Part One: Meet Ana
I was following Ana V. Martins from Amsterdive on Facebook and Instagram for a couple of years when, one day, I met her completely by chance at Creative Mornings. It was so great to finally meet her face-to-face. Because we already knew each other “online,” the transition to the “offline” world was natural.
We started chatting and getting to know one another. While talking about everything and nothing, in particular, we quickly realized we even have the same values, although we have totally different approaches when it comes to working.
I knew I wanted to collaborate with her but didn’t have a specific project in mind… at least not at that point.
However, we kept in touch and met several times afterward. This is how, while enjoying a nice cup of tea and discussing our work strategies, we decided to write an article together and share our different approaches when it comes to the creative process.
This is how Spinners’ Talks was born.
Part Two: How to kick-start a project and keep it going
Ana is one of the most creative and productive persons I have met. She is creating social media content, as in original content for several platforms, on daily basis, blogging weekly, freelancing for several clients, following a yoga teacher training course, volunteering for several organizations, and the list keeps ongoing.
I can relate to her because I also have several projects running at the same time on a regular basis. However, when we start talking about how we manage our time, we noticed we are very different.
We both decided it would be beneficial to share our ways of working and hope people can learn, relate, or even share their own ways with us.
Ana’s way of working
“It feels the absolute best when I work in an organic manner. For the longest time, I didn’t own an agenda. From the moment I started ‘Amsterdive’ I absolutely had to get one. I use an old-school agenda and I usually make a general plan the night before on what I want the next day to look like and the tasks I want to get done.
I often change my mind last minute, so I might pick a different place to work or choose to do something different than what I had in mind. I am the improvising type and function a lot on gut feeling, so sometimes I will let my mood dictate what I work on. This is a way of tricking myself into this everyday sense of novelty because feeling confined just doesn’t really work for me. Being the adventurous type, I found this strategy that allows me to embrace my personality instead of working against myself. This way, I have a certain sense of freedom as opposed to feeling confined to a set plan. I read somewhere about this idea of smart procrastination, and I identify with it.
The idea is respecting my own rhythm instead of trying to self impose or being too strict with a plan or a schedule. Despite changing plans often and adapting my schedule to what’s going on in the moment, I get to be productive anyway. I might not be working on that blog post I wanted to finish but I maybe have one week’s worth of social media content, for instance. Flexibility is key. I am reluctant to recommend this way of working, though. I realize most people need more structure in the way they work and that a more organized approach is actually more enhancing for them — and this is where Veronica’s tips come in handy. The structure methods are, at times, very useful for me as well, especially if I am working on various assignments with tight schedules where I have less control over how I organize my time.
Personally, working from my living room table never excites me. I need to work among people. I get an immense amount of energy from the vibe around me, so cafes are my offices. Since cafes are places where I also pamper myself with coffee and cake and meet-up with like-minded folks, I associate my workplaces with something incredibly pleasing. Now and then I like co-working spaces as well.
Bottom line: figure out for yourself what you need to function well and stick to that as much as you can. My point is that people evaluate what works for them, and embrace their own characteristics instead of trying to fight them. If it works for someone to get their tasks done from their bed, for instance, they should definitely do it. Or, if one still feels the need to get out of the house, why not go to a co-working space like TSH Collab and work from the “bed talks” lounge?
Veronica’s way of working
I am a planner. I can’t relax if I don’t have a detailed plan of what I need to do, by when it needs to be complete, and how I will get the task done. My sister is always telling me to just relax, and I keep on telling her, “the moment I have a plan I automatically relax.”
For me, everything starts with an agenda:
- What do I need to do?
- By when?
- What’s the goal?
- Who needs to be involved?
- What other actions or documents do I need in order to get this done?
My secret is to spit the big project into smaller, easy-to-act-on activities. Another thing I do is to always make sure I have a buffer. For example, I plan on finishing a project three days before the delivery day. From my experience, life always interferes and a client will call with a last-minute problem that needs to be solved yesterday, or a task takes longer to solve than initially estimated, or something as common as a cold can happen, and then all your planning will need to be adapted to the new situation.
