This morning I thought I’d take a little moment to talk about inspiration.
When we talk about inspiration or feeling inspired, we often refer to it as something that happens to us. We’re struck with inspiration. We don’t do the striking.
This is completely untrue.
The most important skill I have developed in the last 8 months of being self-employed is realising that it’s my job and my duty – to my business and clients – to get F**KING EXCITED about whatever it is I’m working on.
This is not always easy.
The gulf between thinking about a project and being actively working on is sometimes vast – and filled with uncertainty, even fear. If I’m still uninspired when I get to work (usually after putting things off as long as possible) the fear doesn’t go away. It becomes discomfort. Sometimes full-blown anger. I find myself gritting my teeth and wearing those feelings as I work away, raging against my own bubbling dissatisfaction at every mouse click and keystroke. Not a great way to be, and a sure-fire way to associate a lot of negativity with particular projects, making them harder and harder to work on as time goes by.
There is another way.
In order to get excited about any of the projects we’re working on – even the real clunkers – we can do three things:
- Capture what we find inspirational.
- Find angles in projects that trigger inspiration.
- Apply our inspiration.
If the goal is to recall that feeling of inspiration as quickly as possible and direct it into our current projects, it makes sense that we should capture and store the things we find inspiring when we find them.
I store bits of inspiration in two different places:
1. Pocket. This is my app/chrome extension of choice for bookmarking articles on techniques, trends, technologies, etc.
2. Google Keep. My “in the moment” brain dump. Ideas, photos, screenshots and links to cool stuff go in here.
Of course, there are gazillions of apps and services you could use. These just happen to be mine.
By regularly pushing content to these places, I create a growing gallery of the very best stuff the world has to offer. I can tag these into topics like #webdev or #design to narrow things down later, but half the fun is exploring the spaces as a whole and appreciating the wild variety of things I find truly exciting.
Some things I’m fascinated by and want to come back to:
1. Awesome branding designs.
Last year I was blown away by the branding of #hacktoberfest, an online, open-source collaboration event. The website was exciting, uncluttered and appealed to my love of vaporwave design. After asking around, the team at DigitalOcean claimed responsibility and pointed me at their other work on dribbble. Creating an illustration-led site with SVG animations is currently top of my priorities, and DO’s gallery is full of amazing executions of web- and user-friendly creative design.
2. How-To Guides
As most of my websites are built on WordPress, my ears prick up when I hear about new features or technologies. I’ve heard WP transients mentioned a few times now, and yesterday stumbled across this article on CSS-Tricks that gives a pretty good overview. It’s something that I definitely want to try out on a personal site or in a new build.
3. Über-cool Sh*t. (It’s a big category)
Did you ever see the opening titles of American Gods, Halt and Catch Fire, or Westworld? Every mind-blowing main title sequence has been coming out of the elastic studio for years now. Taking a look through their website is an inspiration-overload all by itself.
These and a hundred other links are stored safely in the cloud to peruse through when I need a hit of inspiration.
Finding An Angle
When it’s time to start working, we can do a couple of quick things so that we’re approaching the task with true excitement, rather than vague foreboding.
Firstly, we can set aside a little time to revisit our inspo-repos and remind ourselves of what we love, what gets our blood pumping, or things we’d like to try.
The next is to simply start banging out ideas. For me, it’s a process of getting a notepad and writing down ideas for the project. At least ten, but as many as possible. In web dev and design, it’s all the things you might expect. Here’s some examples I’ve jotted down:
- Nav toggle animates from SVG text “MENU” to X close button on click
- Older userbase – start with JAWS compatibility
- Riff on government style headers for added authority
- Mini-explosion on submit button
- What if the whole site was a text adventure game?
- Good excuse to test out Genesis Framework
The important thing to note is that it’s as much about you, what you want to test, explore and implement (THIS) as it is the project’s specific needs (THAT). THIS will be an awesome solution for THAT. Fulfilling the brief is a must, but why not do in a way that uses your best ideas and is genuinely enjoyable to you?
I like to think of this process as a pre-workout warm up. You can dive right in without it, but you’re probably going to hurt yourself, and not achieve the results you want.
Inspiration As Motivation
I’ll take a vulnerable moment to say, this feels awful – even dangerous – to admit.
I’m not motivated by money.
That’s a BIG problem for someone running their own business.
I can be enticed, seduced and wooed with money, but when the rubber hits the road, an extra £10k on the table – on its own – wouldn’t make me one iota more interested in a project.
I’ve had to wrestle with this for some time because, without motivation, productivity is impossible. The speed at which my projects get delivered is directly linked to my excitement and interest in the work itself.
That’s not to say I won’t take projects on that I don’t like the look of, or charge more for them. It means that I simply have to bring self-awareness and understand:
- What are the angles that will MAKE each project exciting to me?
- Where can I find the inspiration for solving the interesting problems?
- Is this an opportunity to try a new approach for the first time?
I mention this because you might be in the same boat. For too long I struggled to push things forward and wondered why I simply couldn’t bring myself to care, even though it meant getting the project paid and off my desk. Finally, I started figuring out what steps I had to take to not just care, but be fully inspired by the opportunities and challenges the work offered. That’s when motivation kicked in.
The Application of Inspiration
Inspiration is pointless if we don’t use it. Choosing to set the time aside to get inspired before getting started takes discipline and habit. Habits work best with triggers.
Here’s a trick, leave a sticky note in the centre of your monitor that says:
“Step One: Get Excited.”
Don’t turn the damn thing on until you’ve spent ten minutes wandering through your inspo-repos on a non-work device, and another ten banging out some ideas for the project you’re about to work on.
You’ll know when it’s time to head to the computer because you’ll have thought of something so interesting and exciting that you simply MUST get to work.