Plan your day

The question I’m asked most often is, “How do you plan your day?”. I break it into three chunks: Prep, Play and Production. This works for me but may not work for everyone. The most important thing is that you plan your day in whatever way works for you and then honor that plan. Here's what I do...

1. Prep (morning): Wake up, Eat/shower/coffee, Do admin (emails, phone calls, Facebook), Close Facebook, Plan for the day’s project. The goal is to clear out distractions and seed the brain with ideas.
2. Play (lunch): You could do anything here that doesn’t require lots of active thought or communication. Take walk, clean, make a meal, etc. I go to the gym. Let ideas from from the Prep stage bubble around in your mind.
3. Production (afternoon): Work on the project. By the time I get to the Production stage in the afternoon I have ideas and clear actions fresh at my fingertips. Leave Facebook closed until goals for the day are met.

Close Facebook now

I like Facebook. I like connecting with people, I like reading unexpected articles and seeing the the varied opinions of my friends being expressed. I like that I can use it share my own ideas and events. I don’t like that its an easy distraction from getting real work done. I also don’t like that it manipulates our emotions in the same way slot machines and Candy Crush appeal to our desire for immediate feedback.

Unless you’re independently rich and have zero obligations to friends and family you probably have things to do. And I bet you’re already aware that Facebook is getting in the way of your getting those things done. Deep in your belly you’re feeling guilty about trolling for Likes and cute cat videos but the immediate feedback of your newsfeed is hard to deny.  

Set aside time for Facebook the same way you might set aside time for reading a book or watching a movie. Don’t let it dominate your life or become your excuse for unfilled creative projects. Close Facebook now.

Assemble a super team

We all wrestle with doubts and insecurities and it’s the job of our enemies to capitalize on our weaknesses. To foil their plans you need to surround yourself with people you trust. People who inspire you to be more than you think you can be. They might do this directly or they might lead by example. Track these heroes down. Talk with them, train with them and test your ideas against them. Spend time with people who make you stronger, faster, and smarter.

Be selective and choose people who won't flake when things get tough or collapse under pressure. Everyone needs support sometimes but be wary of people whose super power is causing drama.

Don't expect your team to go easy on you. If you're going to be ready for the next big challenge you'll need the members of your super team to tell you what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong. With support from the right team you can dream bigger and take larger risks.

Keep yourself engaged

I have an issue with boredom. I hear people say, “I’m bored” and it drives me a little crazy. Boredom is a symptom of a lifestyle choice. The choice to be disengaged. I know we can’t all choose moment-to-moment happiness but we can choose engagement. For most of us, if we are unsatisfied with the task at hand or just plain bored it's our own damn fault.

Don't wait for your life to excite you. You'll be waiting a long, long time. The world couldn't care less if you're bored or unhappy. It will continue spinning long after you're gone.

If you look for dissatisfaction or boredom it will always be there but your energy is better spent looking for opportunities to do the things you love. If you don't see the opportunities, make them for yourself. You don't need to wait for anyone. Breathe life into your own ideas. Create the moments that bring you joy. 

When visions collide

Before he passed away I had the opportunity to attend a talk with one of my design idols, Tibor Calman. Something he said still resonates with me, "If you're not fired from a third of your design projects you're not doing your job." While I don't agree 100% with his statement I love that it acknowledges the power of conflicting visions. At some point we will all work on projects that we don't find interesting or we disagree with the vision. For some people that's their daily routine.

The question that interests me is this - what do you do when you disagree with a vision? You have a few options if your amazing ideas have been rejected: 1) Walk away. 2) Accept the conditions and do your best because you have bills to pay. 3) Learn from the experience and find work that better aligns with your vision in the future and finally 4) Be such a pain in the ass that you're fired. While I prefer 2 and 3 as a strategy sometimes its best just to walk away. And sometimes we aren't given the option.

Beware the vocal minority

People are eager to offer what they think you should have done. They will describe in broad strokes how your product would be better if only you had done "X". They won't ask about your goal but they will project where your concepts are leading and how you should move forward. When pressed they will be shy for details but they will sow enough doubt that you'll question your path and it'll slow you down. We wrestle with enough doubts on our own. Beware the vocal minority. Don't give them too much power over your vision.

It's easier to identify what doesn't work than to articulate what is perfectly okay so most people's default mode is critical. Some people are just invested in being the one who can spot faults. They feel like they're accomplishing something by pointing out faults - they feel smart and sometimes they feel like they're helping. 

If someone expresses doubt don't take it as the gospel. Be critical of feedback, ask for details and test your ideas against multiple people.

Your best talent will leave you

If you hire people this is going to happen. Most personal relationships don’t work out, why would professional relationships be any different? People grow, their needs evolve and at some point they usually move on.

When someone makes the decision to leave you’ll probably feel frustration because all those skills you taught them, all those experiences that sharpened their resume, will be walking out your door - and some other company, or client, will be reaping the benefits. Hey, you probably broke some bosses hearts along your way.

Let them go. By leaving that employee is doing you a favor. It’s better to let someone go than suffer the loss of focus that happens when they would rather be somewhere else. You don’t have the time or money that. You need people who want to work with you. And by supporting them you preserve that working relationship for another time and place.

