In one of Austin Kleon’s talks, the writer and artist describes how the process of creative work unfolds.
It all starts with an idea.
It might be an idea for a new piece of art, a book or a charitable project.
It could be an idea for a new spreadsheet model, an asset purchase or a renewable investment.
Those count too – there is no reason why what we think of as “work” can’t be as creative as “art”.
The idea seems like the best thing in the world, especially if you have just come up with it in the shower.
Cue big, excited, smiley face.
Then you start work on that idea and begin to develop it and create packages of work to complete.
As you get deeper into doing that, you start to realise that this might be harder than it first seemed.
Once you get into the detail, various problems appear that you need to deal with as you move things along.
Cue pensive face.
At some point, you reach rock bottom. This is where nothing seems to work and you can’t see a way to fixing all the problems you have.
All you have done so far is in danger of being completely useless. You might just have wasted days/weeks/months/years on this project.
Cue sad face.
This is a crucial point in the process.
This is the time to go and get a cup of tea.
Or coffee. Or whatever that will give you a break and then let you get back to work.
It’s when you keep going and work through to the next stage in the process that things start to get better.
Just by spending time and working on the problems, you come up with ways to solve them and get things moving again.
It doesn’t seem that bad now.
Cue return of pensive face.
Then you’re starting to speed up again, and you enter the final stretch.
At this point, the work is done – whether it is art, writing, a spreadsheet or a construction project.
It’s perhaps not reached the lofty heights that you first imagined, but its a good piece of work and it is now done and you can be pleased about it.
Cue smiley face.
The message in Austin’s talk is that you should think “process not product”. Creating good work is as much about working on the process as on the product.
And a crucial part of that process is being able to recognise when you need to take a break and get a cup of tea, so that you can return to work and keep going after that.