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Find Your Inspiration, Jack London’s Way

Find Your Inspiration, Jack London’s Way

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    Jack London once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” He knew what he was talking about, too: London cranked out short stories, novels, essays, plays, poetry and non-fiction at a tremendous rate. To write — and make a living — the way London did, there just isn’t the possibility of waiting around for inspiration to strike. The same holds true in other fields. When we’re in need of inspiration for any project, we have to be prepared to go find it.

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    1. Go out looking for inspiration
      My first stops in the search for inspiration are my peers’ blogs and websites. I immediately go online to find out what other people are working on. It’s not a question of finding someone working on the same exact project — instead, it’s a way to see what techniques are out there. There are new techniques, as well as old ones that slip our minds, that we can catch glimpses of when we see others in our industry at work. From there, it’s just a matter of thinking about how we can use those techniques on our own projects.
    2. Read outside your area of expertise
      Just because someone doesn’t know a single thing about your project doesn’t mean that he can’t provide you with a little inspiration. Head outside the blogs, magazines and people that you follow in your own industry and go hunting for a little wild inspiration. A chef can just as easily find inspiration on how to arrange food from an architect as from another chef — and sometimes she can find something entirely new in architecture that can be built in food.
    3. Try another format
      Format can devour inspiration: working on projects that might as well follow a format can sap you of any desire to work on the next, identical project. So change things up. A website designer may have spent the past several years married to the 800 by 600 pixel format that is often used as a standard format — but there are plenty of other configurations that could work better. Just give a new format a try: you don’t have to sell a client or supervisor on the final project unless that new format really does inspire you.
    4. Get an outsider’s take
      Handing someone outside your field a description of your project will get you a list of questions. Answering those questions can be a quick way to spark inspiration: an outsider won’t know that you traditionally don’t take a specific approach or know what limitations you’ve placed on the project. Sure, you might get asked a few questions that go over approaches you’ve already tried and discarded — but you’re likely to get a few questions you’ve never considered.
    5. Look back at what has worked
      It isn’t always necessary to go outside of your normal pursuits to find inspiration: reviewing past work done in the same area can give you a few new ideas. Keep an eye out for pieces not fully developed the last time around — even if you can only concentrate on taking a similar approach and improving on it a little, you can find enough inspiration to finish your current project and move on to the next one. In the course of your career, you’ll find a few projects where your only inspiration is to make a small change from an earlier iteration. Just because inspiration doesn’t offer a hugely divergent approach in these situations doesn’t mean that you can’t complete a quality project.
    6. Borrow an idea
      If you feel like someone else is getting all the good ideas today, borrow one for inspiration. A write might rewrite a story in his own words. An ad designer might rework concept with her own insight. Using other people’s ideas as a starting point can jump start your own inspiration. It’s not a favored approach to finding inspiration for many people: it’s too easy to turn out something that is, for all intents and purposes, identical to someone else’s work. Stealing an idea is bad; borrowing an idea and developing it in a new way, however, is just another way to find inspiration. Consider that ad designer: most designers keep a file of ads that they’ve seen and enjoyed as a place to start their search for inspiration.
    7. Brute force your way through
      Nice as inspiration is, there are always projects where we just don’t have the time to find inspiration. While inspiration can make the work go faster, though, it’s not always necessary: sometimes just sitting down and putting together an uninspired project is the best option. Not every memo, design or product can be perfectly inspired. Sometimes, the best we can do is just try to create more inspired projects than uninspired projects.

    Jack London was known for his ability to find inspiration in anything: he wrote stories based off of newspaper clippings, his own experiences — even watching a boxing match was enough to spark a short story. London made sure that he had plenty to draw on. He went out and brought back inspiration with a club, no matter what it took. London joined the Klondike Gold Rush and got scurvy — experiences that he based some of his most successful stories on. We may not need to suffer scurvy to find our inspiration, but we do have to go looking for it.

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      Last Updated on April 8, 2019

      22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

      22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

      Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

      Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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      1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
      2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
      3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
      4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
      5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
      6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
      7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
      8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
      9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
      10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
      11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
      12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
      13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
      14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
      15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
      16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
      17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
      18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
      19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
      20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
      21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
      22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

      Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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