Ana says she is flexible, I say I am adaptable. I can do so because I give myself that buffer I mentioned above.
Maybe, reading this, you will think I am boring. Actually I tend to get bored very quickly. This way for me is very important to identify where I am working from and to meet with people. By meeting with people I am constantly learning as well as “spicing up” my day.
What works best for me is to work from a co-working space, although not from a fixed desk. This is one of the reasons I love working from the THS Collab. They have so many different areas and depending on the task that needs to be done or the mood I am in, I choose the area that fits best.
Of course, the majority of the meetings I have been carefully planned and an error margin is taken into account for unplanned meetings.
When I started SPIN Ideas, I read a lot about productivity. I still do. Even if I am a planner, what I decided from the start is: I will not do the classical to-do list. That will drive anyone crazy!
Instead of stressing myself with every single small task that needs to happen, I will focus on three big projects per week. One year later and I still do so. Every Monday I decide three big projects that need to happen that week. Once I have that, I split them into smaller tasks that will not take more than 1 hour, max one and a half hours each. Once I have this, I integrate them into my agenda.
What I noticed is I manage to finish the three projects I commit to and still have time for other small tasks that were not in the planning.
Part Three: Tips on how to overcome the creative blockage
Even if I love planning, I know that half of the time things will not turn out as I want them to. It is not always because of other people or external reasons. Sometimes it is because of us and what is going on inside of us. It can be we are exhausted, had a bad day, or are feeling low. We are not robots, so our emotions need to be considered.
Here is what I do when I reach one of these low points and I may simply have no inspiration to move forward with a project.
- I take a break. It can be just a 1-hour break to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, or perhaps even a longer one. It depends on how I feel.
- I read. Again, depending on the mood, it can be a book related to professional activities, or it can be some fiction novel. If I feel exhausted, I will go for the fictional one. I tend to lose myself in this type of book, so my mind feels like it is on holiday.
- Meet with people. This is another plus for working in a co-working space. We are constantly meeting new people and that is amazing for me. Alternatively, you can call a friend and grab lunch or drink. It helps you focus your attention on something other than your work. After these small “escapades” I always see the work with different eyes and energy.
- Listening to music. Music is a constant in my life. I can’t go without it. However, depending on the mood, the playlist keeps changing.
- Sleep is the solution to everything. You can’t imagine how beneficial a 1-hour nap can be.
- Exercise. For me exercise has the same effect as reading. It is like my brain is taking a break.
- This one is not for everyone, but it really works for me: knitting. I know, I know, sounds very hipsters, but it relaxes me.
When I feel blocked, as hard as it is to stop, it is still what works the best. Ideally, I will do something completely different, change environments, and move around a little bit. When you move, ideas can flow. Whatever you do, just get up and stretch your body, go for a walk, and get creative. Once you have woken up your body you could draw, read, meditate, or do some photography… really anything that doesn’t include staring at a screen. Scrolling and reading stuff on the Internet doesn’t count because screens are draining and demand a passive posture of you, so you’re actually losing energy instead of replenishing it.
If I’m at home I might do some household tasks. This way I am active, sorting stuff out, but I don’t need to think. Sometimes, ideas will start flowing when I am swiping the floor or doing dishes. If I need inspiration, going to a museum or reading a (physical) book or newspaper is what stimulates me the most. Also: visiting a new place (a new street, neighborhood, or cafe) or having a conversation with someone interesting (that’s why coworking spaces are cool!)
These are tips on things to “do” if you are feeling blocked. But, as paradoxical as this may sound, not doing anything is also a valuable option. We are wired to a “do” culture and I think that puts an incredible amount of pressure on us, as if we always had to be busy to be good. Contemplation is also necessary. Intentional contemplation can actually be a very productive state. People watching. Landscape watching. Paying close attention to what’s going on around us.
Sometimes I go and stare at my own shelves at home. I observe every single detail, every item displayed every book. I might peruse a specific book, or an old diary, with no specific goal, just letting my mind wander and allowing mental associations to arise. Most people tend to underestimate resting and contemplative moments but these are as necessary as the active ones.
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