbook. Because I jot down the main things I do every day, I feel productive and have tangible records of what I’ve done, even on days where otherwise I might be lamenting the feeling that I didn’t get much done.

  • http://www.wabisabiwife.com saraspunza

    This is a fantastic idea. Now if I could just doodle like the example above I would be all in!

    • Sasha

      No doodling is required! It’s whatever helps you remember/reflect best :)

  • EncoreVoyage

    Hi! I have been keeping a journal/logbook for the past year and four months. It started with the purchase of a beautiful leather bound blank book. On each page, I wrote the day’s date at the top, one page per day. Then daily, I write a short log which contains two things. 1) a brief account of the happenings of the day, and 2) something I’m grateful for on that day. The entry takes only a few minutes and is less than a third page long. On January first, I started through the book again, recording this year’s events directly under last years. Seems to be a nice way to tell how far you’ve come. It remains to be seen whether I’ll continue this on our journey!

    • Sasha

      That’s lovely! Personally any nice, beautiful looking books make me feel pressured to only put very well-written, nice things in them, even if it’s only for a daily log. Oof!

      • EncoreVoyage

        Sasha, you’re probably right! Now that I think about it, I’m not really fond of making mistakes in my journal. On the other hand, it causes me to be more reflective before I write, and the beautiful feel of the leather makes me want to continue!

  • http://manicanaday.wordpress.com Mani

    I’m in! What a great experiment. I used to be an avid journal-keeper, but I’ve fallen off the wagon. I’m excited to switch it up and try keep one logbook style, rather than my usual lengthy narratives.

    • Sasha

      I’m the same way Mani, if you give me an inch, I will take a mile and go all the way — and then quickly get tired of all the effort my rambling takes.

  • http://www.peterbella.com Pete Bella

    I don’t journal or keep a log book, but I’ve been considering it for some time. I think a week is a good test but I’ve also heard that it takes more like 30 days to get a complete reflection. What do you think? Is a week enough time to make a justified reflection?

    • Sasha

      I try to focus on #labrats that people can give a try without seriously committing, but I am contemplating continuing on for a whole month after it ends on Friday and seeing if there’s any new/further interesting info that can be gleamed from it!

  • http://www.standingoutinaseaofsameness.com/ Dave Rothacker

    Yes Sasha! I’ve been doing it for 14 years. (most days but not everyday). I really wish I had started earlier.

    I cannot say it’s wonderful, glorious and the next best thing to whatever. But like the Snicker’s commercial, I’m not me unless I am doing it. It just plain feels good. I’m pretty sure my benefits cannot be qualified with data. For me, journaling adds to the Stew of Dave. Things happen at the unconscious level for me. Stuff brews and then it comes out in my writing.

    I think no matter what you do (school, work, play), journaling will help you at this level. Of course you can employ your left brain, collect data, analyze and learn too!

    Two suggestions. Read How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci. It’s not specifically on jounaling, but it’s pretty darn good. By the way, DaVInci was a prolific notebooker too. And then do Morning Pages (especially if you’re trying to decide whether or not to journal in the first place!!!). Google: Morning Pages Julia Cameron.

    • Sasha

      Thanks for the suggestions! Will definitely give those a read this week. :)

  • http://aquaholical.tumblr.com Alison

    I use 750words.com to journal every day. That site has saved my sanity. There really aren’t enough words to express how helpful it’s been to write daily; As a commenter below pointed out, daily writing brings amazing clarity to your life. It’s amazing what we can keep bottled up from ourselves and having a daily minimal limit of 750 words gets it all out without taking too much time (I generally take about 30 minutes to write mine each day). When I tried it on my own with no word limit I would just write a sentence or two some days and it did not give me the same results. Something about that 750 word count is magical; forces elaboration therefore more feelings to come out.

    • xaigo

      Wow, thank you very much for the link!:) I always wanted to properly try the 3 pages thing, but it never worked for me without the word limit either. I’m totally giving it another try now.:)

      • http://aquaholical.tumblr.com Alison

        No problem! :)

    • Sasha

      Thanks for the suggestion Alison! My problem is with keeping diaries/journals is that with no word limit, I’ll feel like I have to fill pages, spend too much time/effort writing a ton… and get burnt out and not keep up, bc I’ll always feel like it will take a lot of time to sit down and do it. I’m hoping that keeping it short will be just as motivating for me!

    • fmd123

      I love 750words too!

  • Vicki Brown

    A daily log is definitely worthwhile (in my opinion), especially for Work. When your next annual review comes around and you ask yourself “What did I do over the last year?”, you’ll realize that those few minutes of jotting down notes were not something you were “too busy to do”. They were critical.

