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Imagine you could be the most productive and prolific creator for miles around. Imagine you would produce so much work, other would think you are a superhuman. Is that possible? Yes, it is! Is it sustainable? Yes, it is! In this article, I will share with you nine suggestions and tips on how you can start your career as a prolific creator. If you are ready to take the first step, let’s begin!
No.1: Forget Excuses
The first thing you have to do to become a prolific creator is to stop using excuses. Remove that word from your dictionary and forget it ever existed. What if you will recognize you are slipping to excuses again? Remind yourself that you can have either results or excuses, not both. Keep in mind that you can focus only on one thing. So, ask yourself: “Will I focus on making excuses or doing the work?” Let me tell you straight that excuses will never help you get anything done.
This is also the reason that there is so few people in the world who can be considered prolific creators. Remember, if creating was easy, everyone would be doing it. Another thing you have to understand and accept is that life of a prolific creator is full of struggle. Steven Pressfield described this in his books The War of Art and Do the Work as never-ending fight with resistance. You have to make daily creation part of your discipline. You have to approach your creative career as a professional (read Turning Pro also by Steven Pressfield).
What I mean by that is that you have to stop waiting for inspiration. Instead, sit down and do the work! This is what separates professionals from amateurs. Professionals don’t use excuses and don’t wait for inspiration. They set a schedule and stick to it. Remember that inspiration isn’t something you should count on. Leverage it when it happens, but don’t rely on it.
No.2: Prepare Your Environment
One of the ways to set yourself for success as a prolific creator is by preparing your environment. What I mean is that you should remove all possible distractions. Get rid of anything that may distract you from your work. By saying that, I don’t mean to get rid of everything forever. Avoid distractions just in time you need to work. Outside these time spans dedicated to your work, when everything that needs to be done is done, feel free to do whatever you want.
You can read books, play games, socialize, train or whatever you like, but only in your free time. Otherwise, your work must take precedence. And, if you don’t want to rely on your motivation or will power, another way is by adjusting your environment. So, ask yourself what tools do you need to have around you to get your work done. Next, hide everything else from your visual field. Finally, focus solely on creating.
No.3: Write Everything Down
Being truly prolific creator requires you to generate many ideas for your future projects. And, the worst thing you can do is to rely on your memory. Instead, write every idea you will get somewhere. Whether you use notepad or app on your phone, make sure to always write down everything that comes to your mind. We will discuss tools you can use later, so I will keep it short. Make this your habit – you get an idea, you write it down.
No.4: Set A Schedule
The fourth step on your way of becoming a prolific creator is to establish a clear schedule and stick to it. We’ve already discussed this in the “forget excuses” part. However, having a schedule is so important that it deserves to repeat it. Don’t wait for inspiration. Create a schedule and stick to it. To emphasize the importance of having a schedule, let me share with you couple examples of world’s great artists and their schedules. The first artist is Maya Angelou. She rents hotel room to write. She always arrives at 6:30 AM and writes until 2 PM.
Second example is a Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon. His routine is following. He writes five nights per week from 10 PM to 3 AM. Another example is one of the most famous writers today Haruki Murakami. He wakes up at 4 AM. Then, he writes for five hours straight and then goes for a run. The last example I will give you is novelist Nicholson Baker. He uses two mornings in one day by waking up to write at 4 a.m., then going back to sleep, and rising once again around 8:30 a.m. for his second morning.
As you can see, there are many examples of schedules that work. I suggest that you try and experiment with different schedules and find the one that works the best for you.
Quick note: You can find all these examples and more in book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.
No.5: Start Small
The best way to get into the mindset and shoes of a prolific creator is by starting small. Starting small is even more important if you are not used to creating on a regular basis. In that case, the amount of ideas to work on you will come up with can backfire. The same principle applies to working on single project as well. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you are working on one big project or couple smaller ones. Both of these examples can paralyze you. What matters is the number of steps you can divide your project into and size of each of them.
Just by dividing your project or projects into smaller steps you can save yourself from being overwhelmed and paralyzed. As the says goes: “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” I suggest that you follow the same philosophy or principle on your journey to become a prolific creator. The application of this principle is very simple. Every time you start new project, make sure to divide it into parts so small, you can handle them in one or two hours. This is one of the rules I love to use and follow in my work.
In a fact, in many projects I will go a bit further. In those cases, I will create a tasks that can be accomplished in twenty-five minutes. Why exactly this time span? It works perfectly with Pomodoro technique. This is one of the productivity tools I also use every day whether I am working on a client work or a side project. You can learn how to master this technique in Pomodoro Technique: Your Dirty Secret for Top Productivity article. When you will divide your project by one unit of pomodoro, probability of being overwhelmed will be close to zero.
Predictability of the Unpredictable
Well, maybe I went too far. There is a catch. This whole system or procedure is built on the assumption that you can predict how much time specific task requires. I don’t know how about you, but when I started with side projects and pursuing various creative endeavors this was definitely not the truth. Almost in every case … Well, in every case, I overestimated my abilities and underestimated the time needed to get the task done. This quickly lead to breaking of deadlines, getting behind the schedule and constantly expanding to-do list.
