Productivity for Creatives: Turning Ideas into Action | Tanner Christensen | Skillshare

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Productivity for Creatives: Turning Ideas into Action

teacher avatar Tanner Christensen, Creative Strategist

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Introduction: Why Ideas Matter


    • 3.



    • 4.



    • 5.



    • 6.



    • 7.



    • 8.



    • 9.

      What's Next?


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About This Class

Take the mystery out of turning ideas into action. This 72-minute class from Creative Strategist and leading product designer Tanner Christensen gives straight talk on everything that matters (and everything that doesn't) when you want to be productive and create.

Learn how to define your drive, cultivate useful habits, and plan a roadmap for success. The best part? These principles apply to every creative career. Whether you're an aspiring artist, novelist, or entrepreneur, this class gives you strategies for getting stuff done.

Ideas matter, but action matters more. By the end of this hour, you'll start a daily ritual that gets you doing, creating, and producing in the world.

Meet Your Teacher

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Tanner Christensen

Creative Strategist


Tanner Christensen is a professional creative strategist, product designer, published author, developer, and entrepreneur.

He is currently Head of Design at Gem, building the software for modern recruiting, the author of The Creativity Challenge, and developer of some of the top creativity apps.

Previously Tanner was founder and writer at Creative Something. Former contributing writer at Inc Magazine. And product designer at Lyft, designing software for self driving cars. Before all that he designed at Atlassian and Facebook.

He currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

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1. Trailer: Drive as a personal- wait. Okay, Drive as a personal. Personal urge. So I'm Tanner Christiansen. A creative strategist as I call myself. That means that I deal with all different parts of creativity and digital work. Specifically I do copywriting, I do design, I do web development, I do marketing, I do user interaction, I make applications. Today I'm gonna be teaching about how to be more productive. Not only to be more productive but to how to take an idea and make something with it, while at the same time maybe keeping your day job or doing other projects or things like that. We're going to take an idea and we're gonna make it happen. Who was his class for? Anyone who wants to make ideas happen. Whether you're an artist or writer, somebody wants to open a business, start a shop, write a blog, this class will walk you through the steps of creating a process to make those ideas happen. So, we're going to talk about four main things in this class. The first is finding your drive. The second thing we're going to talk about is your habits. The next thing we're going to talk about tools and environment, and the last thing we're going to talk about is how to maintain that drive, how to maintain that productivity level. Ideas are easy. Everyone has ideas, but what people don't tend to do is produce something with those ideas. So productivity means that you're actually producing something, something tangible usually. 2. Introduction: Why Ideas Matter: I'm Tanner Christiansen. It's kind of hard to describe what it is I do. I'm a creative strategist, is what I call myself. That means that I deal with all different parts of creativity and digital work. Specifically, I do copywriting, I do design, I do web development, I do marketing, I do user interaction, I make applications, and I do all of that on the side but I also have a main standard day job which deals with marketing. Today, I'm going to be teaching about how to be more productive. Not only to be more productive but how to take an idea and make something with it while at the same time, maybe keeping your day job or doing other projects or things like that. We're going to take an idea and we're going to make it happen or at least prepare a strategy to make it happen. Productivity means that you're actually producing something. Ideas are easy. Everyone has ideas but what people don't tend to do is produce something with those ideas. So, productivity means that you're actually producing something, something tangible usually. Productivity is important for creatives because it's what sets them apart from everyone else. Again, everyone has ideas but it's those who are able to produce something that they can explore their full potential. They can see the results of their ideas and I think that's really important especially if you plan on growing as a creative is seeing what you can actually tangibly create. So, we're going to talk about four main things in this class. The first is finding your drive. What motivates you to take action and to take your ideas to the next step? The second thing we're going to talk about is your habits. What kind of habits are you currently having that are helping you be productive and which are you having that are hindering your productivity? The next thing we're going to talk about, the third thing, that's going to be tools and environment. What tools are you currently using, what tools might you need, what's the environment you're working in and how might you be able to build a better environment for your work? The last thing we're going to talk about is how to maintain that drive, how to maintain that productivity level, what's keeping you going, what's stopping you from going. I think the most important part of that, of course, is outlining some kind of roadmap for taking action and maintaining that productive level. I started with the graphic design. For a few years, I ran on graphic design agency. I'm first hand to close the doors. I've also written a small book on creative thinking and in 2008, I started a blog centralizing on creativity and what it means to be creative. That's been running successfully for a number of years now. I've also developed a number of apps. There's one called O-flow which helps people generate ideas on the fly. I've developed one for writing called Prompts. I developed that explicitly for me to help me kind of get into a better writing habit. I've also developed my most recent one which is called Brain Being that allows people to play little games and snippets to try to be more creative. It's designed for children but I've seen a lot of adults have fun with it too and what you'll see is that a lot of what we're going to be talking about deals with how was I able to create all those things while maintaining a day job without losing my motivation and finding some successes. If you're able to find the key thing that helps you feel more productive, I think that's going to help you in the long run. So, for me, that is play. I love to be playful in everything I do. Whether it's sketching notes for an idea or whether it's helping someone with their idea or even if I'm at the finish line of a project and I can see that I've got these three small tasks that I got to complete. I try to incorporate play into that. Sometimes that means that I'm dancing around while I'm working. Sometimes that means that my sketchbook just has notes on it that are quirky and weird, things like that I think are really important for me personally but in the end, you have to find what works for you and the best way you're going to find out is to do the work, really. Ideas definitely come from your experiences and where you've been, what you've done, and who talk to. It's everything around you and everything that you've ever experienced. That's where your ideas come from. Small things like walking do help and so many studies have been done that show that just a quick walk around the neighborhood is enough to give you ideas and help generate sparks in your mind. I think the key thing for me when it comes to walking, for example, is it takes you away from the work, well, physically and mentally. Instead of focusing on the work here, you're now and about and there's things going on around you, and your minds a little bit distracted enough where the ideas can flow a little more naturally. So, I think that's one thing that definitely helps. People do find it surprising when you take a step back from the work. A lot of people feel that anytime you take a break of any kind whether it's walking or playing a video game or even just talking to a friend, they feel like they're not being productive because they've stepped away. But in reality, that step away from the work is what's going to help your brain and kind of re-energize and connect the dots on its own and that's really crucial I think to productivity because you're taking a step back in order to move two steps forward. For me personally, I try to get out a lot. I traveled to Barcelona a few years ago by myself completely randomly. I just picked a point on a map and just decided to go. I don't speak any Spanish, I don't speak anything like that, I went completely alone just like that and it was such an enlightening experience to go there and kind of see the architecture and hear the people and be a part of the culture that's completely different than what we get here. So, I think ideas come from everything and the more you surround yourself with new things, unique things, you just try things, I think that's going to help you. Another example, in a lot of my spare time, is spent pursuing new hobbies. So, last summer I took up fencing, I took up rowing. I've just started rock climbing again after a number of years away and having all those diverse experiences I think helps build ideas for you and it doesn't have to be activities either, I mean, you can read different books, you can watch movies, pick up a magazine you see on the bookshelf. Maybe it doesn't look appealing but just flip through the pages and you're going to find that some ideas are sparking. Ideas matter because, for one, that's how our brains work. Your brain is constantly working to connect one concept with another in order to generate new concepts. When you have the ideas that's basically your brain saying this is right, this is wrong, this is where we need to go, this is how I can evolve as a person. So, it's really important to be in tune with those ideas, I think. I've had a lot of ideas that people have thought were a little crazier out there. Sometimes when I tell people things I've accomplished, for example, they'll look at me and say, "You did that really? Why did you do that?" There's a small example would be self-publishing a book. My first book I ever published was named. Think unstuck, and basically it was a series of thinking strategies for getting unstuck. If you ever stuck on a project or you want to generate ideas, you open the book, you flip through random page and it'll give you a story and an example of how to overcome that idea. When I first started working on that project, people were like, "Why? You can't write a book. You're not a writer." But I wanted to pursue that in order to explore the strategies in the book itself, but also to see if I can write and publish a book, and ended up self-publishing, which is the thing that people most are surprised by. I was told all along, "You need to find a publisher. You got to contact someone. You have to do all this," but I wanted to see if I can do it myself and I think a could and I don't want to wait for someone else to come along and say, "Yeah, you have our approval. Go ahead and make this." I just wanted to make it. So, people are pretty surprised the fact that I not only wrote the book and took the time to do that but I learned how to self publish as well and ended up producing a book. It comes down to knowing what your idea is, why you want to do it, and then pursuing it no matter what. You're going to find roadblocks and you're going to have a lot of questions, but a huge part of the creative process especially is not letting those things hinder you, just beating on the path as best you can. Sometimes that means that you're going to get stuck and you're not really sure what to do, but you have options, you have the Internet now where you can research things. You likely know someone who's probably done something like what you've done or something similar, you can ask them for help. The main point is, you got to just press ahead no matter what. So, my blog is called Creative Something. I've written it for the last almost seven years now. It started as kind of an exploration project. I was working in a design agency and I kept hearing people talk about the word design, and creativity, and how they connect. When I asked them,"Well, what does creativity mean " No one could really say anything I didn't know. So, I wind up kind of restring to get myself and I realized that there's a lot of people in the world who talk about creativity who evaluate but don't know what that means. So, in order to kind of tackle that, I figured, I'm going to start a blog kind of research creativity myself and as I do that credit journal more or less for myself, so I can look back at. Look back at it in the future. So, I ended up starting writing on this blog and it's been up and down. There was a little while where I wasn't really sure you know, I'm talking about creativity but how does that helpful to anyone else? If people are coming this block and reading it, how's that going to be helpful? Or if we're looking 10 years in the future and I'm looking back at this blog, will I read something that will inspire me? At first, I