    If you can’t save time at the end of the day, log your notes in chunks. Make a note before you start. Make some notes when you do something important. When you get back from a meeting, make some notes. Make notes before lunch. Make notes at your afternoon break.

    When I started logging work, I began with a simple paper desk calendar, adding some notes to each day. Then I bought a “weekly journal” book with one dated page per week. After that, I moved to a blank book so that I wasn’t confined by the pre-defined space for a given day.

    These days, my journal is in software. The medium doesn’t matter. What matters is to do it. Do it for a while until it becomes habit.

    Mac users may want to try “DayOne” – a handy app that can be set to remind you to write something.

    • Sasha

      I like the idea of logging notes in chunks! Might try that tomorrow..

  • Janusch22

    Great to see myself featured here! I did a lot better today than yesterday, which is motivating in itself, but seeing my log here is definitely an added push in the right direction ;) Thanks!

  • Jaime

    Downers: It doesn’t take 5 minutes, Organization and retrieval efficiency are not trivial matters, best done ‘in the moment’ or just after a positive or negative work experience–at end of day the energy to re-remember and accuracy degradation in doing so weigh on benefit.

  • http://www.innervy.com Innervy

    Hi there everyone – I have been on this ages and I found it difficult to keep work log for more than 2 weeks, I am usually too busy or too tired to actually sit after all day haunting my dream and write the progress down and it doesn’t take a 5 min at all,,,

    What works for me is “5 year journal” – I like to see how I progressed during the years in business which I run. What is good on this diary: you have only 5 lines for each year, so this takes 5 min to write down the most important stuff happened during the day. Here you can write the number of followers or sales of your on-line shop etc.

    But I discover TalenCove app – that is absolutely the best, very simple and therefor fastest way how to track the progress during the day. It allows you to track your “small wins” during the day, anytime you like, I found it very easy to use and it works, you feel much better if you see the number of your small wins each day and it grows and grows… Each month I download full report as pdf and I see all my small wins, you can even share this between your team members and ask for feedback. I love this app. I started using it in March and as you can see I have 49 small wins in March and I have been using TalentCove like no other work log tool I ever tried. Believe me you will sleep better to seeing the number of your small wins each day growing :)

    Give it a try, it is free.

    I hope this will help you bit guys, cause it is effective and takes a minimum time!

    be good all of ya and happy tracking

    Hana – Innervy.com

  • Rob

    Hmm, I don’t see much actual “work” bing documented…and lots of effort making the notes look pretty.

  • http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jmcaddell/lets-publish-the-mistake-bank-book?ref=home_location jmcaddell

    Sasha, thanks for doing this great exercise! In my experience (disclosure, I work with an app called 3-Minute Journal), one week is not enough time to either see the benefits of logging or certainly to build a lifelong habit. A month is minimum, and the real benefit comes if you can keep it going for a quarter year. The quarterly reflection is where you can see real patterns – understand what you like/don’t like about your work, how much progress you’ve made, typical mistakes. If you can do it for 90 days, you’ll have enough material to motivate you to keep it up forever.

    I’d also recommend you keep metadata (things you can count) in addition to textual and graphic content. That can add to your reflection. Things you can count include accomplishments, days of gratitude, different moods, etc.

    One thing i’ve learned from your project – there certainly a lot of ways to do this, and they’re all good!

    regards, John

    • Sasha

      Thanks, John!

  • http://manicanaday.wordpress.com Mani

    Hey Sasha,

    Thanks for launching this experiment, and thank you for including my journal entry! It was interesting to discover that even in just five days, I could see some clear patterns around when I am the most efficient and when I’m apt to screw around.

    And also, just because I’m anal, I’d like to point out that my log page is actually a partial page, because the whole thing won’t fit on Instagram’s cropping tool. I’m self-employed, and typically start my work day at 4:30 a.m. Also, when I write, “Taking a walk and answering texts,” or “Effusive thank you to guest blogger,” or “Wrote blog post,” that’s actually all work stuff. I’m very lucky to have a job that looks like play on paper!

    • Sasha

      Thanks for participating, Mani! It was wonderful to see how differently people logged out their days. Don’t ever feel like you have to defend your tasks though — even the moments that might not look like “work” to you might end up adding to the bigger picture. For example, taking a walk or even just a break every morning might prove to be a better creativity-energizer for later than just “work stuff.” :)

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Information Overload? Embrace “Intentional Ignorance”

Close-Minded by Luis Prado from the Noun Project

Close-Minded by Luis Prado from the Noun Project

The availability of information in the digital age is overwhelming. For every mesmerizing Instagram profile you browse, there are hundreds of millions more. For every page of search results you scroll down, there are thousands upon thousands beyond that one. For every article you read or RSS feed you subscribe to on a research topic, you could spend the rest of your career consuming more where those came from, and never reach the end.

