for the past couple days, i have been trying to be better at listening to my body. if i sit in front of a computer screen for too long, i start feeling gross (you can possibly relate). but even worse, if i work too hard on a certain project, my brain eventually just stops being productive. it feels like i am banging my head against a wall. when i feel stuck like this, it is tempting to try and watch some motivational videos or to try and muscle through it.
but i have found the best thing i can do is just stop and take a break. today, the break went a little longer than usual. i reclined on my couch and let my brain cool off, took a nap, woke up, drank water, and tried to come back. it didn’t happen until hours later that night, but when i was finally “repaired”, i had a slew of new ideas, deeper feelings, and a refreshed sense of direction.
of course, this may just be a me thing. but i know that friends who work on problems for too long (a lot of these folks are programmers), and they all have to almost re-teach themselves the importance of knowing when to walk away, splash water on your face, and come back with a new set of eyes. in our “always on” culture, i think this is not as obvious as we would like it to be, and part of the first step is listening to your body when it tells you that something isn’t right.
i want things to happen very quickly, and unfortunately that’s an unrealistic expectation. so, i need to develop systems to ensure that i don’t get ahead of myself. one of those things is making a considered effort to slow down. another is giving myself projects that i can complete very quickly, or in a day. if i divide a project up into these specific chunks of constructions, suddenly i’ll have a big final product at the end.
i always forget this, the fact that what we do with our lives is what we do with our days. routines, then, help dramatically with my ability to finish a huge task. i know i will spend a little time every day, and this gives me comfort and allows me to envision the final project. for example, if i write a book, i need to know that i will write 600 words a day, and i need to know that i will have time every day to do that specific thing.
right now, i lack direction because i don’t clearly see my end goal. so i am gathering information and trying to build up my plan. it is loose, there are a ton of tangents, but i know that if i make at least one thing today, i’ll be that much closer to having a fully fleshed out final project a year from now.
every day, we have the power to choose how we look at things. our perspective has the strongest influence on how we make decisions. so, it makes sense that we should shake up our perspective every once in a while to look at our problems from a new angle.
i like doing a weekly “zoom out”. this means that i take a step back, and consider my plans in terms of a ten-year strategy. a zoom out could also mean imagining where my plan fits into the global economy. it could also mean seeing how i fit into the general schematics of a city.
changing your perspective could also mean zooming in. you’re smart, you can probably find a number of creative ways to alter your worldview. the point is, if you feel stuck, it can help to change your perspective. if you don’t know how to do this, talk to a friend, pick up a book, or listen to a podcast. being open to the thoughts of someone else is by definition taking a different point of view. this, oftentimes, is all the push you need to realize what you’ve been missing.
if you’re like me, you have a ton of ideas an prototypes in the works. it’s very difficult to sustain one hundred ventures, and the ones that end up succeeding may be only about two or three. a friend of mine pointed something out to me recently over a bowl of ramen.
“i tend to go through cycles of interest. i’ll work on one project for a period of time, and then lose interest and move on to the next thing. this happens for a bit, and then maybe a month or so later, i’ll come back to that first thing i was working on.” how exciting! this is an orbit that functions on a longer scope than the daily routines we are used to. can you imagine if we had the scope to see how our interest wanes on a project only to be rekindled months later?
i love emergent systems. these are methods and processes that just sort of happen. my friend saw that the gets things done, but at a slower pace with wide breaks. imagine sitting in a kitchen. boil water for pasta, let bread bake, and make the pasta sauce. you don’t have to sit and watch the bread bake – you can walk away and work on something else and return when you need to.
similarly, notice that your interest is an orbiting thing. banging your head against a wall on a project traditionally is not helpful, and walking away is a great idea especially if you can bring fresh eyes to something else. by cultivating this method, you can have a continuous set of fresh eyes on your project, and soon you will have a fully cooked meal.
a system is a set of working parts. you are part of many systems, and you also have systems in place. your job is a system that uses your skills and pays you for it. you eating schedule is a system of keeping you nourished. basically, if there is any kind of process with multiple factors involved, it’s a kind of system. and this is thrilling, because of how many systems are in play at any given time.
i often think about creative systems. my problem is that i don’t have a lot of time to make the at that i’d like to make. i have to factor in schedule, audience, energy, and the presence of my muse. some things i can control, some things i can’t, and my ability to produce good work depends on the sustainability of my system.
currently i meet once a week with my friend jaron to record video and podcast interviews. we are both free on sundays, our interview subjects are free on sundays, and we have all the equipment to make it work. it is not a problem to meet weekly, since post-production time is so minimal. there is no friction at all in the process of producing this content, and thus it is a good system.
i don’t always finish writing books because i lose steam. this can also be viewed as a system problem. either i wasn’t motivated enough, didn’t have enough research, or didn’t outline enough time to sit down and actually write. national novel writing month (november) is a system that exists online, geared towards motivating writers to finish their book through social accountability and gamification. it’s a system that produces a manuscript, even if it’s terrible.
for you, i encourage you to write out systems that currently exist in your orbit, and if there are any ways you can tweak or refine them to better suit your goals. even better, can you invent a system of work that maximizes your creativity, your profits, or your happiness?
i’m into re-invention, but maybe a little bit too much. i throw my all into a project and then destroy it. i’ve started and ended so many blogs that i have a mess of domains and drafts that i will likely never go through. i have so many ideas that i end up hating the old one and tossing it into the wastebasket in hopes of making something new.
this process is a little bit frustrating, because it is hard for me to develop any kind of cohesive brand because i am shapeshifting so often. as i learn this about myself (i am currently 26) i am wondering if there is a way to accommodate my shapeshifting, or if there are any common threads in the history of work that i do.
one of my favorite artists keri smith pushed an idea on me that we are allowed to reinvent ourselves at any time. i’ve taken this to heart, and as a result have created this fluid identity that is a jack of all trades and master of none. it’s a hard place to be, but i know with certainty that i would not fit in anywhere else.
it’s like another taoist idea i read – that only the sages know the value of being useless. if you don’t fit into any of the pre-carved categories that exist (in terms of career) you are then tasked with pioneering a route of your own. and, in a world of accelerating change, i am hoping that my shapeshifting and inability to settle on a path will allow me to be agile and receptive to unheard of fields.