felt like that wasn't happening. So, I ended up kind of adjusting my approach, running on different things, exploring different topics. I eventually ended up on kind of a neuroscience approach to creativity. What does it mean in the actual brain, the physical brain to be creative? How does that work? As a result of that, I feel like I finally found my voice. But it took a long time to get there, like I said, almost seven years and now that I found that voice. Writing every day has kind of helped me better understand creativity. I could not be where I am today without writing that blog for seven years, and I'm not making any money on anything. I don't have any advertisements. I'm not selling anything on the blog, but the fact that I've sat down to write and I have this kind of identity for seven years, I've learned a lot. People know who I am. I'm not an expert, but people will come to me and ask questions and I think it's because I've written on that blog for seven years that I can say that that's where I'm at. I've always been kind of interested in writing. My mother was a writer. My father writes a little bit. Writing for me has been the easiest way to get thoughts down on paper and to see them evolve. When ideas are in your head, they're bouncing around and there's nothing tangible there, but when you see something written down on paper, you can say, okay, this is the idea and I can manipulate the idea now that it's written down. So, I think writing for me has always been interesting or an interest, and it made sense to start a blog because it's free. It's anywhere. I can access it anywhere, it's got this archive for me. It made sense to take that writing and take that idea of how do I learn more about creativity and turn it into a blog. At the time, I was working for a small design agency in Utah and I was doing SEO work for them which is search engine optimization and marketing. At the time, the iPhone was still fairly new and there wasn't really any apps out in the market to help with SEO, but everyone had their iPhone on them and we're using all the time. So, I thought why not try to make an app that can help people do better marketing through their phone? So, I ended up figuring out an algorithm. I was doing web development at the time on the site as well. So, I kind of already had a knowledge of how to do some of the back-end SEO things. So, I took that idea and I said, I'm going to learn how to program. I'm going to make this out myself. The app actually ended up being only half native app, and half a web app, but it got the job done and I was able to create that up. I was funded to make that app because it was my first real dive into programming for the iPhone. I'd never really done programming like that before. Only on the Web,I've done programming. So, it was interesting to go in there and try to explore this new realm and this new way of approaching things. Not only that, but when it comes to moving from a platform like the web to the phone, you really have to rethink how you're programming. I think a lot of people can relate to that in terms of writing versus drawing. Some people say, "I'm a writer," or they say, "I am an illustrator," but they struggled to go one way or the other, and it's the same when you're going from one development to mobile. So, a key takeaway from that I would think is you have to not be afraid to take what you know, and incorporated into existing things and just explore the new territory. In order to generate new ideas which is creativity. You have to take what you currently know and try to adjust one or more things of that concept. It's really how everything was about right. So, the best example of course, the carriage and the car or even the wheel itself. You know that a wheel exists, but what more can you do with that concept? Well, you don't know unless you attach it to something else. So, then you attach it to a carriage and you have horses, but then you can say, well, what if I have an engine? You take that engine. You put it in the carriage and now you have a car. So it's really kind of the same thing when it comes to anything in life. Being able to take one aspect of what you know or what you do and take it to another kind of environment or platform, that's going to inspire more ideas, and it's going to be really weird at first. You're not going to know what you're doing, but that's kind of fun in the process and no matter what happens, even if you fail like that app did, you still learn something and there's so much value in that. I was writing on this blog or something and I was starting to understand that the environment for educating children about creativity was not really there. Of course, creativity is a hard thing to teach. But what I was seeing at the same time was there's these intelligence education apps, like Lumosity or Fit Brains I think it's called. The apps promised that it can make you more intelligent, but looking at the research I was doing, I wasn't seeing any results from that those apps training to be good at the games themselves and nothing else. Which is fun and it's great, but there was nothing really beneficial to that in terms of intelligence and absolutely nothing in terms of creativity. So, I had this idea, what if I could create an app for children that could educate them to be more creative using kind of the same techniques or approaches as those other apps? So, that was the initial idea and when I set out to do it, I started realizing that it was not going to end up being that. It quickly evolved very fast. What happened was I put together a really quick markup of the app. I made a few sketches. I created a prototype version. I tested on my niece, and she gave me such instinct great feedback that I realized this needs to be even finer. The approach I was using for the first prototype was very kind of straightforward, is very Lumosity approach towards mathematics and it's really simple problems. So, in brain, then I realized I needed to add a little bit more of a fun aspect to it which helped kind of inspired design, help inspire some of the fun of games, things like that. 3. Drive: Everyone has ideas. That's just how the brain works. You probably don't even realize you have those ideas but you absolutely do have ideas. Sometimes they're small ideas, like a better way to load the dishwasher. That's an idea, right? Other times you might have an Idea and in the moment you might think that it's so silly or so unrealistic that you just ignore it. But you definitely have ideas. If you're struggling to identify those ideas, it would be really helpful to maybe take a habit where you can capture them. So, journaling or meditation or even just free writing randomly throughout the day, that'll really help. If you find yourself on the other end of the spectrum, having a lot of ideas, the first thing you need to do, absolutely, is unloading those ideas somehow. So, whether that means you're maintaining a journal or you have a document on your computer, you're just writing things down, or even I've known some people who like to use voicemail on their phone, they just leave themselves messages. But the first step is definitely unloading those ideas. The second step is, once you've freed up some space in your mind and you've got those ideas written down somewhere, you need to identify the best one to pursue in that moment. You might be excited about one thing that might be unrealistic, though. You must be excited about another but realize that it's going to take a long time to develop. But who's to say which one of those you should pursue now? That's up to you. Ultimately, what that comes down to is your drive. What's that motivation? Because how you tie that back to your ideas, that's what's going to make you be able to pick one easily. So me, personally, I like to maintain an idea journal. I used a few apps for a long time. Nothing really worked too well for me. So, I have an actual Moleskin notebook that I keep all my ideas written down in and that seems to help a lot. If I don't write an idea in my journal, I'll be on the computer blogging for example, and I'll just capture my idea right there on the blog and save it as a draft. The most important thing right now is to figure out what idea you want to work on, and capture it in some way. What you need to outline specifically is the what and the why of your idea. What is it you're trying to do, outline that in a sentence if you have to, draw it out, something like that, and identify why you want to do it, again, going back to your drive. Drive is your momentum, it's the urge to do something, to take action, which is important because the drive is what's going to help you make decisions throughout the day. It's going to help you know what you can and can't do, essentially. It's important to note that drive is different than goals, though. People often associate the two together. When you say, what's your drive, to someone, they'll often be like, Oh I'm driven to get money or to make a book or something. But that's not drive, those are goals. The key distinction being goals have an endpoint, drive does not. Drive can change but you always have some kind of major drive that's going to propel you forward and help you make decisions and act. Drive matters because, again, it helps you make decisions, it helps you every day. When you have the option to either sit down at the end of the day and watch TV or sit down and maybe write a few hundred words, drive is going to be that key distinction that says, "Yeah, I think I'm going to do the words or I'm going to to take action on my idea." And that's why drive matters. If you know your drive and you know what your goal is at the same time, that's going to make being productive insanely easier. With Brainbean, I started the project again as an exploration, seeing if I could do it, trying to fill a hole in the market that I saw, and about halfway through the project, I really got burned out. I was spending countless hours working on it, my girlfriend was being neglected, my family and friends were being neglected. It was really terrible. I feel like I was wasting my time and I will finish the project and it would just fail. All of that time, and all of that effort, and all of the opportunities I had that I didn't take would be wasted. So, anytime I felt that way, I would sit down and remind myself of what my personal drive was, and for me that drive has always been seeing what I can do with my ideas. Just seeing what happens when I have an idea and I make it into something more. So, knowing that drive and having ways to remind myself of that drive allowed me to overcome that slump. So even when I felt like I was wasting my time or possibly wasting my time, I could sit down, remember, "Well, I'm not doing this for the money, I'm not doing it to make up that time. What I'm doing it for is because I want to see if I can take this idea and turn it into something tangible." So remembering that drive allowed me to get through that slump. I remember being very young and we had some project in a video class in high school, and the assignment was just to make a short 30 second clip using a camera and your friends as actors, basically. But instead of doing that, I had this weird idea where I wanted to try papermation, something I heard about, I've never really seen it, I haven't done it, but I wanted to try it. Stop-motion paper animation. It wasn't the best but it ended up turning out pretty cool and everyone was impressed and I think that's how I've always been, having an idea, wanting to see if I could make that idea happen. I think people tend to avoid doing the work or being productive even when they have a drive, for a number reasons. I think one is we mislead ourselves about how much work exactly everything entails, which is a