Writer Sarah Von Bargen discovered the magic of “intentional ignorance” when she clicked “mark all as read” in her RSS reader:

[T]his temporary ‘opting out’ has increased my productivity and cleared my mind like nothing else.

You see, I’m deep in ‘creation mode’ at the moment… And all those great articles and clever blog posts and super helpful tutorials that I usually read aren’t helping me get any closer my goals. In fact, they’re distracting and misdirecting me. …

So I’m making the decision to safeguard my focus and productivity. I’m putting the proverbial blinders on and keeping my eyes on my own paper. …

Intentional Ignorance gives you space to do your best work. It frees up mental energy for big, exciting projects. It allows you to focus – with laser-like intensity – on one or two things. …

We all cycle through seasons in our lives and businesses – times when we’re seeking inspiration and insight and times when we need quiet single-mindedness and uninterrupted time. Take a look at where you are and what you’re doing and if you need to turn down the noise, go ahead and click ‘unfollow’ or ‘unsubscribe’ or even just ‘mark all as read.’

The internet will still be here when you get back.

Taking an information sabbatical is like giving yourself the gift of ignorance-as-bliss. What you don’t know that you don’t know can’t hurt you. You can adopt the principle of intentional ignorance even when you’re not in need of hyperfocus on a certain project. Set a monthly calendar reminder to scroll through all the content you’ve saved using your tool of choice—Pocket, Evernote, Pinterest, Google Docs—and delete anything that you’re not going to read right this second. Think you’ll get to those articles or videos at some point? As von Bargen points out,

I’m here to tell you that a) that won’t happen b) all those unread newsletters carry an immeasurable psychic weight. They make you feel bad just sitting there, all unread! Dude, delete them. That’s what Google is for.

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Stop Ending Your Client Emails With This Phrase

Remove email icon by Lloyd Humphreys from the Noun Project

Remove email icon by Lloyd Humphreys from the Noun Project

Over on the InVision blog, freelancer Robert Williams shares some valuable intel on how you can strengthen your client emails. He gleaned serious insights when he found client after client backing out or not replying to his messages, leaving him without work and increasingly stressed:

[T]here’s one huge problem that almost every freelancer I’ve met suffers from: they use a phrase that hurts their credibility and repels clients.

“Let me know how I can help.”

When I said this I honestly thought I was being helpful. I’d close almost every email with some variation of “Just let me know…” It felt like the right way to end an email. …

By ending my emails like this, I was dropping a wheelbarrow full of work on my client’s desk and saying “Here. You deal with it.” It reeked of incompetence. …

So I began to do the complete opposite and prescribe solutions at the end of every email. … Just by suggesting a next step at the end of my email, I was able to double the amount of people who responded to me.

This next step was different for every email, but it always followed the same 2-step structure. I would include:

– My suggested next step
– What we could do in the event they don’t want to do that

… If someone wanted a meeting, I’d suggest a time and instead of saying, “Let me know if this works for you.” I’d switch that out for, “If not, then X time/day also works or I’m free at X time/day.” …

You’re not just saving yourself the extra time of writing 2 separate emails, you’re saving you (and your client) the time in between these emails.

Williams suggests writing every single client email with whatever your next step is going to be in mind. Make every sentence reinforce that next step, whether it’s a confirmation of the deliverable you’ll be sending on a specific date, a request for feedback that you need by the next week, or an agenda for your upcoming call.

As Elizabeth Grace Saunders pointed out in a past 99U piece, effective people “always add value” with their email. She suggests that replying just for the sake of replying is a waste of time. Per both Williams’s and Saunders’s guidance, aim to always add something of communicative value to your email correspondence with clients. If you don’t, you’re making yourself more of a burden than a help.

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How to Be as Productive as Your High School Self

You in high school: a dramatization.

You in high school: a dramatization.

Impossible Ventures founder Joel Runyon was one of those high school overachievers who balances sports, extracurriculars, a social life, and an advanced course load all while making great grades and still having free time to, as he says, “jack around.”

Since you read 99U, you probably have at least a little of the high school overachiever in you, too. The challenge is tapping into that high-gear productivity DNA as an adult in the working world. It was so much easier to have it all back in high school. The barometer of success was much more clear-cut, and there was a substantial safety net just one stumble away. There were letter grades to measure your performance, and standardized tests to evaluate how capable you were compared to your peers. You had a much stricter schedule with less control over your daily routine, which established boundaries and limits that fed productivity.

