#25: the Benefits of Getting Stuff Done

Let’s talk about the benefits of getting stuff done, the productivity things that are working for me, and my loose social media plan.

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Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

Chuck Close

You’re probably familiar with the first line of this quote. I had never heard the rest of it until this week, and it hits home. The more regularly (read: daily) I work on something, the more ideas I get for it.

Chuck Close painting
Chuck Close went from painting large hyper-realistic paintings to tv screen influenced stuff like this.

I used to think that creativity required a spark, but I’m not sure where I got the idea.

Maybe it was the story of Isaac Newton and the apple falling (which I just found out was not on his head). Or the story of Archimedes running naked through the streets yelling EUREKA after being walloped by an idea in the bath. Both of those stories are about inspiration striking like lightning.

In reality, inspiration is nothing like that.

There are some occasions where an idea appears to come out of the blue (usually in the shower for me), but the reality is that’s a result of taking a conscious break and letting my subconscious take over.

(That’s probably what Newton and Archimedes experienced too.)

Most of my ideas come while I’m doing the work, in a series of mental flips and catapults (often in what if form). Not all of them are good ideas; some are rejected immediately after some consideration. But every so often I’m thunderstruck by something, which immediately gets labeled as a Good Idea.

Waiting for inspiration is simply procrastination. It’s another excuse to avoid the hard stuff, which is actually working.

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Years ago I used to rely on my subconscious brain for good grades. In high school, I noticed that if I studied (crammed, tbh) until I knew about 85% of the test material, another 10-15% would materialize overnight.

This didn’t work in college, though, because there was too much material and I skipped too many classes.

I did however learn something valuable from the one A+ I got in college: if you love the material so much that you read it all, and do all the assignments, and even do the non-required extra reading, you don’t need to study for the final.

The main thing is loving what you’re learning. In my case, it was a Hinduism class that I took as a bit of a lark, to learn more about the religion and culture before rejecting it completely (I’d been an avowed atheist since around 10).

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All of this discussion about the benefits of steady work is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve been quite productive the past couple of weeks.

Two weeks ago I wrote about overhauling my productivity system, and spent probably 6 hours reading about David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which Jessica Abel used as a kick-off point for her productivity methods and recommendations.

I’ve been implementing my revised productivity method – combined with not killing myself for anything – with success the past couple of weeks. Success is relative; these past two weeks have been a lot better than most of the weeks this year.

Better than last week is a fine, fine standard. Back when I studied Krav Maga, my instructor drilled the concept of simply being 1% better every day into our heads. It’s a small enough standard to feel doable, and offloads the guilt of not making major improvements every day.

Progress isn’t linear as it is. Ask any artist – sometimes it seems like every line we make is utter garbage. But if we look at our art from a year ago versus today, improvements are obvious. As the saying goes, most people overestimate how much they can get done in a day and underestimate how much they can get done in a month.

Or as football coach and famed crier of tears Dick Vermeil said, “No one gets better by working less.”

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What I’m working on

My graphic memoir

I’ve been writing out and scripting my graphic memoir. In fact I finished the script for the first chapter Thursday night (and immediately had ideas on changes & improvements the next day *sigh*).

Writing daily, even for 50 minutes (which is my minimum, based on two 25 minute pomodoros), makes writing much, much easier. As I said on Twitter:

I’m getting to the point where it feels like there’s a rhythm to my days. Wake, read (except on Saturday mornings), ease into the day, write, day job, and then stop around 5pm.

Writing is becoming a bit like riding a bike; it’s easier to hop on and start cycling when working on the same project everyday.

My productivity system

It’s working, but it’s in an experimentation period too where I’m evaluating what works and what doesn’t.

One thing that doesn’t work for me is excessive tagging.

The GTD method espouses detailed tagging; a lot of people (apparently) tag tasks with morning or afternoon or note whether a task will take 5_mins, 15_mins, or 30mins. Whether it’s an errand, or something they can do at home.

This is ridiculous. Too much tagging feels like (extra) work; I’ve already deleted most of the suggested tags. And I’m paying attention to the ones I’m using, or feel at missing.

The two things that are new to me and making a difference are 1) using an Inbox properly and 2) daily and weekly reviews (though they are a work in progress).

I’ve had one job in my life that had a real inbox on the desk and it was rarely used.

(It’s weird to think about papers being dropped off into inboxes, the lifeblood of a corporation.)

Todoist has an Inbox and I didn’t know what to do with it until 2 weeks ago. Now it’s where I write down every idea or task that comes to mind, and then organize them once a day.

(Note: If I come up with an idea while working, I’ll categorize, tag & prioritize it as needed.)

Zeigarnik effect, Bluma Zeigarnik

The more I do this – and the more I rely on Todoist to handle things I need to remember – the less anxious I feel. I’m letting go of holding onto these things mentally (bye bye, Zeigarnik effect).

Combined with making sure I get my writing down before working, I’m noticing that I can stop working around 5pm. Not just stop but STOP stop. The real stop, where I’m done, I walk away, and I’m not still thinking about it all night long.

The second thing that’s working for me (but still very much in flux) are daily and weekly reviews.

Daily reviews are planning the day (around 9am) and reviewing the day/planning the next day (around 5pm).

This is not to say that I’m doing really well; I’m still figuring out how to prioritize and schedule stuff. But it’s a big improvement from the previous weeks.

The end of week review is working, but it’s more a work in progress.

The good is going through ALL of my projects and ALL of my tasks. Nothing falls between the cracks. And knocking off tasks feels like making room for new tasks, which means some older ideas have a chance of seeing the light of day.

It feels like the more I get done, the more I can get done.

A social media plan

I have a love-hate relationship with social media, bordering on hate-hate.

It’s a fucking necessary evil. But I also like keeping up with news and engaging on Twitter, as well as being inspired by other artists on Instagram (I’m not one of those other artists make me feel like shit people).

I loathe algorithms, since they’re inhuman, corporate, biased bullshit. But … I want to connect with more people on Instagram (and eventually Twitter, but I’m focusing on IG for now).

My simple social media plan is to post 5 times a week on Instagram, with hashtags.

I researched hashtags this past week (really re-researched hashtags I already had, organizing them in a spreadsheet with usage figures), and organized a bunch of hashtags for copying & pasting.

My IG posts are going to be fairly straightforward:

  • 1 DTIYS or fan art piece a week (I posted my first DTIYS yesterday and … forgot to include the original pic, or add a graphic with a CTA about my website)
  • 3 out-of context comic panels per week (the more comics I make, the more options!)
  • 1 reel, of creative advice/commentary, based on my newsletters (I have a lot of resistance to showing my face & talking…)
  • Idea: post a 30 min, made up on the spot comic once a week

For IG stories:

  • Try soliciting a random drawing prompt (or a random story idea for the made up comic?)
  • new post notifications
  • a rotation of book recommendations
  • share other creators
  • share random daily thoughts, and cats

Some of these apply to Twitter too, but I’ll be focusing on IG for now.

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Today’s listening

The benefits of getting stuff done
A close-up of the Drukqs album cover.

I went old school today, listening to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Drukqs. Long before there was chillhop, there were chill out rooms at raves and early Aphex Twin just hit the spot.

(Just not all Aphex, I don’t recommend listening to Windowlicker when you want to chill out.)

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That’s all folks! I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for almost 6 months straight. Getting into a groove works.

What’s the one productivity tip that made the most sense for you?

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