huge one. We think that writing a book means we have to sit down and we have to write 30,000 words today, otherwise we're not gonna write a book. Or we lose track of our drive, we forget like Brainbean, we forget that we're doing it for the sole intent. So, when we feel like we're wasting money, like it's not going to be a success, we get so overwhelmed with that feeling that we just stop or we feel like we can't go on. Again, going back to how important drive is, when you have those moments and you remind yourself of your drive, that can absolutely help you get over that slump. Merlin Mann, who's a productivity expert, previously writing a book on productivity but for reasons had to stop. He once said that, "Procrastination happens when we've forgotten who we are." I think that's so true. Like I said, we step back from a project when we forgot our real intent for doing it, or if our intents are are off-center. So, maybe we have a drive but we have a mask over that drive for a certain project. So, for example, people often say, "Well, I want to write a book." Again, that's not a drive, that's a goal. But they feel like there's something inside of them that says, "I want to do this, I want to accomplish this." So, they sit down to write and they realize, "Well, this is a lot more work than I thought it'd be, I don't want to do this anymore." So they end up with a half written novel or something like that. Again, that's likely caused because they've either not correctly identified their drive, or they've incorrectly identified it, or they've forgotten what that drive was all along. So, if they step back and they say, "Well, what's my drive? Is this accomplishing, is this helping me with that drive? Is the drive motivating me to write this book?" Or if they say, "Well, this drive doesn't feel right anymore." Clearly, the book is not the right choice to go. So, identifying what your drive is is only part of the process. The other part is making sure it's the right drive for you, personally. I think a key component of that, that you have to always remember is that your drive might change. We all change as we grow and as we experience new things. So, if your drive changes, you have to be open to accepting that. But the other thing that you need to keep in mind with drive is you don't need to shy away if you feel like your drive is something a lot people might not agree with. So, maybe your drive is to get money or attaining wealth in some form, that's okay, don't shy away from that. You need to embrace your drive whatever that is. But again, don't be afraid to change it as well if you feel like it's natural to do. If you find yourself unmotivated to get up in the morning or really you just cannot start this project, that's okay. Go back, change your drive, find what does motivate you or excites you. A lot of the time people will say, "You know, I want to write a book, I want to start a business" or at the most, one the more common ones is "I want more money", but they never really analyze or figure out why they want those things. Why do you want to write a book? Why do you want to start a business? What would you do with all that money? So, I think it was Toyota who has this approach to these kind of questions where it's the five why's. So it's a really unique way of approaching what your drive is. So, you can sit down and you can say, "Well, what I'm excited about right now in my life?" Or another question will be, "What am I unhappy with?" and the answer to that question, whatever it is for you personally, you have to then dig deeper by asking why. Why does that excite you, why are you driven to do that, and based on that answer you say, "Well, why is that?" Then you do that five times and you'll end up in a place where you can actually take action with your response. Now you have a deeper understanding of your drive, there'll be no questions. You're not just pursuing money, you're not only pursuing a book, you are maybe writing a book because you feel like it helps express yourself, it helps you explore your thoughts. So, then you know that your drive is not writing books, your drive is not even writing essentially, your drive may be you'd like to explore your own thoughts, your own mentality. But that's one way to dig deeper into what your actual drive is. 4. Habits: If you understand your drive, your reasoning for doing things, the next part that plays a huge component in being able to actually be productive is your habits, which are of course the routine things you do day-to-day, sometimes without even thinking about it. If you have a strong drive but you don't have the habits to backup that drive, you'll find yourself procrastinating a lot or being unable to actually produce any work. Having a strong drive is only one part of the problem. Of course, you want to have strong habits as well that don't hinder your process, that don't prevent you from pursuing your drive. Habits are helpful because they do a lot of different things. One thing is they anchor us to the world. When things start to get chaotic or when under certain of things, our habits can help bring us back and make us feel grounded. At the same time, habits can help us be more productive. They can help us automatically do things without having to worry about thinking, overthinking it. If you made a habit of writing every day, there's no question in your mind that you're going to sit down and write because it just comes naturally and you can have habits that help you to be more productive and habits that hinder you. Seth Godin has this thing he calls billing practice of productivity, which essentially is creating habits that help you be productive. When you build those habits what happens is productivity doesn't become work anymore. It's just something you do. It's showering, it's putting your clothes on, it's something you just do. I think that's really important. If you want to be productive, you're going to have to build the habits to back that up. You are going to have good habits and bad habits and identifying the difference between the two is going to be crucial. Good habits, they always leave you feeling energized or excited. They help you make it easier to see when you're making clear leaps in your work. Bad habits they're going to make you feel exhausted like you're wasting your time. They're going to make you feel guilty, sometimes. For example, me personally, I have had to manually build this habit of exercise to give me energy. Of course, exercise is probably the most obvious example of a good habit you can have because it literally leaves you feeling energized. Bad habits are going to hinder your ability to be productive. They're going to make you not feel energized. They're going to leave you feeling sometimes guilty. That's the best way to identify the bad habits is somewhere in the back of your consciousness you're going to say, should I be doing this or should I be doing something else. I think drive comes back into that really strongly. If you know your drive and you're constantly reminded of your drive. If you're doing a habit that isn't really helping you, you're going to be able to stop yourself and say wait what am I doing right now. This is not what I want to be doing. So, building a new habit is really really hard and there are experts that have been studying this for years and they can't figure out how to do it. So, let's not listen to any of the research. Let's ignore that for now. To build a habit, you first need to know, of course, whether or not it's going to be a good or bad one for you so, will it make you excited, will it energize you, will it help you see you making progress in your work. The first thing you'll want to do is identify again what's your why and then look at the tools, the environment, all those things combined and see how can I utilize those to build a better habit. For me personally again, I wanted to write, I wanted to write more. So, I had to find a way to make that a habit and for me that was developing an app prompts. Being able to create a tool on my own to help build a habit, it made it infinitely easier to make that habit a natural recurring thing. But you don't have to go that far. You don't have to make your own tool or make an app. You could do something as simple as setting a reminder or telling someone, make a wager with a friend. The trick with habits is that they should come naturally. So, you're not really aware of most of your habits. You have to take the time to really think and look inside to identify your habits. There's a few ways you can do that. One really tricky way is to set a timer. So, I've got my phone with me all the time. I'll set a timer randomly throughout the day to stop and ask me what are you doing right now. If I feel like I'm doing something I was surprised that I'm doing, I know that might be not a good habit or maybe it's just a one-off occasion, but reminders are great way to identify your habits. Another great awesome way to figure out your habits, whether you know them or not, is to ask friends and family, the people who spend most of your time with, maybe coworkers. You go to them you say, "Hey, what do you think I spend most of my time doing or what do you perceive me doing". That feedback can help you identify your habits and whether or not they're good or bad. So, for me personally, sitting down every day just to write, just a free write, even if I'm not really certain about what I'm writing, being able to do that has been tremendously powerful for me. I write everywhere. Sometimes, it's on my blog just in a draft folder. Sometimes, it's in a notebook. If I have to just pick up a sticky note and write some words down just to get those words out, that's what I'll do. I do write every day at three o'clock. That's actually part of the prompts app that I made. It's designed to give you a reminder at when you're most effective for writing. I built a little feature in it that tracks your statistics and then it says this is the time you most often write. But I don't think that you have to set anything like that. I think that if you build a strong enough habit it will come naturally. So, I've found myself recently especially writing late into the evening in my personal journal or a work journal and at the same time, if three o'clock comes around and I'm not writing, I start to get little itchy. So, I don't think that that's probably my most powerful. I would go and I work my day job and then come home from work and I would sit down on the computer and just work some more. After, I think maybe two weeks, I started feeling really burnt out. I was really exhausted. All of my friends were angry at me because I wasn't going out with them. It was no fun. Being able to realize that I had built this negative habit of coming home from work and working more, that wasn't helping me. So, I realized that was a habit I needed to change. To change that habit I had to take a step back and every time I came home from work, I locked my computer away for an hour at least. I dedicated my time to friends. I just sat down and relaxed. I did some other non-business work. I gave myself that mental break and I think that break alone was enough to help me get back into the mood and say okay now I can go back to working and I'm re-energized and I feel a little bit healthier about it and everybody, all my friends and family were happier too. You have to keep them going otherwise they're not going to become habits. I think it's Jerry Seinfeld who has the channeling fence strategy where you take a day on the calendar and if you do your habit that day you cross it off and then you do the next day and the next thing you try to build the longest link that you can on your calendar. But what happens in that mentality is that the moment you miss a day, you give up you're