With all that in mind, Runyon took a critical retrospective eye to his habits as a 16-year-old powerhouse, and came up with some helpful tips:

Make Your Lunch The Night Before

… Packing your lunch the night before is a good ritual. It helps you wind down for the evening and gets your body mentally ready to fall asleep, so the rest of the week can go according to plan. …

Get In Bed By Midnight

You can stay up as late as you want, as long as you’re in bed by midnight.

If you’re in bed by midnight, you’ll have no problem getting up at 5:30 or 6. If you’re in bed at 1am, you’ll sleep till noon. …

When School / Work Is Over, Leave

Don’t stay at work longer than you have to. I don’t stay at school longer than I have to. It’s practically a race out the doors. …

Schedules Make Things Real

… Practice? Write it in.

Hanging out? Know when your free time is (schedule it). …

Bonus: make sure you have people at each place who will hold you accountable. Show up late and you’ll be running suicides. …

Do It With Friends

Anything you do with friends will be 2x as much fun and will have 1/2 the stress than if you do it alone.

Even AP Physics can be fun – if you’re with the right people.

It may seem unattainable to reach your high school productivity levels given the added pressures and responsibilities of adulthood. But science shows that during high school you are poised biologically to be deeply impressed by your experiences while you also form your first sense of identity. So today, those helpful habits are primed for the plucking somewhere in your mental makeup. And this time, you can adopt them without the teenage acne and traumatizing bad haircut.

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How Pessimism Can Improve Your Life And Work

A new video by The School of Life explores the unappreciated wisdom of pessimism. Negative thinking gets a bad rap, but in fact it can ironically have a positive effect on your productivity and creativity. As The School of Life argues, pessimism prepares you for the worst, reduces your expectations, and protects you from disappointment—all helpful for your psyche as well as your creative output:

We live in an absurdly and painfully optimistic world. Mostly, that’s the result of all the businesses out there trying to sell us things, and understandably using cheerfulness to do it. And partly, it’s the influence of technology, which is always getting better, coloring our view of life as a whole, which often isn’t improving. …

For centuries, religions peddled dark messages. Buddhism told its followers that life was suffering. Christianity spoke of the fallen state of mankind, and of the inevitability of earthly imperfection. That was helpful; it kept our expectations in check.

The psychologist William James came up with an equation: Happiness = Expectations / Reality. So there are two ways to ensure contentment. Change reality, or change expectations. Pessimists know to reduce the expectations.

Writer Barbara Ehrenreich takes the espousal of pessimism a step further in her acclaimed book Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. As she writes in a piece for The Guardian, it’s not just that pessimism has benefits for us; optimism can actually be psychologically harmful:

Like a perpetually flashing neon sign in the background, like an inescapable jingle, the injunction to be positive is so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to identify a single source. Oprah routinely trumpets the triumph of attitude over circumstance. A Google search for “positive thinking” turns up 1.92m entries. A whole coaching industry has grown up since the mid-90s, heavily marketed on the internet, to help people improve their attitudes and hence, supposedly, their lives. …

[But this] ideological force in American culture… encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune and blame only ourselves for our fate.

You undoubtedly have, and will continue to, hit roadblocks on your path in life and work. But by recognizing that cheerfully assuming everything will shake out in your favor, and maintaining unrealistically sky-high expectations, is dangerous and unproductive, you’ll be able to clear those roadblocks in such a way that enables you to learn, grow and—most importantly—move on.

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How (and Why) You Should Read More

Book by Mike Ashley from the Noun Project

Book by Mike Ashley from the Noun Project

There’s no question that reading enriches your life. Reading imparts fresh inspiration, keeps your brain sharp, improves your writing, can relax you, and even benefits your health. Devoting the time and mental energy needed to read an entire book, as opposed to the snackable content (tweets, blog posts, email newsletters) that makes up the Internet, is a deeply rewarding experience. You go on an intimate journey with an author, by way of which you become much more immersed in the topic at hand than you’d be able to after a few hundred words of “like”-able discourse.

But how to make time for reading books (physical or e-)? From Rype’s blog, a few handy suggestions:

Learn To Read Faster

… Since the average reader reads around 250–300 words per minute, being able to double your reading speed at 500–600 words will allow you read twice the number of books in the same amount of time. …

a. use a pointer

Use either a pen or your index finger to keep track of your speed when reading. This will be useful for the second technique.

b. expand your peripheral vision

Start reading 3 words in from the first word of each line and end 3 words in from the last word.

Schedule It

Reading more books can simply come from making more time for it.