Don't wait, act now

Great ideas are a dime a dozen. The thing that separates the artist from the frustrated artist is action. It doesn't even need to be monumental action - it could be small, consistent steps towards an idea. The more you practice making use of small chunks of time the more likely you'll be ready to act when an idea hits you. 

You need full access to your creativity on the drop of a dime. The good ideas don't always come to you at the ideal time. You need to be able to recognize a good idea and capitalize on it when its fresh. Even if it's just to write it down. Push aside the stories and excuses. You have 10 minutes on the subway? Use that time. You're tired? Turn off the TV and read something related to a topic you love. Take a shower and pay attention to where you mind is wandering then write those ideas down when you get out of the shower. You are a wellspring of ideas. Let them breathe, give them life and take shape at your hands. Be firm. Show conviction. Prioritize yourself.

Is a day job your excuse not to be an artist?

Time to move on. There’s a long tradition of celebrated artists who held down jobs to fund their personal projects. You might recognize a few: T.S. Eliot, Philip Glass, Richard Serra, Bram Stoker, Kurt Vonnegut, Dustin Hoffman. Hell, even Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo did contract work to pay the bills.

Then are are the innumerable artists who aren’t universally known but hold down day jobs and still maintain their creative output. I’ve interviewed some of my personal hero/artists on TnR - Pete List, Rob Mastrianni, Baba Israel, Carmine Guida and more. I was recently emailing with a friend about how she maintains a high level of personal creative work while raising three daughters on her own AND homeschooling them. What’s your excuse?

If you think a day job invalidates your identity as an artist your ego might be sabotaging you

Working for yourself you'll spend less time doing the thing you love

Yeah, I know this sounds cynical but it's also true. When you make the decision to work for yourself, either freelancing or running your own company, you’ll end up doing less of what inspired you in the first place. That’s not to say you won’t learn to love all the new skills and duties essential to running a company but you can expect to spend 75% of your time finding work (and everything else related to running a business) and 25% of your time getting your hands dirty with creative work.

Is the autonomy worth it? For some entrepreneurial folks, of course it is. But some people would rather focus on making stuff and letting others handle the contracts, invoicing, biz development, etc. What kind of person are you? In either case, there are tons of tools out there to help you manage yourself and your business. Find and master the business tools that let you spend more time making stuff and less time managing stuff.

Fake a commute

This advice came from Mark Smith, a friend and talented computer engineer who has been successfully self-employed for as long as I’ve know him. It’s the greatest advice anyone has ever given me regarding working from home.

My fake commute routine: Wake up, shower, stretch, get dressed and leave the house. No email or TV and no lounging in underwear all day. When you’re moving, your blood is flowing and that gets oxygen to your brain and the ol' endorphins flow. Ever wonder why so many people get great ideas while they’re walking? Bingo.

My faked commute has three parts. 1) Walk to a cafe while I think about, and prioritize, projects. 2) Drink coffee and identify questions and areas of interest for the day’s project. 3) Walk home, start making connections between ideas and visualizing solutions.

What drinking beer has taught me about design

A bottle of beer on a store shelf has one second to capture a buyer's eye and communicate why its better than the dozens of competing brands on the same shelf. A night with friends can bring surprises and you need to know how to roll with it. Falling when drunk, and relaxed, will result in fewer injuries than falling down sober. 

Want to learn about typography? Study beer, wine and liquor labels. Want to learn what motivates people? Watch them socialize over drinks. Want to learn the value of human kindness and see it repaid? Tip well.

So, with my tongue only half in-cheek I present a series of posts about what we can all learn by tipping back a cold one. The ancient Greeks knew the value of induced chaos and they had, arguably, more geniuses per square than any other culture throughout history. Let's learn from them. It'll be fun. 

Money doesn't matter

Don’t wait for the perfect conditions to be creative. Often we use conditions as excuses to not be creative or to not work towards your dreams. There’s not enough time, not enough money, not enough support from friends and family, etc. Over time we’ll break down each of these excuses and stories can get in our way but, for now, let’s talk about money.

Money has nothing to do with creativity. The blues came from poverty. Flamenco came from poverty. Most of the arts you love have their roots in poverty. Money is great for funding larger projects but you don't need it to get started. You may not be able to afford the recording equipment you'd like, or the laptop or the dance costume but none of the those are an excuse to not create. Not having enough money is an excuse we throw in our own way. It's a story we tell ourselves to let ourselves off the hook, to take fewer risks. Don’t let money be your story.

Develop a daily habit

When I started studying music my teacher said the secret to practice is doing a little bit every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s only 5-10 minutes because the regularity is better than one or two longer practice sessions per week.

He was right. It’s about developing momentum and making sure the last thing you did is at the surface of your thoughts and easily accessible. The skills we don't practice atrophy over time. How long is too long? It's a matter of degrees but every bit counts when you're trying to improve.

You might have heard that doing something 21 days consecutively forms a habit. Maybe, but it doesn’t mean the your body will go on autopilot. On day 22 and every day thereafter you still need to make the decision: am I going to maintain my momentum? 

Regular practice leads to mastery. There is no other way.