Screenshot from the Essential Craftsman YouTube channel | toddregoulinsky.com

Smart Still Produces Sweat

Let me introduce you to my new favorite YouTube video.

I don’t plan on building a ramp any time soon, but I’m always interested in becoming more productive. I’m fascinated by the ways people streamline their workflow and spaces to get more done – from Adam Savage’s workshop to Casey Neistat’s old studio and everything in between.

What I really appreciate about this video is his appreciation for hard work and that working smarter doesn’t negate hard work.

It’s made me think about what my definition of “working smarter” actually means, and I’ve come up with this – eliminating wasted effort. Working hard is fine and in many cases is necessary and good; so long as the majority of the work is getting a positive result. It’s working hard for little or no results that causes problems.

There’s always going to be some degree of wasted effort, especially if it’s a new type of project or new skill that’s being learned. But it’s those moments when I want to be aware of the times I went down a dead end then backtracked so I can avoid that same path the second time. I know I’m going to make mistakes, I just want them to be new and interesting mistakes rather than the same ones over and over again.

In my opinion, this is fertile ground for creativity. It’s not just finding a system that works and never changing it ever – it’s find what works, always being aware that you’re using a system, and whether there are places to tweak that system. Or it might be a matter of dumping the system altogether and trying it a completely new way.

This is something I’m thinking about at the beginning of a new year. How many places in my life have I lost track of the underlying system? How many times do I do things just because “it’s the way I do it” without examining if there’s a new or better way of doing it? Where are some low-risk areas that I can completely abandon the system and try it a new way – almost an intentional forgetting of my habits where I can force myself to learn something new?

Video and screenshot from the Essential Craftsman YouTube channel.

The Little Gaps

“The problem is no longer getting people to express themselves, but providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say…. What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing…the thing that might be worth saying.”Gilles Deleuze

This quote bounced into my inbox this morning via Tim Ferriss’ weekly 5-Bullet Friday newsletter, and came along at just the right time. You see, today is my day off.

My work schedule is based around a print deadline every two or three weeks, depending on the month and how we maneuver around holidays. As someone who spent a few years in a rapid development freelance gig, this is right up my alley and keeps things from dragging on too long (always a danger when timelines get longer with projects). I do appreciate some of the pressure because it forces me to not be too precious with my work. After all, at some point, it doesn’t matter how cool the design is, you just have to get the damn thing done.

On the other hand, the danger of running the creative tank empty is very real. That’s a problem.

I once worked as a recording engineer with a stage actor who was voicing audiobooks. In spite of the books actually paying his bills and buying groceries, he never gave it the proper respect it deserved because he considered himself a stage actor first with everything else beneath that. Which meant his preparation for these books would be spotty, he’d show up late, and generally pitch a fit if we had to spend a little more time with something. Dammit, he was an actor dontcha know!

Thinking of him keeps me vigilant to not let myself slip into the same habits. Perhaps my day job isn’t high art, but it actually requires me to flex my creative muscles constantly in a disciplined way. Ultimately, I’ve found that helps the passion projects because I’m not like the guy who suddenly needs to lift a car off his kid but hasn’t seen the inside of a gym in decades. I’ve been putting in the time, building up strength, and then I get to direct it.

But back to the day off.

One habit I’ve been instituting this year, more or less regularly, has been giving myself a “day off” following a print date. That doesn’t mean I do nothing, it’s just that I give myself permission to get nothing of business value accomplished. It might be a day spent reading or watching movies – taking in some kind of creativity and feeding my imagination. It might be a day spent writing or revising poems or a script (my tentative plan for today) to get something done that doesn’t pay the bills. Could be having coffee with a friend and doing a whole lotta nothing.

No matter what, it goes back to something Joe Strummer once said – “No input, no output.” Keeping that balance has become a rewarding, if difficult, point of focus for me. How about you?

A Case of the Mondays

The funny thing about being self-employed is that days lose a bit of their meaning. Sure, Friday is nice because there’s some respite in the weekend, but it’s not like you get to escape your boss or anything – you share the same mirror.

For me, Monday is a busy day. There’s all the messages to catch up from over the weekend, planning the week ahead, a staff meeting at church, ballet for my daughter, and trying to get some actual work done. I have many reasons to dislike Monday, but I actually don’t.

When I was in high school and college, my best semesters (academically speaking) were the ones where I was busiest. In the Fall, I’d have marching band, jazz band, and concert band all going at once in addition to a new year’s worth of classes to get a grip on. Rather than wilt, I’d excel in those months and pull my best grades of the year. Come Spring when things would slow down and I had much more time to breath, there would be the inevitable slide.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy Mondays and Fridays, then have trouble with those pesky middle days. At the beginning of the week, there’s the challenge of establishing momentum and working my to-do list in order to get off to a strong start. At the end of the week, I’m trying to clean everything up so that I can enjoy a day of nothing on Saturday with a clean conscience. In the middle… not quite sure what happens.

I always thought the word doldrums came from nautical roots and then proceeded to land – a sort of evolutionary word crawling from the seas and then growing legs and lungs at some point. That the doldrums that described a sailing ship bereft of wind and unable to make way became a way to describe those on land who were in low spirits or depressed. Maybe it seemed more poetic that way. At any rate, I was wrong – it was the other way round.

Perhaps the middle of the week is my doldrums – where the wind goes away and I have trouble making any progress. But the beginning of the week? Ah, that’s when I have wind in my sails and can take on the world!

At least until Tuesday morning.

And if you read this far wondering where the link to Office Space reference is, here you go. I just couldn’t leave you hanging.