Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Richard Lalchan, founder of Creatives Hub - check it out here. Richard and I can to be found chatting on the fortnightly Creatives Hub podcast, 'Hatch: Let's get cracking!'' - a regular conversation about getting over distractions, procrastination and achieving your potential. How many ideas do you come up with per week? You might be in the shower and something just comes to you.
'Wouldn't it be great if there was an app that did … ' Fill in the blanks. Or 'Why does my microwave operate like this? Wouldn't it make more sense if it worked like that?' Or you might not especially consider yourself a musician but a tune keeps going round and round in your head that you've never heard before. ‘I wonder whether that could be a song?’ Or you might have a burning idea for a blog post that you really should get down.
You'd be amazed at the amount of ideas that you have every week and you might not even think of yourself as an ideas person or even creative.
Ideas, on one level can come easily. Turning those ideas into action is a whole other ball game and it's that issue that I want to address now.
In our Creative’s Hub mini-hubs and our fortnightly podcast Hatch : Lets get cracking! we talk a lot about getting things done. Its amazing the amount of things that will get in your way to stop you achieving your creative goals.
For example, I sat down to write this post at 5pm. It is now 6.40pm and I have only just started. What was I doing in the preceding hour and 40 minutes? Looking at YouTube.
I started with Facebook and a friend had posted a YouTube clip of a band singing a vocal harmonic cover of a tune I like. (Links posted here for your mutual distraction!)
So I had to view it. When that ended - of course YouTube being YouTube - had to show me at least nine other videos that I might like too.
Oh, YouTube! You know me so well! So I clicked on an artist who was covering a song I liked and whose voice was amazing. It immediately clicked with me and I was compelled to listen to the whole four minute forty second piece.
Unfortunately, from a time point of view, said artist had decided to post 31 videos. I sat through ten of them of at least four minutes long and some were her describing how she put together the songs - another area I’m interested in, and this was around ten minutes.
So, an hour and forty minutes later I have been introduced to two new artists and was no further forwards in writing.
However! I'm writing now. And, that diversion has directly influenced what i'm writing about. I know this is something that many people will relate to in this modern society of distractions and avoidance strategies.
So has the diversion been worth it?
Yes, and no. The 'no' is the time I will never get back. However, what's important here is getting things done. Yes, you will have distractions. There is no avoiding the fact that distractions will come. With the proliferation of Internet access - and especially wireless - we have Facebook, Twitter, Google and (of course) our beloved YouTube to distract us all the time.
So here are a few tips I use to help avoid distractions and get things done.
1) Enjoy Distractions
Hmm… 'Ok, but haven't you just been encouraging us to avoid distractions?' you might ask. Well, yes. But everything in moderation. The importance is in not letting the distraction master you. You should be in control of it. So I set myself the task of writing for fifteen minutes.
I had a timer set and was ready to press the button when I got distracted – but I still had the timer there. Staring at me (if you’re interested I use the beautiful kitchen timer minu running on my iPad mini). It was always in my view, reminding me I just had to press the button and begin.
So, after my distractions that’s what I did. I closed down YouTube, switched over to my writing software (which was already running in the background waiting for me too) and began writing.
The distractions were actually good. They have inspired me. They haven't been a total waste of time and as I mentioned, they are directly influencing this article.
If you can get to a point where you set yourself a time of 'being distracted', then you don't have to feel guilty about it. For those of us that are scanners, some people call this "scanner time". You have a period of scanning: completing smaller tasks like checking email, checking social networks etc. Then you have focus time where you have a task and focus on achieving that.
So enjoy the distractions. Set yourself a time limit to 'scan', then focus.
2) Be prepared.
Like a good boy scout: always be prepared. When starting out on your task, it's important to have everything you need ready and at hand. You might be painting, so have your brushes ready. You might be writing, so have your pad and pen ready - close at hand - or your software open, with everything else closed.
