June 22, 2005

The Blind Eye Ideal

After getting myself in the mindset to get some work done, I am faced with the next conundrum; ensuring the quality of the design I produce. Some days I feel like all the good ideas are eluding me. Most times it’s not that the good ideas aren’t there, it’s just that I’m not creating a good environment to help them come about. A lot of this depends on my mood (and sleep deprivation), but in order to come up with solid creative ideas, I find I need to work the way that suits me best.

Work On What You Love…

…and ignore the rest (for now). As a rule of thumb, I try to work on what I am interested in at that present time. If a particular project is rolling around in my head I go with it and work on that. That way I know I will at least be productive on something.

Creativity is such a tough nut to crack. Rarely is the act of creation as simple as traveling from point A to point B. Many times you have a layover in point H, before connecting through point π. I’m just not always ready to be working on a specific project this moment. I have come to trust the way my screwy brain works. I can feed it a problem that I am clueless about and let it gnaw on it subconsciously while I work on something else.

Sometimes it means that I need to put another project aside. I find that if I force myself to work on a project I’m not ready to work on yet—especially when it doesn’t need to be worked on immediately—I end up spinning my wheels and not get anything of tangible quality done. The only result is time wasted and nothing to show for it. What’s worse, I probably still have another project to work on. But, if I sit down and work on a project that I’m excited about, because that is where my heart is, I work more efficiently. On the flip-side of that, when I go back to the first project, my brain has had time to try and crack the problems it carries with it. If that doesn’t work, the project has time against it by that point, and lack of time is one of the greatest motivators of all.

That’s the thing about working for yourself. This isn’t always possible everywhere, but since I am basically my own Production Manager and Taskmaster, I can do what I please as long as it doesn’t screw up a job’s timeline. Even when I was at an agency, as I became more settled in to the day-to-day processes, I noticed I could adjust the way I worked on projects to better suit my creative tendencies while still keeping things running smoothly.

Things work differently for everyone, and depending on your environment you may not be able to set your own pace. But, when you find wiggle room in a process or timeline, use it to your advantage and tailor your work habits to aid your creativity. How do you promote your own productivity?

Commentary (16):

1. Chris K says… jun 22, 2005 | 11:47 am

I find my environment plays a big part in it when I hit ruts. If at all possible (e.g. not having to sit in front of the computer), I try to change my setting to jolt my thinking (coffee shops, bookstores, parks, etc.). Even trying different rooms in the building helps.

Time managment is a huge help. I also notice that my mornings are my most creative time, and try to schedule my brainstorming time during that as much as possible. Then when I hit a creative burst, I try to get as much work done on as many projects as possible before my brain freezes up.

2. A. Fruit says… jun 22, 2005 | 12:23 pm

I have what I consider ‘channels’ of different creative activities [outlets], that I swear somehow grease the wheels for each other. These activities include: drawing, playing guitar, writing, making furniture, and computer-based design. Although the latter of them all is [fore the most part] the main thing that actually makes me money, it definatley seems that when I am producing a decent flow in multiple channels, all of them benefit.

The music I listen to is a factor as well. I tend to listen to lyric-less stuff that has a groove when trying to spark a fresh idea. (Many times when I listen to my favorite songs with lyrics, I find myself singing along. I kind of obsess about knowing lyrics so I find myself concentrating on that.) The channel “Groove Salad” in the itunes digital radio stations under the “electronica” category is worth checking out. I also like “Secret Agent radio” (same place). Classic jazz is always a hit with me as well.

3. Keith says… jun 22, 2005 | 1:11 pm

Oh, how timely. I just wrote about something very similar last night.

I find that when I hit a wall, my quality of work goes way down and I have to take some time off from, well, everything if possible.

I do also have projects I’d rather work on and if I can’t get time away I use those to help power though my ruts.

For example, I’ve been writing quite a bit, and designing very little. I had a project I’d planned on hiring out another designer to work on. But I love to design and decided that it would be better for me to do it myself. It will take longer to get done, but it’ll be almost therapeutic to have something of my own to design.

It’s almost an escape from my other work.

4. Ryan says… jun 22, 2005 | 3:25 pm

That’s exactly how I try to work - and I don’t work for myself. In fact, that’s pretty much my whole approach to life - do what’s fun, but be smart about it.

It’s good to read other’s thoughts on this and helps us realize that workflow and work attitude comes in a million different ways.

5. Dave Simon says… jun 22, 2005 | 7:07 pm

I’ve been experiencing a form of burnout this week as well. Not really stuck, not really burned out, but just not that interested in the projects that are in my lap currently.

However, I’m really excited about an upcoming gig. So, how do I transfer that excitment into the things that are paying right now?

The way I’ve been doing it is using that future project as a goal. Finish this one, and I can do that one.

Probably oversimplified, but it’s been working. I have too many projects that I WANT to do, but many projects I HAVE to do in front of them.

Get ‘er done. As they say.

6. Mike says… jun 23, 2005 | 12:31 am

Wow, and last week I just thought it would be fun to talk about this subject myself. Weird.

Usually, when I hit a rut and I’m not feeling very creative I’ll just do whatever production work I have available. That way I can basically shut my brain off while still getting work done. When the creativity comes back I can jump right back into it.