If this sounds familiar to you, you probably also know how stressful situation can become. Instead of avoiding being overwhelmed, you basically ran directly into this trap. When this happened couple times, I decided to take an initiative to prevent the same situation from happening in the future. The solution I came up with is quite simple. Whenever I estimate time for tasks, I always use the worst-case scenario. Then, I will further increase the estimate by around ten percents of the whole estimate. Doing so, I will minimize the danger of setting too unrealistic deadline.
Too Loose or Too Tight Deadlines
What if you are working on your first project and you are not confident ten percent is enough? Well, add more. Just make sure to not adding too much. Otherwise, it can backfire as well. One of the ways deadlines work is they motivate us to get things done in a shorter time than we would think we need. Keep this on mind and think about the consequences of setting too loose deadlines. Instead of motivating and challenging you to push yourself to achieve what you have at your fingertips, loose deadlines will allow you to be lazy and procrastinate.
Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to claim that procrastination is inherently bad. There is growing evidence that procrastination can actually be useful for anyone pursuing creative career. Since this article is about becoming a prolific creator, this will apply to you as well. There is, however, a difference between useful procrastination and plain slacking. There is also a difference between useful procrastination and succumbing to fear of finishing and releasing your work.
On the other hand, going to the opposite extreme – setting too tight deadlines – may not work either. I think we’ve already touched this subject in How to Guide to Goal Setting – The Ultimate Way to Success article. In short, when you set too tight deadlines (or goals), the probability of not accomplishing them will increase. What will happen when the worst-case scenario become a reality and you will fail in delivering on the deadline? Your overall motivation to continue working on your project will also decrease.
This might not be necessarily a bad thing if you will take your failure as an opportunity to learn from. Then, you can use it to improve your ability to set appropriate deadlines. Unfortunately, this is the best case scenario and it doesn’t occur as often. More often people will get demotivated or even scared to try again. Since the last trial may hurt their ego or confidence, they will not want to expose themselves to the same danger again. As you can see, tight deadlines can be as dangerous as loose deadlines. If not even more.
With that on mind, how can we work with deadlines in a way we can gain the most benefits and sustain the pace of work? My idea is to go the middle path. Deadlines should not be too loose nor too tight. Meaning, deadlines should do what they do the best – motivate and challenge you. When you will set a deadline for a task or whole project, force yourself at least beyond the edges of your comfort zone. Use your creative work not just as a way to challenge you creatively, but to challenge your convenience as well.
No.6: Track Your Progress
When we finally put the fundamentals of deadlines together (I may write an article on the topic of deadlines), it’s time for next step. This step is about tracking your progress. If there is one thing prolific creator may struggle with it is keeping track about all his projects. Let me leave track for a moment. I want to give you a quote by Peter Drucker that is perfectly for this step: “What gets measured gets done.” The purpose of keeping track of your progress is not only to give you an overview of all the work you do. It goes much further than that.
Committing to track your progress on a regular basis will also help you finish what you are working on. When you know precisely where you are, it is much easier to find out what you have to do next. Tracking your progress will also help you prevent some potential struggles such as getting behind the schedule. When you know where you are, you can easily make necessary adjustments to meet your deadlines and goals. Also, if you are working on multiple projects, as we will discuss next, tracking your progress will give you clarity and help you manage them.
The next question is “how?” First of all, you should have some place where you can write everything you are working on. If you are fan of analog, notepad or whiteboard will be great places to start. I wouldn’t recommend that you use post-it notes. Although this tool can be incredibly useful in brainstorming and idea generating, they are not the best way to maintain order in projects. You glue one note here, one note there and before you realize your office is covered with yellow color. Then, try to find something. One notepad or whiteboard will be the best.
Now let’s switch to tools for people who like the digital stuff. I will give you couple of my favorites tools I use literally on a daily basis. The first one has to be a to-do list app called Wunderlist. In the beginning, I was using Reminders and Notes apps on my iPhone. As a Windows user, it was a bit more difficult to keep my devices synchronized. For that reason, I gave Wunderlist a shot. It was one of the best decisions I did. Yes, there are some issues with recurring task, but my overall evaluation of this app is only positive.
If Wunderlist is not interesting for you, there is plethora of other apps. Any.do, Todoist, Things to give you few examples. Todoist is one app I’m also giving a shot to see if it is better than Wunderlist. By the way, what’s your favorite to-do list app?
My second favorite tool to keep track of almost everything that’s not in Wunderlist is Evernote. If it is written and I don’t have it in PDF, I store it in Evernote. This includes ideas, articles, my reading diary and so on. The only exception will be, I guess, images. If you are looking for a place to store your notes, I would suggest that you try Evernote. And, if you don’t like this app there are other alternatives as well. For example, Simplenote, Google Keep, OneNote, Nevernote and Google Docs.
