The stereotype for creative people is that we're disorganized. We need to roam free, like animals; we're like an overgrown child who can't sit still; we love distractions and hate structure; want our cake and to eat it too; want to know where everything is, and at the same time we do a wonderful job making sure to never put something back in its proper place.
Or maybe that's just me...
Never before has the world been so open to "creativity." It's practically a title people wear on their sleeve now: "I'm creative."
The difference between those who call themselves "creative" and those who actually create something of value, however, comes down to their ability to focus. Otherwise, you will forever be the chapeau-wearing, craft-beer-sipping, day-dreaming-designer (or writer, or director, or photographer, or...).
How do you stay focused as a creative person, you ask?
1. Remove All Distractions
This book changed my life. The title is, "Manage Your Day-To-Day" and it was written by 20 leading minds in creative industries.
The primary takeaway I got from this book was the fact that in today's day and age, it's really not about talent. It's not. There are an infinite number of great ideas, and there are just as many talented designers, writers, photographers, creative directors, and more with the ability to bring those ideas to life.
The problem is that only 1% of them have the discipline and the focus to actually see their vision through to the end.
"Manage Your Day-To-Day" reinforces over and over again this idea of focus. It is the single most important quality any creative person can cultivate. In our hyper-distracted world, focus is one of the few traits that will always carry you through.
How you do this is you remove all distractions. I'll be 100% honest, I haven't had Internet at my apartment for over 3 years. Why? Because I already spend enough time on the Internet working during the day. But what about that book I want to write? When I come home every night, the only time I have to write is the free hour I have before bed. I know if I have the Internet available, I'll waste it. So I removed that as a distraction (and have done quite a bit of writing as a result).
When you sit down, get rid of everything that doesn't matter. Turn your phone on silent and throw it on your bed. Don't touch it. Turn off your Wifi. Turn off e-mail notifications. Turn off everything that doesn't have to do with the task at hand. I guarantee for the first few weeks you'll find new ways to distract yourself--you'll stare at the wall for fifteen minutes wondering if anyone has texted you. This is because you lack focus.
Remove distractions. Practice focus. Get to work.
2. Plan Your Day, Not Your Tasks
I am a firm believer in listening to your body and doing what you feel needs to be done in that moment--instead of doing what you "think" needs to be done. If you feel inspired to work on one project right now more than the other, roll with that project (deadlines permitting). Follow your flow and trust your gut.
The way I structure my days, I structure them by time intervals, not tasks. I plan for a big work chunk in the morning, then a big work chunk early afternoon, then a big work chunk late afternoon, and then another big work chunk right before bed. I structure the time, but I leave the way I spend that time relatively unstructured.
A better definition of this would be "organized chaos."
This helps ensure that I put in the time to get things done, without boxing myself into a rigid schedule. What if I wake up one morning and am inspired to write right away? I should trust that! Where most people go wrong is they try to structure their day by activities, instead of time chunks. They say, "From 1:00 p.m to 3:00 p.m. I'm going to do this." It takes a lot, and I mean a lot of focus to plan that in advance and hold yourself to that. If you have that level of discipline, great. It will take you far. But most of us are fickle and would rather flow with our emotions. So accept that, and instead structure your days based on time, not activities.
Of course, the key here is to make sure the activities actually get done.
3. Come Prepared
Everything goes wrong when you don't come prepared. You sit down to write and you've got nothing to say. You go out to take photos and have no idea what you're looking for. You prepare to design a new website and you haven't done any research.
Preparation is everything.
In the writing world, the first question one writer always asks another is, "Who are you reading?" Who and what you read is a window into how and why you write. The same can be applied to just about any industry. It's who and what you study that ultimately prepares you to sit down and create something yourself.
This means constantly filling your brain with ideas. Constantly writing down things you want to try. Constantly studying your competition. Constantly looking for new hacks, tricks, tips, and methods. Constantly keeping your eyes peeled for new ways of doing things. As the cliché goes, "You can learn more from a terrible book than you can an iconic one." That's where mistakes are the most apparent.
Even if you develop focus and discipline, even if you structure your time well, things can go awry if you do not come prepared. You need to be bursting at the seams with ideas. You need to be so full of material that you can't wait to unload some of it yourself. You need to have a rich resource to pull from so that as soon as you dive into the work, you have plenty to work with.
Practice focus. Structure your time, not your tasks. And come prepared.