Scheduling your most important tasks can become one of the most productive things you can do, whether you’re making time to read, learn a language, or master a skill. …

It can be as little as 15–30 minutes in the morning before your work, or during lunch hours.

Drop It If You Don’t Love It

… If you want to read more books, retain more, and double your knowledge, you need to have a passion for what you’re reading. …

Don’t be afraid to quit if you don’t love it.

It’s what will lead to what you love.

Keeping track of how many books you read each year can be a huge motivator. You get the satisfaction of adding an item to your list each time you close the cover of a book for the last time, and can challenge yourself to increase your total each year. Sites like Goodreads and Shelfari help you log your read count and set an annual goal.

Reading is one of the three R’s of childhood education for a reason. And assuredly, Sir William Curtis—credited with coining the phrase—had books in mind when he said it.

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The Method Actor Approach to Design

hollywood

Legendary graphic designer Michael Bierut, Pentagram partner and protégé of design legend Massimo Vignelli, lets the world into his creative process in his new monograph How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things. A particularly interesting element is his “method actor” approach to graphic design, as he tells FastCoDesign:

[S]omeone says you want to do the signs for the New York Times?… [T]o do the work properly, I have to talk to editors, I have to sit in on the page-one meeting where they decide how page one is going to be laid out…

If you just have a request for proposal where the client says we need X, Y, and Z, that really just gives you the shopping list… It’s sort of like saying, I need a pair of pants and a shirt. But then, where are you going to wear it, how much are you going to spend? I’ll stand you in front of a mirror and you have to feel like you’re the kind of person who can wear those clothes.

So going to all those meetings, if all I cared about were typefaces or colors, I’d be sitting, fidgeting, thinking, “Why am I here? This is boring.” Instead, I was thinking “I can’t believe I’m here, I can’t believe that without ever taking a journalism class I’m actually sitting with the top editors at the New York Times and I’ll know before any other civilian does what’s going to be the story that appears in the first column on the left of tomorrow’s paper.” I had that momentary thrill.

Wrapping yourself up in the topic of your work so that you’re truly invested doesn’t just translate into more effective and impactful work. It also keeps you more fulfilled and motivated as an artist. Because the method actor approach to acting isn’t just about inhabiting the character fully so that you never lift the veil to reveal your true self until after the project is completed. Ultimately, method acting is about just being, as opposed to putting something on or performing. And if you can get to that place in your work when you’re not feigning interest or curiosity, but truly “feeling it,” that’s where the art lies.

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Austin Kleon: How To Be a “Scenius”

By Austin Kleon

By Austin Kleon

Writer and artist Austin Kleon, of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work! fame, is a big supporter of creatives that can contribute to an artistic community as opposed creating in their own vacuum. In FastCo Create, he borrows the term “scenius” from the musician Brian Eno to encourage artists to change their end goal from being a genius to being a creative contributor:

Kleon cautions against the artistic myth of the lone genius pounding away in a garret somewhere…. He created his own scenius online. Kleon says, “I think what has been the most remarkable in my career is that I’ve never been part of a geographical scene. I didn’t move to New York after college. I didn’t move to L.A. I moved to Cleveland, and there’s not a whole lot of a scene there. But what I did have was the Internet, and I became part of a scenius by putting my work out there. I started blogging in 2005, and back then, we were all connected, we just didn’t have social media in the same way as we do now. You’d just post things to your blog and people would send you comments or emails and you’d slowly find people as they stumbled across your work. When I did work I really liked and put it online, it attracted the people I wanted to meet. For me, being online, that was my scenius. That was my moving to New York in the ’70s. Or Paris in the ’20s.”

Kleon notes that you don’t have to be in the same medium as the people in your scenius. In fact, it helps if you’re not. He says since moving to Austin, he’s fallen in with musicians and filmmakers in addition to writers and artists, and those relationships have informed his work.

The key to being a scenius is to create something every single day. A constant stream of creative outpout ensures that you remain a vital part of a creative community. As Kleon told 99U in an interview:

We all get 24 hours. No one gets more time. Sure, you might have your job, you might have a kid, you might have a family—I had all of those things when I was writing my first book—but when you get ruthless about what you really want to do, there are so many gaps. So many little spaces in the day where you can find the time….

It happens a lot of in creative work that you finish a project and you don’t know what to do next. It can be a bit disconcerting. And I think that’s why it’s so important to have a daily practice that you do no matter what you are working on.

Your work, no matter what it is, matters. When you put it out there every day for your creative scene to absorb and consume, you cultivate your own brand and the community in tandem. That’s what being a scenius is all about.

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