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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 August 16, 2018

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

      No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

      Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

      Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

      A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

      Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

      In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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      The power of habit

      A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

      For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

      This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

      The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

      That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

      Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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      The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

      Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

      But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

      The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

      The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

      A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

      For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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      But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

      If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

      For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

      These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

      For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

      How to make a reminder works for you

      Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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      Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

      Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

      My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

      Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

      I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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