done. You've missed today, why keep going on. That's not good for building habits, right? So, I think that instead of that approach, it's important to A, remind yourself of your drive again and how that links to your habits and B, give yourself the motivation, the support that you need to build stronger habits. Maybe, that's telling your friends that, "Hey guys, if I do this thing this whole week can you check on me and you've seen that I've done that, you're all going to take me out for dinner one night". Or you set a reward for yourself. I think that's pretty helpful. But the key thing with habits is you can't get overwhelmed. You need to give yourself the room, the flexibility to, it's okay to make a mistake. You've still got to drive you still got that mission. Pick it up later if you need to. It's okay. I've got a friend who for I think maybe five years now has wanted to write a novel and he just can't get into the habit of writing. He's got all the ideas in his head, he talks to me about all the time. He wants to make this book happen but he cannot sit down to write. So, he came to me and he said, "How do I do this? How to do this?" My instincts, my natural answer was we'll just write it down of course. But we had to sit down and build a habit for him or build that system that could empower him to write even just a little bit every day. So now, it's gotten to the point where I am that system where I can call him or I can text them once in a while and say, "How's that coming? Have you written anything?" Two hundred words, that is awesome. You're making progress. If he hasn't written anything, of course, I don't harm him or anything. But he struggled for so long and all it's really taken is for him to realize it doesn't have to be all in one lump sum. He can take his time and also he needs a support system and it might be like that for a lot of people. You might need that support. You might need a personal reminder. So, go find that for you. The only way you're going to be able to find out though I think is by approaching the problem itself. Why haven't I written this book? Why haven't I started this project? If that means talking to someone else, that's probably best thing for you to do. To build better habits, you need to look at a lot of things. One of course is your environment. Where are you at any given time? Where are you when you're trying to work and evaluating that. The other is who you're working with and who is around you at any given time. Of course, all these things combined say, where are you getting your ideas from? Where are you spending all of your thoughts? Looking at those things is going to help you start building a system because then you can look at the tools and the resources you can utilize that will help you be more productive. For example, if you know that you're working in a place where you don't have time to write every day, we'll look outside of that place, maybe you have time when you're driving home you can speak into your phone and that can write the words for you. That's writing, right? But looking at the environment, your time, your schedule probably a big thing too. Good habits are built from a lot of different things, of course, the environment is a key part of that, the tools you're using and what's around you. If you find yourself sitting in the living room after the end of the day with a TV in front of you, it's going to be really easy to turn that TV on and forget about everything else. But if you have a goal to write a book, for example, maybe you need to change your environment where a notebook or your computer with an open text document is sitting on your desk every morning. You know you can't miss work you can't miss it, that makes it much easier to build that habit because then you've got the tool, you've got the reminder that's sitting right there that says, just do this really quickly. You don't need to watch TV you can do this instead. It goes back to when I was working on Brain-Bean and I was getting so overwhelmed. Not only was it taking that computer and putting it away for an hour, it was also stepping away from where I was typically spending my time, going outside and going to the park, going shopping. That built a better healthier habit for me and I think a big part of that again was being able to lock away part of it to adjust my environment and help feed a better habit. As creatives to be more productive, we have to build habits as best we can. We have identified the good ones and identify the bad ones. To build the good ones up, we need to surround ourselves with the right tools and the best environment that will help encourage us. Whatever that means for you and your task, surrounding yourself with those tools, making sure that your environment is spotless maybe if you need to focus, those things will help build a better habit much easier. You need to take a look at your habits and identify three key ones that you feel are either helping you pursue your drive and make your idea actually happen or three that are hindering your ability to do so and identifying what you can change in those habits to improve your ability to produce 5. Tools: Tools, of course, are anything you use that help take that ideas to the next level, the next phase. Having the right tools is going to enable you to not only be more productive but also to build better habits for that productivity. If you've got a tool that is making it really difficult to sit down and do the work, you're not going to be inclined to create a habit around that. You're going to feel like there's pressure pushing back on you or that you're wasting your time. So, you're needed to find the right tools that can help make the work easier but at the same time make the work of doing the work easier. For writers obviously, one of your tools might be the keyboard and your computer but you ought to also consider the fact that another tool for a writer may be a friend or a publicist or an editor. When I looked at the fact that I wanted to write more, Prompts was a tool that I created to help me do that because, again, it gave me constant reminders, it gave me statistics on how I was writing and how often I was writing and what kind of things I was writing. It was the ideal tool that helped me keep writing because it made the job so much easier, I didn't have to think about what am I going to sit down to write and what am I going to write about, instead I could just set the alarm and then every day I knew three o'clock, here's this alarm, let me start writing. If I wasn't sure what I was going to write, I can look in the app and instantly gave me prompts for what exactly to write. Whatever it is that you're trying to do, the right tool for you does not have to be complex and it doesn't have to be expensive, which I think is a common misconception people have is you need the best computer in order to be a software developer. That's not true. You need the absolute latest software in order to do graphic design. Again, that's not true. Or you need the best Moleskine notebook, otherwise you can't write. But in reality that's of course not the case. The best tool for you is going to be any tool that helps you get the job done. For me personally, the absolute best tool has been a notebook or even my phone for taking notes and writing down my ideas and capturing them and exploring the ideas on pen and paper. That's by far the best way I found to explore those ideas. Other tools that I tend to use of course is my laptop. I use that for everything, all of my digital work. On the laptop, of course, I'm using Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator. I also use the latest web development software. I use Coda for coding. Most of my stuff is done by hand. I like to keep things simple. A lot of tools have Sony features and Gizmos and add ons that they actually add a level of complexity to the tool that most people don't ever need or that actually hinders their ability to do the work. So, taking a step back and saying well what's the job I need to get done and how can I do that, that's my approach to finding the right tool. As long as the tools does that core thing, I can get away with it. You'll know you need to look for a new tool when the old tool is in any way hindering your ability to do the work. A great example for me was I had developed these applications I was blogging, all pretty low level stuff, but then I realized Brain-Bean was going to be a much larger project. I was going to need a lot more computing power. The computer I was using at the time was a number of years old and it could barely do the applications I was developing already. So, I had a hunch that I was going to need an upgrade. The problem most people have is they pursue new tools, the fanciest tools, the best tools when they really don't need them. Older simpler tools still get the job done but were so enchanted by the shiny new object that we feel like we have to go pursue it. For me, I knew it was time to buy a new tool because it was impossible for me to produce Brain-Bean without the additional computing power. So, I had to go out and buy a new laptop. It was pretty expensive but in the end buying a new tool made perfect sense because I was able to take the additional technology, all of the aspects of design and make Brain-Bean. Merlin Mann has this really great quote. I really like, again, where he says, "Going out and buying running shoes is much funnier than actually going out running." That's the truth for any project you might be working on. It's much funner to go out to shop for new tools than it is to just use what you have now and go do the work. You will encounter those different types of tools. The first are around figuring out the system for your project and what will help you be more productive while you're figuring out the idea and how to do it best. The second category is tools that will actually help you get the job done. In either of those categories, you're still going to want to find the simplest tool that can do the basic job. You don't need anything fancy in either of those. So, in the first category, which is tools for your workflow, you're going to use tools like notebooks or like reminder applications or things like that. When the second category, which is the actual producing, your need is more of like the digital or you can think of like a canvas. For an artist for example, the workflow tool might be a sketchbook where you and sketch out the ideas. Whereas, the production tools would be the canvas and the paint brushes. So, when it comes to the tools I use and the habits that I have, every single day is different, depending on which part of a project I'm on or which project I'm thinking of working on. So, for example, if I wake up and I know that one project is close to being done, I'll checks some sticky notes I have on a table. I say here's Task one, two, three that you need to finish before the project is complete. But at the same time, there might be another project like a blog post that's sitting on my drafts folder that I'll need to look at. So, I often will set reminders for myself in my phone saying go check on this blog post tomorrow or go buy more sticky notes. So, when it comes to tools, Seth Godin has a great quote I absolutely love, which I think is very accurate. He says "Everybody who does creative work has figured out how to deal with her own demons to get their work done. There is no evidence that setting up your easel like Van Gogh makes you paint better." So, I think that's absolutely true. We're attached to this idea of needing the best canvas or needing the same kind of canvas as an artist in order to do the same kind of work but there's no proof that that's the case. Ultimately, what works for one person might not work for you. You need to find the tools