When the words won’t come.

Try for fifteen minutes. Fifteen solid, uncomfortable, stare-at-the-whiteness-and-mumble minutes.

Go take care of yourself for fifteen minutes. Eat, drink water, walk, pat the dog.

Try for another fifteen minutes. Endure the buzzing silence and do not saunter into distractions.

Take a half hour to watch comedy and/or exercise briskly and/or make sweet sex. (Bonus points if you manage all three at the same time, although I am informed that two of them go together really easily.)

Try for one more session of fifteen minutes.

If there are still no words, take the day completely off and do absolutely nothing productive. Lay in the backyard and watch clouds. Eat carrot cake. Allow yourself the painful scary time to do absolutely nothing at all.

Try again tomorrow.

photo by: Mark Turnauckas

The intelligent use of constraints

The intelligent use of constraints is the core of most creativity.

Wasn’t that a portentous opening sentence? You could hear me wearing a three-piece suit while I said it.

But it’s true. Give someone a notepad and ask them to make a drawing, and the very vast majority of people will go blank. But give ’em a notepad and ask for a drawing with a rocket sled in it, and suddenly people are making something.

(The people who never got stuck in the first place? They have their own internal methods for finding a starting point. Those too are all about constraints: using questions like “What are the objects in this room?” and “What was the last thing I got mad about?” to constrain their thinking.)

The Dude has a brilliant constraints game he plays with me when my brain will not shut up and let me sleep.

It’s like the “draw me an elephant” game, but better. He’ll say something like “There is a building, made of white limestone. It’s seventy-six stories high, and each floor is completely different. Start at the ground floor and see what’s in there.”

(My favourite floor was one that had wall-to-wall electric blue shag pile carpeting, and about a hundred Golden Retriever puppies. I still go back to visit it.)

Or from a few nights ago: “Think of each of your favourite historical figures, and give them a hairstyle from the 80s onward. Julius Caesar with a Flock of Seagulls hairstyle, that kinda thing.” That one was hilarious.

Constraining my mind to only think about one frivolous, not-worth-staying-awake-for topic works fast. I generally fall asleep before I think up a half-dozen examples. Sometimes I don’t even think of one. It’s super-powerful.

So that’s constraints. They are awesome when used intelligently.

What does the intelligent use of constraints look like?

I think it has a few vital features:

1. The constraint is only applied to a specific – and identified – set of circumstances.

2. The constraint is monitored, questioned, and sometimes temporarily removed to see if it is still useful – which means it still produces a valuable outcome. (It doesn’t have to be the outcome you started the process for. But it still has to be worth it.)

3. The constraint is never allowed to become sacred and unchangeable.

I wonder if it would be useful to have a Book of Constraints.

Where every time you make the decision to focus, filter or build a process, you write it down. And maybe you’d write down the logic of the decision, the core assumptions that lead to this process.

“We will only sell to customers who believe that great design is simple design.”
Because when we cater to clients with a different aesthetic to ours, we do a crap job and no-one wins. It’s better if we stick to our design strengths.

“Quiet time before 9am. No music, no chatting.”
Our most creative time happens early in the morning. That time is sacred and should be protected from interruptions.

“Publish an article every day but Sunday.”
My writing muscles have gotten a bit flabby and I need to rebuild them. Also I want to create new opportunities to attract new readers.

Because then it’d be easy to go back and look at your constraints and see if they are still relevant and whether they should still exist. If the circumstances change, the constraints should too.

My personal Book of Constraints would have purple fur and studs on it.

I seem to be setting up a lot of craft projects for myself lately. I like it.

One simple example of constraints: I have five hours of client-ey work to do today, and I didn’t have time to write the Rise and Shine newsletter AND the article. So I wrote the newsletter in a way where I can easily convert it into an article. That was very sane of me.

What are your constraints? Do you ever check up on them? Tell us in the comments!

photo by: ...love Maegan

Are you a light switch or a thermostat?

Are you a light switch or a thermostat?

A light switch has two settings: on or off. Frenetic or exhausted. Rich or broke. Everything or nothing. Worshipped or isolated. Bursting or starving.

A thermostat has levels: high, medium-high, medium, medium-low, low. Frenetic, energetic, relaxed, tired, exhausted. Rich, abundant, comfortable, scraping by, broke. Worshipped, admired, friendly, lonely, isolated. Bursting, full, satiated, hungry, starving.

Maybe you do it differently in different areas of your life. With money you might have two settings – say, BUY ALL THE THINGS and OMG DOOMFLAIL – but in your health you have a more nuanced outlook.

Or maybe, like me, you’re a light switch pretty much everywhere. (MADE OF PUDDING versus MOTHERFUCKING GOD OF EXERCISE, ferinstance.)

I’m assuming that being a light switch is bad for everyone. I certainly wish I wasn’t one, and am working on developing a more thermostat-ey approach. (If you think that being a light switch is actually awesomepants, please come explicate why in the comments.)

It’s definitely a bad idea in your business to only have two settings.

Take cash flow for example. When the switch is on you’re all, “Woo, never need work again! Time to chillax.” But then the light will turn itself off over time and suddenly you find yourself saying, “I have to sell sixty copies before Tuesday to pay the mortgage. Ohcrapohcrapohcrap.” And then you sell from desperation. And that never works well.

Desperation: the only scent that travels over the internet.

It is much preferable to have a sliding scale, one which does two vital things:

  1. Informs your actions.
  2. Tells you when to stop putting more energy in.

Imagine for a second: all of the areas in your biz and life are thermostat dials, from 1 (Terrible) to 5 (Mind-blowingly amazing) with 3 representing (Sufficient). All these dials are together in one place where you can see them and direct energy and attention to them together.

Suddenly you know a lot of things about your priorities.

  • You know that anything on 1 needs immediate attention and energy.
  • You know that anything on 2 should get energy next.
  • You know that anything on 3 is adequate, and you should be grateful, and give it at least enough energy to maintain it and make sure it doesn’t sneak on back to 2.
  • You know that anything on 4 is doing very well, and if you have no other urgent priorities you could put in a bit more energy to crank it up to 5.
  • You know that anything on 5 does not need any extra energy put into it. Also, confetti.

Isn’t it a beautiful system? I’m strongly considering getting out my craft stuff and making myself a physical version. It’d have dials for Self-care, and Clients, and Newsletter Subscribers, and Projects, and some others, too, I guess. (Not too many.)

Fuck it, I’m gonna go make this.

[EDIT: I made it! This is the photo – before it is calibrated with reality.]

This is my first thought on the things I most want to measure.

What dials would yours have? Tell me in the comments!

(All love and thanks to my coach Leela. This is her model.)

photo by: SeveStJude