You could spend entire work days browsing galleries and portfolios online hoping to find a spark for your own creative ideas. Unfortunately the pursuit of inspiration is a way to feel productive without actually producing anything.
Designer David Mikula recommends that instead of wasting our time looking for inspiration, we should spend it making our own inspiration, even if the experience makes us feel dumb. Over on Medium, Mikula writes:
You surf. You tumbl. You pin. You FFFFound. You “curate” popular, proven work. You find hundreds of niche, beautiful examples of success. Dozens of formulas that look like they can be applied to your project. You show your team and clients work that other people have created.
When you’re learning to think for yourself, this is fantastic. But when you’re producing creative work, it’s not. That is not the creative process.
The more you look for inspiration: the less you make. When you put that much energy into watching other people make: you begin to think it’s impossible to do great work of your own.
You have to dive in. You have to make yourself uncomfortable….Where do you start? Start by sharing your point of view. Talk to your friends, your team. Whomever. The moment your idea is in the world, it’s going to get pushed around a lot. If it continues to make sense, then you have an opportunity. And you made it—you made your own opportunity.
Inspiration is often a way to make ourselves feel creatively energized and busy, but when it comes to being more productive or creative, that’s where the activity falls short. The hours you spend browsing sites for creative inspiration is time you could have instead spent making your own ideas and learning from the experience.
The best creative work doesn’t come from time spent looking for inspiration, it comes as a result of tirelessly generating, sharing, and exploring ideas. Often times that exploration will make you feel dumb, but as Mikula writes: “It’s okay to be dumb. It’s hard to be smart all the time.”
Research indicates that we defer working on things based on how distant we perceive their deadlines. When we decide that something falls into the “future” category, we simply file it in our “someday” folder and eventually those goals are neglected. Unfortunately, that which is important is often inversely proportional to what’s urgent. To move priorities out of our “someday” folder, Amy Morin suggests imposing what she calls “now” deadlines:
Establish “now” deadlines. Even if your goal is something that will take a long time to reach – like saving enough money for retirement – you’re more likely to take action if you have time limits in the present. Create target dates to reach your objectives. Find something you can do this week to begin taking some type of action now. For example, decide “I will create a budget by Thursday,” or “I will lose two pounds in seven days.”
What separates the likes of Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, or Pablo Picasso from the rest of us? Over at Entrepreneur, James Clear argues it comes down to pure grit:
How do creative geniuses come ups with great ideas? They work and edit and rewrite and retry and pull out their genius through sheer force of will and perseverance. They earn the chance to be lucky because they keep showing up…
No single act will uncover more creative powers than forcing yourself to create consistently….For you, it might mean singing a song over and over until it sounds right. Or programming a piece of software until all the bugs are out, taking portraits of your friends until the lighting is perfect, or caring for the customers you serve until you know them better than they know themselves.
It might seem like an unfortunate answer, nobody wants to hear that the best way to do anything is to “work for it,” but the advice also shines as a reminder that genius-level ideas are obtainable, they just take work. Of course, knowing when to quit and when to grit are important as well.
In a time when old institutions are restructuring or collapsing, artist and writer Molly Crabapple urges individuals not to change who they are to be “professionally viable.” There is no longer a system you can enter and be set until retirement. Instead, she suggests creating a career unique to you.
…focus in on your weirdness, your passions, and your f***ed-up damage, and be yourself as truly as you can. Express that with as much craft, discipline, and rigor as you can; work as hard as you can to build a career out of that, and then you’ll create a career that you love and that’s true to yourself, as opposed to doing what you think other people want and burning yourself out when you’re older.
Don’t change who you are to fit the work out there — find that work that fits you.
A study from last year confirmed that many people find public speaking to be more anxiety-inducing than death. As such, when practicing for client pitches, boardrooms and the stage, we often nervously prioritize style over substance by focusing on how to say things (your tone, pace, gestures, etc.) rather than what to say.
John Coleman suggests that we reverse our approach by focusing on what to say, not how to say it:
Focus on memorizing key stories and statistics, rather than practicing our delivery. If you spend your time on how to say something perfectly, you’ll stumble through those phrasings, and you’ll forget all the details that can make them come alive. Or worse, you’ll slavishly read from a PowerPoint or document rather than hitting the high points fluidly with your audience. If you know your topic, the words will come.
Trust your knowledge of the subject matter. Pick your key points and let the words find themselves.
If you want to get more done in your day, venture capitalist Sam Altman says it’s all about figuring out your main priorities. After all, what you measure by is what you execute on:
Value gets captured by execution. . . I used to make a list of everything I got done at the end of the day. It was remarkable how I could feel like I had a really busy day and realize that night I got nothing done. . .
You build what you measure—if you measure your productivity by the number of meetings you have in a day, you will have a lot of meetings. If you measure yourself by revenue growth or number of investments closed or something like that, you will probably have fewer meetings.
If you believe that going to space is the most important project for humanity, then work on it. If you can’t figure out how to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, go work for SpaceX (joining a great company is a much better plan than starting a mediocre one). If enterprise software is what you really love, then work on that.
And if, at the end of the day, you find that your list isn’t as long or doesn’t contain what you thought it would, Altman reminds us that it’s easy to change course tomorrow: all you have to do is re-direct your aim.
Over at Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman delve into a study they conducted with over 50,000 leaders to determine what guides some of us to making poor decisions. Their research concludes with nine key habits to avoid:
1. Laziness. This showed up as a failure to check facts, to take the initiative, to confirm assumptions, or to gather additional input. Basically, such people were perceived to be sloppy in their work and unwilling to put themselves out. They relied on past experience and expected results simply to be an extrapolation of the past.
2. Not anticipating unexpected events. It is discouraging to consistently consider the possibility of negative events in our lives, and so most people assume the worst will not happen. Unfortunately, bad things happen fairly often. People die, get divorced, and have accidents. Markets crash, house prices go down, and friends are unreliable.
3. Indecisiveness. At the other end of the scale, when faced with a complex decision that will be based on constantly changing data, it’s easy to continue to study the data, ask for one more report, or perform yet one more analysis before a decision gets made. When the reports and the analysis take much longer than expected, poor decision makers delay, and the opportunity is missed.
Zenger and Folkman go on to describe the other six, less powerful, habits that lead us to making poor choices. Do yourself a favor and read the full list of habits over on HBR, then take some time to see which of them you might need to overcome.