Advice: Motivation, Energy and Focus
Advice and Remedies for Staying Productive
Whether you are working on creative projects full time, part time or in your spare time, motivation, energy and focus can be some of the largest challenges to contend with. These demons affect everyone differently, and the most valuable work you can do is learn about yourself, what makes you run and what helps you function. In the mean time, here are some practices which help me stay productive.
A strange psychological trick I use on myself is to write down everything I need to do in a list. I have different lists for the day, week, month and so on. I think this improves my productivity because it externalizes my tasks, making them less personal or less intimidating. When you can see a weeks' work broken down into small individual tasks its seems much more manageable, and it feels great each time you get to cross something out when it is done. Sometimes when a list is half done I will rewrite it, and appreciate that it is much smaller than the original and allow myself to feel some pride.
I keep a notebook (actually several notebooks) for creative ideas like characters, story points, marketing ideas, article topics and so on. This takes a lot of pressure off of trying to remember too much, and I feel that writing down ideas (instead of typing them on a computer or phone) actually helps me be more creative and free-thinking. I can sketch things I have a hard time describing or draw arrows connecting different thoughts in a more illustrative way that opens up my imagination a little more.
Sometimes when I am feeling low I allow myself to imagine the best case scenario. I imagine that my project is wildly successful, popular and talked about. I imagine that it receives enough attention that movie studios begin fighting over the rights to turn it into a movie where my characters are played by A-List celebrities and I get invited on to talk shows to talk about my process and influences. Insane right? It might be unrealistic, but it does put me in a good mood, and then I do better work.
My philosophy is to have too many ideas. If one in a thousand of my ideas is a good one, then I should be having as many ideas as I can every day. This makes it a little easier to throw out ideas that do not work and not get too attached to any of them if they are coming at a quick pace. The notebooks come in handy for keeping all of them, and it is entertaining to look at notebooks full of ideas from years ago and see how far things have come.
Find a piece of art, code or writing that somebody made and try to imitate it (I mean imitate the style or structure). You should notice that it is difficult to do, and this will help you appreciate what that person had to go through, how much time and energy they used, to get to that point. Incredibly few people are so talented they can just produce great work without a mountain of practice, and reminding yourself that everyone has to work incredibly hard to be great at something can take some psychological pressure off of yourself and readjust your expectations to be healthier.
Try to have someone in your life (even if it is an online community) where you can talk about your ideas or projects now and then. I find that when I take a little time to talk about what I am working on, and the progress I have made and the new skills I have learned, I feel proud of myself and get a new burst of energy to carry on towards my goal. You don't need the validation of other people, but it is important to listen to yourself talk positively and passionately about what you are working on, to remind yourself why you started and why it is important to you.
I make a conscious effort to separate creative work and logical work. Usually during the day I will come up with ideas, plans, writing and other creative work, and in the evening I will dedicate my brain to implementing and carrying out those ideas in a practical and more logical way. I am much less productive if I try to be creative and logical at the same time. One personal note that may not apply to everyone, is that I consider problem-solving to be a creative task, not a logical one, and so I fit that in with my creative time. If a mechanical problem is giving me too much trouble, I will walk away from it and try to solve it in my creative time the following day.
Do it Anyway
Make time to carry out an idea you are not sure will work. If you can, try to take an idea you are not really confident about and try to see through to the end result. The worst case scenario is that you will have wasted some time but will have learned something. Allowing yourself to do this occasionally will also take some of the anxiety out of failure, and is good practice for not feeling like you have to get things right all the time every time.
One last note, if you are having difficulty focusing, staying motivated and keeping up energy levels, it can be a sign that you are working too hard, need to evaluate your routine and do a little self-care. There is nothing wrong with taking a step back from your situation and asking yourself if it is sustainable and healthy. There can be serious consequences if you burn out or sacrifice important responsibilities and relationships to muscle through your projects. Take care of yourself.