More about it here.

7. Kristian Walker says… jun 23, 2005 | 5:32 am

First of all, let me emphatically state that I have never been one of those “morning people”. The classic night-owl, in bed after midnight, up after 9. A friend suggested recently that I try starting work at 5am, after a discussion about productivity and freelancing.

So for the past two weeks, I’ve been going to bed by 9:30 and starting work at 5. One of the fringe benefits I’ve noticed about starting that early is that the creative process is going smoother. I’m having less creative block. I’m getting a lot more done, too.

I think it might have something to do with what you said about letting the brain work on the problem in the background. Starting so early, my brain seems to be more refreshed than when I’d sleep in.

8. Jason Santa Maria says… jun 23, 2005 | 7:00 am

Kristian: I am very much a morning person nowadays… er… and a night owl too sometimes. I guess I’ve just got design on the brain. I am forced awake each morning around 6 by my natural alarm clock (3 cats chasing each other across my face), and usually just stay awake from there. Whether it’s early to rise or late to sleep, those hours of detachment when most of the world around you is at rest allow you to slide into a rhythm.

9. Territan says… jun 23, 2005 | 9:50 am

Are you sure it’s actually the ideas that are bad, and not your perception of them? Objectivity is as tough a nut to crack as creativity—perhaps even moreso—and your bad ideas might actually be better than you think. Or even if the result to day isn’t so good, you may still be on the right track but not know it.

If something’s not panning out, don’t toss it. Just set it aside and work on something else. Later, when you get back to it, you might see it in a different light, or know right away how it can be improved.

As a disastrously bad aspiring designer myself, I would probably be happy to make your mistakes. (That sounds wrong, but I’m sticking with it.)

10. Jason Beaird says… jun 23, 2005 | 9:55 am

Although I’m not working for myself yet, I am working from home full-time now. Your Independent Contractor and Maintaining Motivation posts were pretty helpful and this falls into the same category. I’ve found that since I started my new job, my creative ideas are a lot more up and down than they were when working from an office. It’s been kinda like an old push mower lately - sometimes I’m in that rhythm and doing my best work, and then sometimes I’ve got to kick my creativity a few times just to get her to crank. Promoting my own productivity usually just mean getting on a role with a project. Once I’ve got momentum, I can work nonstop. Thanks for another insightful post.

11. bearskinrug says… jun 23, 2005 | 10:41 am

I find that when I’m in the biggest design rut, I just steal this site, and change the name on the binding.

12. Jason Santa Maria says… jun 23, 2005 | 10:59 am

Territan: There is some truth to that too, I am definitely my own toughtest critic. But, “bad” doesn’t always mean the ideas themselves are awful, it may mean that an idea is out-of-scope or unfeasible under the time constraints. They aren’t all good ideas however, I come up with plenty of half-baked concepts just like everyone else. I am enough of a cynic to weed through my crappy ideas to get to the less crappy ideas :D

13. M.e. says… jun 23, 2005 | 11:40 am

My trick is to perform all my monotonous, non priority updates (I’m a web person) on Mondays at 10AM in full headphone rock mode. Emergencies are treated the same way, but are handled immediately and I may forgo the punk rock play list for something more emo.

The rest of my work is done very much the same as yours — do the projects in order of fun where deadlines permit. Fridays, I save for experimenting and playing around with ideas. I also usually treat myself to a new album in the ITMS.

14. Joe Clay says… jun 23, 2005 | 11:43 pm

I work exactly like that actually. My business partner doesn’t understand that, and I haven’t really thought about mentioning it in this manner, but I’ll have to send him this article.

15. Paul says… jun 25, 2005 | 3:15 am

A lot of times our quest for perfection makes us overlook the good ideas that pop up, the not-fully-formed ideas that with a little work and re-work could turn out to be the solutions we’re looking for. I had a music composition teacher who said, “Don’t let the best get in the way of the good.”

Things need to come out. Let it flow…

16. Todd says… jun 26, 2005 | 11:25 pm

When writing, designing, or developing something (in personal writing, Web design, or teaching), what works for me is to just sit down and do something on the project, anything at all. Even if it’s just writing a few sentences, drawing a few lines, planning a few minutes of class, doing something usually strikes an idea in me. Much of what I write, design, or develop is crap, but it sparks another idea and it’s worth it.

I have a lot of little side projects I work on, too, so I will start working on that side project, incorporating a detail of the project I’m getting paid for. I basically care more about it by turning a work problem into a personal project problem.

I am oriented toward literature and writing, so thinking in terms of the writing process is what I do regardless of the nature of the project; it’s just the way I think (just really generalize your process/project and that link might help you).

When it comes to actually working on the project, I work like a madman, sacraficing virtually everything else, including friends and food, to finish. Again, this is similar to the way I treat books: when I see the end of that book coming, I will read for hours on end in order to finish it, shunning all else.

And I work late, late into the night. I cannot create much of anything but mumbles in the morning. Oh, and I can create a look that says, “I need coffee” without even so much as a word. Other than that, my creativity is crap in the morning, though I will pull out a morning session if I am stumped, just to see what happens. You’d be surprised what happens if you just work at a different time.