2017 is already over its midpoint. How are your new year resolutions holding up? This year, I decided not to go for concrete resolutions, but for gentle guiding principles that could adapt to the specific circumstances of 2017.
One of them fits well into this series of articles on being less busy and more creative. I call it ‘The brave do-er’ (in Dutch: Dappere Doener). The rule emphasises creating over consuming, acting over reacting, living over being lived.
If you want to feel less busy and more creative, then switch your focus from consuming to creating.
Creating versus Consuming. Acting versus Reacting.
Feeling busy often goes hand in hand with the feeling of ‘being lived’ instead of ‘living’. The wording in this phrase already highlights the issue: when you are ‘being lived’, you are a passive receiver, when you are ‘living’, you are the one who’s acting.
How much of your daily life is spent in ‘re-action’ mode instead of ‘action’ mode? In our current society, it is easy to spend your whole day reacting, reacting to e-mails you received at work or to things posted on social media. Consuming the stream of information that’s coming to you and, in the meantime, feeling more and more overwhelmed.
It is easy to get trapped. After all, we are infovores, always curious for more information, always trying to make meaning of everything going on around us. This information can also be very important and valuable. However, the stream of information in our current times is endless, there is always more.
And suddenly the day is over and we didn’t get to do anything with that information, we didn’t get to take the next step. However, it is precisely in that next step where the creativity is. By handling information and then acting upon it, you will understand it better, but also end up with something new, something unique, something that’s yours.
Or, in the words of Leonardo da Vinci:
I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.
However, it is not always easy to switch focus just like that. There’s a reason I added the word ‘brave’ to my resolution. Consuming information is easier than creating. Watching other photographer’s work, going to photography classes, reading about photography, going to lectures and exhibitions. These are all easier than consistently make time to work on your own photography project, finishing it and sharing it with the world.
Resistance can come up. “I need to learn more, I need to get more inspired, my work isn’t good enough yet to share with the world. I am not enough of an expert yet in a topic to start my own blog, I need to read more literature about this topic before I can write a valid blog post, my website needs to be perfect before I can put it online, …” I am sure you can find many more examples of these resistance voices in your own head, concerning your own projects in life.
Having a resolution about switching from consuming to creating is the first step to be more conscious about the balance between input and output. Then, you need to apply it practically in your own life. The following two principles have helped me greatly.
The 80/20 principle or how to avoid perfectionism
Creating something new (and sharing it with the world) can feel like a daunting task. Often, resistance comes in the form of perfectionism. We are not creating something, because we don’t feel good enough yet, or we are not sharing something because it is not yet fully finished.
The Pareto principle, or 80/20 rule, is a principle that can help you overcome this. The rule, which applies to many different domains, says that roughly 80 percent of the effects comes from 20 percent of the causes.
Similarly, with 20 percent of your effort or time, you can already get to 80 percent of the results. Keep this in mind when afraid to start a creative project. The biggest barrier is starting. After that, with some limited focused time on your project, you can already get very far. What if you decided to reserve 10 minutes per day for a creative project?
Furthermore, another implication is to think about it as ’80 percent is good enough’. This has been a great help for me in going through with new creative things and not letting perfectionism get in the way.
Without this rule, I wouldn’t have posted one blog post yet, because none of my articles would feel 100 percent good enough. Now, instead of using the next 80 percent of my time fiddling with the last 20 percent details to get a post just right (and still never get to the point of perfectionism), I just decide to hit publish after it is 80% good enough.
As a result, there are sentences in my posts that I would’ve done differently or spelling errors that I would’ve corrected beforehand (instead of afterwards, when my attentive sister with a master in linguistics points them out). There are pictures that I would’ve edited differently before sharing them and projects I would’ve presented differently.
Then again, aren’t we all reading through most things (texts and pictures) diagonally, quickly extracting the meaning of it and not caring whether a sentence is particularly well-formed or whether that spec of dust is removed or not?
Don’t let an idle dream of perfectionism in the future get you from getting into creative action today. 80% is good enough.
Shortcut willpower, avoid distractions
When you start focusing on creating instead of consuming, you’ll notice how easy it is to revert back to your previous habits. As soon as a task is getting hard, our minds want something easy to digest and tries to find distraction.
Unfortunately, now that most of us need computers to complete (parts of) our (creative) work, distraction is just one mouse click away. At this point, you can either rely on your own willpower, and use a lot of energy trying to stay away from those distractions. Or, you can shortcut this by building an environment in which you limit possibilities for distractions.
What would happen if you’d turn your internet off for two hours and just focus on the task or creative idea at hand? Maybe you’d need miss some additional information that you would’ve looked up online, but you’ll be surprised about how much you can do with the information that’s already in your head.
I know I can get very distracted by social media, especially when I have posted a new picture or shared one of my posts. It is always tempting to see if, and how, people react to it. Therefore, I am currently using the ‘freedom’ app on my computer (and deleted internet connection of my non-smartphone). I am still working on a schedule that works best for me, but for now, all social media is off between 9 am and 5 pm, and I occasionally turn the full internet off when I really want to focus (and click an option box that I am not allowed to change my preferences mid-session).
There are many other ways in which you can avoid distractions (instead of relying on willpower), both online and offline. Think about the golden oldie in the dieting world: don’t keep unhealthy snacks at home if you’d like to eat healthier.
Think about what makes you feel busy, overwhelmed in general or distracted when you are focusing on creating and is there a way to limit their effect on you by changing something in your environment?
That’s all for this week. As always, I hope it can give you some inspiration for your life.
Closing off with another Leonardo da Vinci quote:
It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.