to help you do your job, the best way that you can. So, maybe you don't need the latest technology, maybe you don't need the best software. You need to find what works for you, what can get the job done, that helps you move to the next phase of your project. Don't worry about all the shiny new things. To find new tools or tools that might help you do your work better, there's a lot of ways you can go about it. Me personally, I like to pursue people who have done what I'm trying to do and ask them what tools they use or what they'll recommend. Often, what you'll find is that, especially for veterans in the field, they'll recommend a tool they've been using for years and years and years. Often, it's not the best tool or the newest shiny tool. Other times what I'll do is I'll just do research online. There's a lot of resources online for tools, for nearly any field or anything you'd want to do, you can find the reviews, you can find user reviews and posts about those tools. There's a lot of web developer blogs for example, where they interview developers and say what apps are currently on your computer right now or your phone and they show a screenshot of it and then the developers talk about the tools and why they like those tools. There's a lot of websites out there like that. 6. Environments: Your environment is anywhere where you sit and do the work or study the work, but your environment's also going to be anywhere you're spending your time while you're working on that project in any way. Whether you're thinking about the project, or whether you're sitting down to do the work, your environment is the location of where you're at. It's also who you're working with. So, your environment could be your office, it could be a home office. Your environment can also be the local cafe or a library. Often what you'll find is that you'll be sitting at dinner with friends at a restaurant. That also counts as your environment. Everything in that environment is going to impact your ability to be productive and to have ideas on what you need to work on next in your project. Your environment matters for productivity because it's going to influence your ability to do the work as well as the ideas you have around the work. If you're in an environment that has a lot of things going on, that might be beneficial for generating ideas. But it's not going to be very helpful if you're trying to focus and really make something happen at the same time. Maybe you're quiet office is not the best environment because there's not enough stimulation to keep you energized. By knowing that your environment includes all these things, and that they influence how you're able to be productive, that's going to help you to ultimately be more productive. When choosing the environment to work in, you need to consider the two different phases that most projects come in. The first phase is the ideation phase, where you need to be influenced by ideas and surroundings and more energized and appendy. Well, the second phases, you need to really focus your intent, get down to the nitty-gritty stuff. With the first phase of the project, the ideation phase, you're going to want to consider environments where there's a lot more going on. So, maybe it's a cafe, maybe you invite your friends over to your office for a little while, it's where the collaboration can happen, and ideas can help influence what you're trying to do. If on the other hand, you're finding yourself towards the end of a project, you're going to want to focus on environments where it's a lot quieter, where you can get down into the details of the work you're trying to do. The best productive environments are going to have a few essential elements. For example, you're going to have all of your tools nearby. That's especially crucial during the second phase where you're going to be actually doing the work itself, bring the your tools nearby. Another component, or element, of a good environment will be having resources nearby as well. Maybe that's someone who can help answer questions, maybe it's internet access. But having those resources nearby, will be beneficial as well. One other element of your environment that's going to impact your ability to be productive is the ability to get away from it, to escape easily if you need to. Maybe you're getting burnt out, maybe you just need a break. Being able to go and walk around the block, or walk around your building, that's going to help you be more productive, re-energize your mind, and ultimately having an environment where that's a possibility is going to help you achieve your goal faster. You don't really have the option to find the ideal environment, I think ultimately, you will have to build your own. You can find an environment that has some of the necessary components for what you're trying to do, but again ultimately, you're going to need to build that environment. So, gathering your tools, gathering the resources, ensuring that you have an escape. Building an environment is the critical component that a lot of people overlook. They think they can just go to a cafe and everything's gonna be fine. But at a cafe, you're not going to have all the resources you need. You probably likely are going to have all the tools, and maybe the noise is the distraction. So, ultimately, you need to find a way to build your environment. So, to build your right environment, you obviously need to start with somewhere. Again, if it's the first phase of your project, the cafe might work great, or if it's a second phase, the quiet office space, finding the location is the first step. The second step to building your environment, is to gather everything that you know you're going to need for that phase. So, maybe it's a notebook, maybe it's sticky notes, maybe it's extra pens. Gathering those tools and bringing them with you is the second step. The third step is ensuring, again, that your resources are nearby as well. So, a cafe might be a great place to invite friends, whereas your work office might not be. But finding those different locations and gathering all the necessary sources, that's going to help you build a stronger environment, I think. For brain being, I was originally working out of my apartment complex, just in the living room. I would sit down on the couch after a day of work and I'd start writing. I was fortunate because at my house, I had all those resources necessary. I could go, walk at the nearby park, I had internet access and all my tools were there. One funny thing about the environment though was I realized it was still home, it wasn't my work environment solely. So, I had to find a way to make it more of that work environment. So, actually went out and bought a desk table for my apartment specifically for working on brain being. So, now every time I see that desk, I remember here's the process I went through, here's what I had to do. A good thing about a desk too, if you're ever wondering, is the using brightly colored sticky notes on the side of your desk is a great way to keep track of reminders of what you need to work on next, or what maybe hurdles you're you're struggling with. My friend who is trying to write the book, one of his big hurdles was, his family's always distracting. He's got three kids. He's constantly distracted. He's got other responsibilities. He can't find a quiet place to sit down and just write a few words. What I told him was, you have to establish that place. So, maybe you're driving home from work, and you get home and you're seeing your car. If you have five minutes in a quiet space to write, you can write. That's all it's going to take. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, but again, if you can build that environment that gives you the resources and the tools, maybe one of those resources is quiet. You can find that. So, for him it was the car. For me, when I'm writing, I also like a quiet space. So, I'll lock myself in a room, preferably in my bedroom, where there's no TV, there's no distractions, my friends and family know that this is my writing time, it's a great environment for me to work in. So, a few years ago I started a business, creative design agency called UAO. At the time we didn't have office space, and I already had an exhausting day job. So, it was difficult to manage both of those jobs in one environment, my home. So, what we ended up doing, was we would invite clients out to local restaurants saying that was a dinner meeting. Obviously, they didn't know that we just didn't have any conference rooms to meet them in. When it came to design work, we had to rent out office space nearby or, again, I would have to find quiet spaces in my own home to make that happen. For collaboration, as in team, my partner and I, we would go to the local cafe to collaborate on ideas and brainstorm. All different environments that impacts obviously the different stages of the project, and what we were trying to accomplish. But, I think that's something to keep in mind, is you don't have to have any one environment, you can use multiple environments building them as you go. Again, picking the right place for whatever phase you're in, bringing the tools, bringing the resources, and ensuring that you can get the job done effectively. You'll find that different environments work for you and they don't work for other people absolutely. Maybe a cafe is too distracting for you, it happens all the time or maybe a quiet office space makes you feel too lonely or too enclosed to elaborate on your ideas. So, being willing to explore new places and new opportunities is going to help you build a better environment. One thing you can do with that, again, is approach people who have done what you're trying to do, and ask them where they work, or where they prefer to work. Of course, their answer might not fit with you, but it's an option you could pursue. So, the Internet is a great resource for finding people who do what you want to do, and you will find that pretty much everyone is open to responding to email. All you have to do is reach out, make that effort. It doesn't have to be elaborate. Just say hey, I admire your work, I'm trying to do this thing. What would you recommend for this tool or this environment? Additionally, looking your community, there's likely a lot of people trying to do things in your community that you're trying to do. There's often collectives or groups of photographers, or artists, web developers, you can find them online usually just by a quick Google search. Of course there's or Facebook groups that you can also use. A little while ago I was getting really frustrated at my work, I was making these apps, I was writing this blog posts, I was doing design, and no one was really noticing what I was doing. I felt like I was wasting my time. Again, even though I was being able to produce things, it felt like I was not accomplishing the goals I set out to do. What happened was I was feeling burnt out, I was feeling like a failure. So I emailed a number of people who I was looking up to at the time. Seth Godin, was one. Jonathan Harris, who is a brilliant digital artists, he was another. Benjamin from who got purchased by eBay. I reached out to them all and I said, what do you guys do when you feel like a failure? How do you get over this feeling that you're wasting your time, that your work will never grow beyond what you're creating now. It was great just to email them, and everyone replied. I got a great response from everyone. So, what I was actually able to do from that email, I compiled all their answers and I created a blog post, and I was able to show that blog post to the world saying, here's the advice I got from these guys who know what they're doing. Being able to reach out to them and learn about their own experiences, and then share what I