Whatever you are doing, when you set out to actually do something, have all your tools ready so when (if!) you get distracted, you don't have the excuse: 'Well I’ve wasted this time and it's going to take me hours to set everything up, so I might as well forget it for today'. No. Have things ready so you are primed to go.
I'm a planner. I love tools like Evernote which allow me to plan everything: from websites to podcasts, to marketing schedules to blog posts all in one easy-to-manage place. It keeps me organised. This again is a good tip so you're never in a situation where you decide: 'Today I will write that song', but you don't have any guidance of what you will write. You don't have any tune. You don't have any lyrics. You simply are going to write a song.
Now this works for some people I’m sure, but remember back to where we started? I mentioned about having ideas all over the place. Recording those ideas means that when you do decide 'This is my song writing time' you already have a plan of which ideas you can take forward.
4) Location, Location, Location.
Find a quiet place. Now this may not be easy if you are creating something which requires large or very specific tools. You can't play your harp in the middle of the countryside. Well, you might be able to. But there will be barriers in your way to making that happen.
If you have housemates, book in time when you know you won't be disturbed. If you're writing a book, how about booking yourself into a hotel or take yourself off to a B&B for the day to get away from everyone and everything else and get down to writing ? [note to self: do this soon!].
I love working in café's and pubs, but some people find that too distracting. Just find the right place for you and book a time to go there or set up the right environment and go do it.
If you want to finish something you're going to have to start. Yes. It's stating the obvious, but as Roland Barthes the French writer/philosopher once said: "The things that go without saying are the things that often need to be said". So it's obvious. So lets state it.
Start. If you have your plan, this will be easier. Just start writing. Just start playing. Just start sketching. Whatever it is for you, just start.
Don't worry about perfection. Don't worry about whether you're going off track at first. Just start. Ok. I think you're getting the picture with this one. Next up...
Seriously. Sometimes, when you have a specific project to do, it’s easy to get all too serious about it, which can make it harder to do. Instead of being a fun project – something you love can quickly turn into a target you must achieve.
The reality is, there are things we need to achieve regardless of our feelings. That's life. You have to get over it. BUT, don't let a project you are really passionate about descend into this thing you HAVE to do. You can change that by changing your mindset. Laugh.
Go on. Now. Just laugh. I'm laughing as I'm typing this and enjoying what I’m writing even more. It really makes what you're doing easier. There’s something about laughing and smiling that triggers a rush of energy (I don't know whether that's the scientific term!). It enables us to act on things so much more.
The great comedian John Cleese gave a brilliant talk on humour and creativity that goes into much more detail on what happens when we bring humour into our work. And often in traditional businesses laughter is frowned upon. 'If you're having fun then you can't be working properly' the saying goes.
No. Having fun can help you generate much more creative ideas. Don't get serious. Learn to laugh more.
Next month, we will be talking about humour and creativity on Hatch, the Creatives Hub podcast to discuss how it can help inspire us to get things done.
So that’s just a few tips to help you get stuff done. Enjoy distractions, be prepared, sort your location, plan, start and laugh.
After my hour and a half procrastination, I have spent a further hour writing this article and by the end I will have spent around another 30 mins editing, correcting and finalising links. I will have achieved what I wanted to despite the initial distraction.
Ideas are ten a plenty, but acting on them and making them happen, execution or shipping, call it what you like is not as easy. Getting it done is what separates those we might think of as successful and those we might not.
How many people have you thought: 'That person has so many ideas, it's crazy that they are not achieving more'. Well, it may be that the sticking point is execution. Now you know how to work with distractions and create, what are you going get done? Let me know in the comments.
Richard Lalchan is founder of Creatives Hub a startup encouraging people to get rid of the perils of procrastination, follow their passions and enjoy making a living by being creative. He co-hosts the recently launched podcast 'Hatch - Let's get cracking!', lovingly crafts websites for small businesses and charities and in 17 years has never been employed by one company for five days a week, as he's always had several side projects on the go.