What’s Right In Front of You
On Saturday, I awoke with a premise for a novel knocking around in my head. By the time my bum hit the toilet seat, I was already typing initial thoughts on my iPhone. Breakfast was a blur, as I contemplated what drove the characters I imagined. This engrossed state continued until I arrived at the local arts center. While my kids took part in art classes, I sipped an espresso. Although I don’t write songs, I found myself fooling around with lyrics. Later in the weekend, I toyed with the possibility of a podcast, and a couple of startup ideas arose, too.
I could continue, but you likely get a sense for what I’m trying to convey. Although some want for ideas, my brain seems powerlessly caught in a torrent of them. You might think this abundance to be good, but I’ve come to see this state like an affliction. We give ideas too much credit and I have more of them than I can properly handle. However, what I don’t have enough of, is time to act on all of these ideas. This shortage often leaves me feeling like I’m stuck working on the wrong thing, while better ideas fly by.
It’s not as though my ideas are all good—I doubt that most of them are—but this probability doesn’t minimize my desire to see where these ideas might lead. As I grow older, I better appreciate how much attention an idea needs, in order to be made real. I also know that unless I’m fully invested in that idea, the execution will most likely be quite unexemplary.
I’ve also come to realize that this barrage of ideas can’t be stopped. Ideas will keep coming at me, no matter how I try to focus. If you’ve experienced the same, you might appreciate the need to find a means of coping. Just like we silence some of the stimuli we’re flooded with on a busy street, we need a way to filter all of the incoming ideas. Without some mechanism in place, you’ll bounce frantically from one possibility to the next, without properly acting on anything.
As the ideas will not stop, I need way to divert them. Email folders help me accomplish this task. Whenever I have an idea for a creative project, I send an email to myself that documents the idea. I then store this email in a folder called (wait for it) Ideas. I do the same with ideas I have for articles and books, storing them in a folder called (you guessed it) Writing. Email folders work well for this, as each message can contain a varying amount of detail, and do not require me to organize them in any way: they’re already stored chronologically, and I can run searches on these folders as necessary.
Many of the ideas I contemplate excite me, and some are likely quite viable. That said, the bulk of these ideas are just too big to act upon right now. By sorting them away, I’m able to save these ideas for later. More importantly, I can put these notions out of my head for the time being. I know they’re safely stored, which leaves me able to return to what I’m supposed to be working on.
This is the crux of today’s post: You and I put too much value on what we could be doing, and not quite enough on what we are doing. Creative people are so used to asking “what if,” that they sometimes need to be pulled back to ideas that no longer seem so thrilling. Ideas are like first dates: exciting and fun. But you need to move past just beginnings if you want to achieve anything meaningful. Be honest: I’ll bet the project you’re bored with now seemed pretty exciting at one point—perhaps only a few weeks or months ago.
It’s Monday, and you have a new week in front of you. Today, instead of dreaming about some hypothetical project, or what you could someday do, I want you to concentrate wholly on what you are doing. Maybe you’re tasked with typesetting a boring form, planning a UI like so many others you’ve produced before, or, slogging through an identity project that’s been analyzed to death—and has lost some of its lustre. Regardless of the task, an opportunity for greatness lies right in front of you.
So, own it. Make that boring form more efficient than anyone expects. Push that UI and see how elegant a solution you can produce. Take that weary identity and ask what you’d need to do, to fall in love with this project again. Don’t put off doing so until later in the day. In fact, don’t even wait to get to the end of this post. Just close your browser window, mute any other distractions, and dig in.
Essentially, I’m talking about achieving a state of mindfulness and being present in this very moment. Playing with ideas in your head can be intoxicating, but imagination pales in comparison to seeing your ideas brought to life. To do that, you need to exhibit discipline, put in time, and work through some tedious tasks. Producing work also requires you to put new ideas in a pile for later—at which time you might be able to give them the time and attention they deserve.
Great creative work isn’t about what you dream of making; it’s found in what you actually make happen. And the project you currently don’t feel much love for might turn out to be one of the greatest things you’ve ever created. So, get to work and do the shit out of what’s right in front of you.