learned from that, was just this huge roundabout way of, not only benefiting myself, but hopefully others as well. So, I think that's one example that you can reach out to people and not have to be worried about what they're going to say or if they're gonna read your email. They want to help you. They're going to be happy that you email them, that you look to them for guidance. To build the right environment, to have the environment to be productive, you need to know your idea. You need to know what tools you're going to have, and you need to remind yourself of your drive. Having the tools nearby, that will make the job easier, and not hinder any of the process. Ensuring that the resources are there in your environment, and ensuring that you have some way to remind yourself of your drive, and that environment will be beneficial as well. I use posters. You can use sticky notes. Just daily reminder, setting your phone or on your computer, those will help too. 7. Persistence: You've got your environment, you've got your tools, you have all the resources, and you know your drive to make your idea happen. What you're going to find is that you're going to be overwhelmed, that there are moments where the work is going to feel too much or that you're going to feel like you're wasting your time, it's going to happen. What you have to keep in mind in those moments is that, you set out for this objective with a goal, and your drive should help fuel that. For me personally, I've found that the crucial thing that's to help me get through all these things, to help me make apps, write a blog, write a book, consult, start businesses all while keeping a day job has been the constant reminder that productivity is something special, it absolutely is. Anyone can have ideas, not everyone takes those ideas and make something from them, and that value alone is a great reminder and a great motivator to see things through to the end. That's really where value comes from, it's not the ability to have ideas or even a sack of ideas, it's the ability to take that idea and make something with it. From the very beginning, I don't think you need to have the full picture planned out. I think what you need to have planned out is the next series of steps because when you break down anything like that, it becomes so much easier to tackle and it's not overwhelming at all. So, whatever your goal is, whatever your project is it's important to break that down. For me, for developing Brainbean, I knew I wanted to create an app, that was my end goal, but I had to break it down into smaller chunks saying, "Okay, well my first chunk is what is it I'm trying to accomplish?" Let me outline that basically. Then the next chunk was, "How would that look, how might that function?" Then, the next chunk was, "Let's design that", and the last chunk was, "Now, let's now develop it." Being able to break those chunks down like that, made it really easy or easier to maintain the momentum. That paired with the drive, paired with the constant reminders around me of what I was trying to accomplish, that helped me get through. So right now, I'm writing another book and I'm taking it one day at a time as you should. An important part of the whole process is keeping yourself open to what might be possible. Like with Brandy, I didn't really know where to end up with this book, I have no idea. I don't have it planned out, I just know I have this drive to write, I enjoy writing, I've got a general topic, but I'm keeping myself open to what it may end up becoming by itself. My job is to show up every day, put the words on my page, and eventually, I'm trusting that something will come from that. With this book, I don't have any set deadlines. I'm not really establishing any goals apart from writing every day, my goal is to just write. Right now, I'm averaging about 300 words a day which is not much at all, especially when you try to write a full length novel. But, sitting down to write every day has added up to a lot of words and already I can look back at the month or two I've spent on this project and see, this is starting to form a book, this is starting to have a story. With the first book, "I Think I'm Stuck", I did the same thing. I sat down and I just started writing. Again, I had a general idea that I wanted to write a book. I knew the general, ambiguous, endpoint, but I didn't really have a soul outline of the book, I didn't know what chapters would be here, if there'll be an intro or not. I think that freedom allowed me to accomplish the goal more productively. I wasn't tied to any certain outcome and as a result, the book was made and it worked. If a schedule works for you, that's great. It might not though, what you need to ultimately do is decide. Will deadlines, will those set calendar dates help you? Will they motivate you or will they feel more pressure and restrict you from doing the work? Will you feel like it's a chore? For me personally, I don't want to feel like all these side projects that I do are chores, again for me, it's fun, it's play, it's exploration, and deadlines only hindered that for me. So, not having deadlines or anything does present an interesting problem where you don't have a set day to say, "Okay, it will be done this day, we can launch this day." So, how do you know when it's done? How do I know when it's done? For a lot of the things I've worked on and that I've launched, they're never really done. A lot of them still are being improved and adopted, and in tremendous ways, some of them have to be completely reworked, with the basic idea only is surviving. I think that's okay because again, the product exists, it didn't exist before, I'm okay with that, I'm not afraid of changing it. Knowing that it's just something out there in the world, I think that's the benefit to me. You'll know you're ready to share what you've been working on when it's in some tangible expected form. So, you'll know a book is done when there are a number of pages and hopefully, the story resolves itself. You'll know an app is done when all of the features that you first envisioned are there and working. You know when a design is done hopefully, when it conveys the message you are trying to convey. Specific with my writing on my blog, I'll end up writing a post just to get the words out because I have to get those words out, and then I'll publish it. Often the feedback will come back and there's typos and there's errors, this should not have been published, clearly. For me though, that doesn't impact me too much. I can go back and edit those words, I can go improve it later, but the fact that I took those words and I made a post, I think that's the crucial, really important part. Where that post didn't exist before, those words weren't compiled that way before, now they exist, now I can modify them. So, I don't think I'm not pursuing perfection, I'm not pursuing the number one hit post or product, I'm pursuing making something that previously didn't exist. I've taken the time to figure out when I work best, how I work best, what I love the most, what my passion was, what my drive is. Even if you don't know those things, that shouldn't prevent you from working on your ideas or trying to be more productive. The way you learn those things is by doing the work. The only way you can learn what environment you work best in is to go to those environments to try new things. The only way you're ever going to find what your drive is, is to pursue it. If you fail, if the project fails, if the environment doesn't work, don't consider that a failure because you're learning from that experience, and you can take it to the next one. 8. Action: In talking about productivity, this last section is a crucial one. It's talking about taking action. To be productive, again, you have to produce something, and in order to take that step, you need to take action. Which incorporates everything we've been talking about; your environment, your tools, your habits, and most importantly your drive. How do you take all those and take action? More importantly, how do you take action, and then continue to take action so you can reach the final step of your project? You're going to get a lot of distractions when you're working, between Internet and email, friends, relatives giving you calls, what's the latest TV show? So, how do you stay focused? I think it's important to, first, establish a habit of productivity, like we mentioned earlier. Those habits are going to help you stay focused a little bit. Your environment, that plays a crucial role. Again, if you have a television in the room or if your phone is sitting on the counter and you're trying to work, that's going to be a distraction. A study recently came out, I think I post about this online, a study came out where even three seconds is all it takes to be distracted. So, even if your phone vibrates and you don't answer it, the fact that it vibrated is enough distraction to break your focus. So, you need to set up an environment, you need to have the right tools that distraction is not a possibility. Well, something might come along, and if something does come along to distract you, what are you going to do? You need also have a system in place for you personally to overcome that distraction, and to get back into your focus. For me, personally, Twitter is probably my number one distraction. I love being on there, I love seeing what everybody are talking about, all these great links that are people posting about creativity, about productivity. If I'm working on a project or I'm in the zone, and I know this is my time to work, I have to turn off my phone, I have to even sometimes disconnect the Internet just so I can get a little bit of work done because I know it's that little bit of work that's going to make my idea to go to the next level. If that means I'm missing an hour of tweets, I can always make it up later. If you find yourself being distracted from life events, if there's changes in the work environment, your relationships or other things that are reprioritizing your life and around this project, it's okay to take a step back, and make the changes you need to in your life in order to adjust and cope. You can always come back to the project later, that's one of the beautiful things about side projects especially, don't feel like you need to constantly be there, and don't be afraid to change. It's okay if you need to change your drive or your focus, as long as you will have reminders in place that you can come back to the project, you can pick up where you left off, it'll be fine. In my own experience, working on my blog, Creative Something, it's been seven years so, of course, life events and things have happened that have distracted me. So, there have been times where I've had to completely stop blogging. I remember there was one life event where I just didn't have the motivational drive, I had to focus all my attention on one other thing and during that time, I just didn't write. Part of me felt terrible because I wasn't writing, but another part of me knew that it was the right thing to do. Because I stepped back, I was able to eventually start blogging again, and I had more energy, I could focus my attention, it ended up being better off in the end. So, when I take a break from a project, to get back into it, I first look at what I've accomplished so far, if anything at all, I review my notes, I look at the progress I had previously made, and then I remind myself of my drive. Okay, my drive, again, is to see my ideas come to fruition. So, I look at a project where I left off and I evaluate, "Is this something I still wanna continue first of all?" If so, what is the very next step that I need to do to get back into it? Maybe it's more research, maybe it's writing, maybe the first step is reevaluating