Whatever tool or tools will you use, the basic idea here is to have one central place where you will store all information you need. Avoid decentralization. The more you will have to switch between tools to find certain information, the less productive you will be. Also, the more amount of materials will you gather, the harder it will be to maintain an order. So, choose your favorite tool, test it and if you find it useful, stick to it. Don’t try to chase the next best tool. That’s never ending race. Remember that your goal is to create, not consume apps.
No.7: Work on Multiple Projects (Maybe)
Number seven on the list to transform you into production line for creative work is by working on multiple projects at the same time. Now, before you jump into fifty projects at once, there is something you have to know. This approach doesn’t work for everyone. For some people, working on multiple projects at a time is the worst thing they can do. The problem is that these people will start something, but never finish it. I experienced this on my own.
Some time ago, I was something you could call a chronic starter. This is a person who has no problem with starting new projects and ventures. Unfortunately, this person almost never deliver any finished product. The process is quite simple. You get an idea, you start working on it. Soon, you will get another idea. You abandon your first project and start working on the new one. Unfortunately, you will never go back to your previous project to finish it. This loop is then continuously repeated. The result? Pile of unfinished work and nothing done.
The good news is that it is possible to work on multiple project and avoid the “chronic starter” trap. How? I have three words for you: dedication, commitment and discipline. I understand that neither of these words may seem sexy. However, there is no other way you can work on multiple projects and still be able to produce results. You have to be dedicated to what you do, committed to always follow through and have the discipline to stick to this process. If you are not willing to make this “sacrifice” you can say goodbye the idea of being a prolific creator.
No.8: Give Yourself A Break
The last advice I will share with you is very simple. Just give yourself a break here and there. Although being a prolific creator requires doing a lot of work, going to complete exhaustion is a big mistake. Every person who invests his or her time into creating new things and working on new projects will tell you that taking a break and relaxing is necessary. I would go even further and say that regular breaks and unplugging is the secret to sustainable creative career.
On the first sight, taking a break can look like a waste of time. Time you could spend creating something, working on your next project. Yes, you are right. Unfortunately, this will be true only until you will just drop off. When that happen, you will need much more time to recharge your energy. Following such an approach will also affect your health in the long-term. Before you realize it, your body will start to denounce its function. Unless you will start to listen to your instincts and take some action, you will soon end up in the hospital.
Let me ask you one thing. Is it worth it? Is your well-being worth destroying yourself both, psychically and physically? I doubt that. One would have to be a masochist to be willing undergo such a suffering. One would also have to be complete idiot. Why? Well, just by asking anyone for whom is creating a way to ensure the livelihood you would find that one thing. I already said it, but it deserves repeating. Every prolific creator made regular breaks part of his creative endeavor. You can bet that people like Stephen King will not be able of such a feats.
By the way, huge amount of the books Stephen King wrote are not exactly one day reading. In a fact, you would need at least a month to get through some of his books. To give you an example, one of his novels, The Stand, has more than thousand pages! Think about. Achieving and maintaining such a pace is possible only with taking regular breaks. Otherwise, he would kill himself. Well … He would probably go mad first. Then, he would kill himself.
The takeaway? Set your career as prolific creator for success by ensuring your body will get enough rest. Remember, you are in it for the long-term. At least I hope you are. If not, go ahead. Show others how tough are you. Take couple all nighters and see for yourself how far will you get until you reach complete exhaustion. Then, you can watch other, smarter, people getting ahead of you while you will lie in the hospital. Just for your sake I hope you choose the first and smarter way.
No.9: Have Fun
Okay, let me give you just one more advice. You should always find a way to bring fun into your work. Although you have to take your work seriously, you should allow yourself to break loose of the leash. In other words, just don’t take yourself too seriously all the time. The same applies to your work as well. Take a moment here and there and create something just for the sake of fun. It can be anything … Draw a caricature, write a parody or decorate some wall with cool graffiti (don’t get caught!). Whatever your twisted sense of humor will tell you, just do it.
In the end, we all are a bit crazy, but we are hiding it due to fear of ridicule. At least once in a while, give yourself a break and let this craziness reveal itself. It will surprise you how much it will help you come up with new creative ideas and how it will recharge your motivation. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself. And, if you do try it anyway.
Closing Thoughts on Becoming A Prolific Creator
This is all I have for you today. I hope these suggestions will help you become a prolific creator. Let me quickly repeat them. First, forget excuses. Remember that you can have either excuses or results, not both. Second, prepare your environment. Get rid of all that may distract you from your work. Third, write everything down. Don’t rely on your memory. Write down every idea you will get. Fourth, set a schedule. Don’t wait for inspiration. Create a schedule and stick to it.
Fifthly, start small. If you want to get anything done, divide into into smaller and more manageable parts. Remember that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Sixth, track your progress. It will give you clarity and help reach the finish line. Seventh, work on multiple projects. Just make sure you are dedicated, committed and disciplined enough you can handle it. Eight, give yourself a break. The only way to produce huge amount of work in the long-term is by taking regular breaks. You have to let your body and mind rest and recharge the energy.
And the last one, have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously all the time. Let your crazy part reveal itself and expose yourself to the danger of being ridiculed. Remember that work and fun are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to have both at the same time.
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