the idea, but I'll look at where I left off, I'll look at the very next step that needs to be done, and I'll just dive in. If you feel overwhelmed while you're working on a project, it's important to keep three things in mind. The first is just start, just do something. Again, being productive is about taking action. So, take that action. The second thing to keep in mind that's really important is to ensure that you're not looking for perfection. You don't have to make the next best selling novel. You don't have to make a masterpiece. You don't have to run a multi-million dollar business. You just need to start something and hope you go somewhere. So, the third point, which I really strongly believe in is ensuring that what you're doing is more playful than work. So, whether that means you are having a little bit more fun with your projects, you can add a little bit of flavor to them, don't feel like you need to make this work because if you're focusing on doing the work itself, you're going to get stressed out, you're going to feel overwhelmed, you're going to feel like those deadlines are so hard that if you don't hit them, you're going to fail. That's not what you want. To be productive, you need to have some sense of place, some sense of exploration, have fun with it. Again, the value you're providing to the world and to yourself is that you're taking an idea, you're taking something that's in your mind and intangible, and you're making it into something that will exist. If the only way you can do that is to have fun with that idea, that's all that matters. Goals can be valuable, they can be very helpful, particularly if you feel like you need those markers in your life or in your projects. Knowing that you've made progress through goals is very beneficial. For me personally, that doesn't help. My goal ultimately is to make something, and the reason that works for me and it might work for you is because you're free to explore, you're free to have that sense of play, you're free to not have to stress about whether or not you've hit a deadline. Instead of having goals to reach a certain point, your goal ultimately is just do the work. You'll find that through doing the work naturally that way, you'll get a lot more done. There's no pressure, you can take your time, the project is free to explore and grow as it needs to. As you're working on a project, what you'll often find is that other ideas or different rows or different paths you can take on that project will pop up, they undoubtedly will. It's important to always remind yourself of what you initially set out to do because some of those ideas will be more distractions and benefits. The way you can understand, whether or not you should pursue one of the side pass is, will it help you accomplish your original idea? Will it help make that original simple idea happen? You can always take those additional ideas, those different aspects, and put them on the back burner, and come back to them later, add onto the project once it's completed. You can make them with their own projects. For example, when I was working on Brain Bean, each of the individual mini games are in Brain Bean, I developed maybe six, seven, upwards of ten different apps for each of those games. So, now I've got all these apps in a sideline that I can come back to at any moment and expand upon, and make it their own individual games if I like. But I had to always remind myself when I was working on the app, I can't get distracted, I've got this one sole app I need to finish, these distractions, I can get to later. That's the benefit of journaling or putting things in the back burner like that really can help you focus and make this idea happen. I'd try journaling when I was younger, and I just couldn't do it. I couldn't use pen and paper. Really, it was only until I found a day one app that I realized how easy journalling could be. That app is great because they have all your articles there, all your entries there, you can look back to them, you can sync it with your computer, you can look at it online, you can share it now. So, that tool made the job much easier for journaling, and I found that really enticing. For me, when I'm journalling, what I try to focus on is just my thoughts in that moment. So, often just start writing, "Here I am journaling after so many days of thinking about it, and here's what I'm working on now. Here's where I struggle." What I've realized from that free writing is that my thoughts just expand on their own. It's a lot like meditation, where you're not really in tune with your thoughts until you start thinking about them, if that makes sense, or through free writing, through journaling, I'm able to see where my thoughts are going and what are my concerns, and work through them in a written format. If you feel like you're stuck on a problem, if you feel like you're not really sure what to do, sitting down to say, "Dear diary," or whatever you want to say, "I'm stuck on this problem, I'm concerned. Here's why I'm feeling stuck." Or if you have an idea you're not really sure where to take it, you can say, "I want to do this thing and I feel like I can't do this thing because of XYZ." Just having the opportunity to write that down will help you solve that problem. I found out journaling and writing daily has really helped me be more productive and fine tune my thoughts, to the point where if I'm ever feeling stuck or I'm not sure what the next step is, sitting down to write, even just a line, that'll really help me move to the next step. When it comes to being productive, the first step matters. Whatever the first step is going to be for you will be completely personal. You need to find that first step. So, maybe for you, if you're researching something you've never done before, that first step is that research. If you're pursuing something that you've maybe dabbled in a little bit, but you're unsure about where to go next, again, that first step might be identifying, sitting down, and writing down what you need to do to start, that's your first step. It really is that simple. For example, when I was starting a blog, my very first step was thinking of the category to write about. Once I had that, my next step was registering the blog. If your idea is starting a business, you need to think about business names or categories, you need to register the business, but you don't have to worry about how you're going to make money in that business, you don't need to worry about even the products you're going to necessarily sell. You need to step back and say, "My first step is researching how to start a business. How do you register a business name?" It goes the same for starting a website. How do you register a website? How do you register domain? Maybe that's your first step. Now, let's say you have already the tools. Maybe you already have a web domain. Maybe you're ready to start the next step on that process. At this point, you should have everything you need to take that first step. The first step for you needs to be personal, it needs to be related to your drive. What you need to do for that first step is use whatever you have with you currently to make a sketch, draw a line, do whatever you can to start the process. You want to make sure that it's fun and playful at the same time. Again, this isn't homework assignment, this is something fun that you can do that shows that you are making actionable process or progress in the project. For my personal blog, Creative Something, one of the first steps after I'd come up with a name and registered the domain was creating a logo, kind of a brand for it, a fun thing. So, I grabbed the sketchbook, I sketched out a few ideas to make that logo. Once I had a few iterations, I knew that the first step was complete and I had a starting point that I can say, "Okay. Here is my idea in a tangible form. Let's do this." So, when I first thought of the idea of Brain Bean, I grabbed my sketchbook and I sat down and I actually wrote out the very objective that I was trying to do. Again, the first step for Brain Bean was coming up with possible names. So, I wrote out 12 names that just came to mind quickly, and as I was writing this names, I started analyzing them as well. So, this one here, I obviously decided it was kind of dumb, for whatever reason I don't remember. I also found names that were already taken by apps or businesses, or names that would not fly in the App Store. Then, you'll notice that one of the names, number seven, was one that I actually ended up going with, which is how the project started gaining momentum to keep it going. So, from there, on the exact same day, I later came back and wrote a few ideas for possible games that can be included in the app. This whole first step is really what got the idea going, and ultimately, that didn't get too far away from this. For the first book, the very first step of writing Think and Stuck was to sit down and write. I opened a Word document on my computer and I just started typing, "Here's what I'm trying to write about, here's why I think it's valuable." That first step was enough to expand and keep going, and eventually evolve into the book. So, when I started my first design agency company, our first step then was thinking of a name. We sat down in a cafe where we could jumble some ideas together, and after some debate and some writing and sketching things, we came up with, UAO, which stands for Unlike Any other Agency, which is what we came up with, but that all started because we wanted to think of the name. I think that naming your project allows you to give a little bit more a realistic feeling to it. You can have an idea for a business or a book or an app or whatever it is, it's such an intangible thing that even if you describe it to people, it's still not solidified. But the moment you give a name to something, it becomes that thing. So, when I was naming my blog, when I came up with creative something, I instantly knew this is the website now, and it's about creativity obviously because it's in the name. When I named the app Brain Bean, which was again part of my first step, that helped build the whole character of it, and I knew. I would tell people when they asked me, "What are you working on? What are you doing these days?" "Oh, Brain Bean, that's what I'm working on." We've covered everything from drive, to motivation, tools, work environment, habits. We've covered all of these things, and you should now have, if not a starting point, at least a system to help you get started and produce something, but it doesn't mean you necessarily have to create something perfect again, it means you should have fun. The system should work for you, however you work best. If you're afraid to tackle it, remember everything we've covered, start wherever you can with what you have now, you will learn from the experience. Tomorrow I'm going to sit down during my normal writing time, and I'm going to write twice as many words for my upcoming book because that's what needs to be done. I have no idea what I'm going to write, I don't know if I'm actually going to hit that objective, but I'm going to sit down with the intent of writing more than I've ever written before. It's important to start now, don't even wait till tomorrow to do it, start now. Whatever you can, no matter how much you have to get done, no matter how much you can't get done. Start now, do what you can, because that's how you're productive, that's the only way you're going to move to moving something. Don't wait it off. Don't set a reminder for tomorrow, start right now, in this instance, with our very first step. It doesn't have to be elaborate. You don't have to dedicate hours to it. If it takes you five minutes and that's it, that's fine, but at least you've started. 9. What's Next? :