I’ve spent a bit of time recently talking about finding a focus for my work, a direction to grow in if you will. A big part of the reason for that new focus on, well, focus is so that I could measure my trajectory a bit better, and to feel like I’m developing. But I’m still not quite sure of the best way to measure my success as a creative.

Success is different for everyone, and so the best way to measure it is different too. But here are some of my initial thoughts around how to measure success in a creative context.

The method of measuring our success we commonly seem to turn to first is comparison – how are we doing compared to our peers? But unless you’re doing exactly the same thing as someone else, and starting in the same place, it’s very hard to find a group of peers who we can actually measure against. This is made even harder by the internet. With a whole world of other creatives out there, there’s no shortage of people you could choose as your peers, but that means the choice can be overwhelming, and even harder to make well.

More often than not, we (or at least) I pick a peer group who I see as better than me, or are more established, which is great for pushing you forward but not for accurately measuring how well you’re doing, because you might never overtake them. I’ve also ended up comparing myself to people making different work, for different reasons, with different circumstances meaning any comparisons I make are just assumptions, which, again, rarely go in my own favour.

So, comparison with others doesn’t really work.

In fact, the only person you can fairly compare yourself to is yourself. You are the only person who’s working with your specific circumstances. So why not just periodically look back at what you’ve made and see how far you’ve come. I mentioned in my recent post about sketchbooks about the importance of revisiting old work and even of revising old pieces. You could even rework the same piece every year or 6 months, and see what you can add to it that’s new. This allows you to see your progress, but it’s less about pushing you forward.

But what if you want to look forward rather than back all of the time?

That’s where goals come into play. Setting goals allows you to give yourself a challenge to work towards, which you can clearly mark as achieved. The best goals are based on something you can control and lie just out of your reach.

These goals could be quantitative or qualitative. So, they might be that you want to produce a certain number of pieces or make a set amount of money. Or, you might want to be doing a certain kind of work or have a certain skill. This gives you something to work forwards to, and something you can easily measure. But perhaps it doesn’t take into account the process of accumulated growth that happens as your progress, or the power of the process of making in the way that self-comparison does.

In the end, I think it’s clear there’s no one way of measuring creative success that works all of the time. So, perhaps, the answer is to employ a mixture. To set yourself a range of goals, whilst remembering how far you’ve come.

After all isn’t the process just as important as the outcome when you’re making things? The only way to measure that is how you feel at the end of the day.

There’s been a lot written about how we’re being bombarded with more and more digital distractions. There have been studies into how it’s effecting our memory and attention spans*, and think pieces on how it’s bad for our productivity. But is digital distraction bad for our creativity?

On one hand, there are some people who would emphatically say yes. When it comes to making focused work being sucked into the black hold of related videos on YouTube isn’t exactly ideal. Sometimes you need to just focus on making something with your hands away from a screen.

Plus, if our tendency to just keep scrolling has shortened our attention spans, creating detailed or labour intensive work is going to be harder. We’re also less likely to have the patience to draft and redraft in order to make the best work that we can, and to shy away from the tough tasks that will require delayed gratification.

On the other hand, isn’t distraction where a lot of our best ideas come from? And isn’t the digital world just as big a part of our lives as the physical world? According to one scientific study the more creative you are the more likely you are to be distracted by what’s happening around you.

When it comes to brainstorming, the best creative minds draw from a number of sources including things they’ve picked up distractedly browsing Instagram as if by osmosis. The web is an infinite source of content and distraction, or potential idea fodder, and who’s to say that content is any less meaningful if it’s online. 

Digital distraction, in moderation, I believe, is good for creativity, at the idea generation stage at least.

But it can’t be our only crutch, and it is something you should be aware of, because it can quickly spiral into something negative. In short don’t forget to go outside, speak to people in person and touch real objects too. Finding out what makes your audience tick face to face is an invaluable resource, and fresh air and quiet is so good for you. That might mean limiting your scrolling time or actively scheduling in time to go for a wander without your phone depending on how your day works. But as with everything, balance is key.

How does digital distraction impact your work? Do you actively limit your screen time?

*Digital distraction might not have actually made any difference to our attention spans

So, at the start of the year I announced a few changes that you’re going to see coming into play throughout the next few months on this blog and also in my work more generally.

I’ve made those changes because in 2018 I want to really find some more focus in my work. I feel like last year I laid a lot of groundwork, I got my hands dirty, but in order to grow I need a focus to grow towards. In order to achieve a goal you need to know what that goal is*. That meant doing some serious thinking at the start of this year.

Having a focus or purpose behind your work is often described as this moment of divine inspiration. You just need to “find your niche” or “follow your passion”. For me at least, it hasn’t been that simple. I’m interested in lots of things, and I don’t know that I have an automatic “niche” especially within my non-blog work.

So, I decided to set myself some homework, in the same way that I would for a client. Now that I’ve done it myself, and seen what works, I thought I’d share it with you in case anyone else hasn’t had their purpose just leap out and grab them, or if you just want to have a bit of a refresh and remind yourself what it is you’re trying to do.

I wrote out the 8 questions below out on cue cards and did my best to answer them. I used cue cards to give me something physical to work on because I always like to have a tangible outcome. Using individual cards also meant I could switch around the order, and answer the ones I knew first and then move onto the harder ones. I divided my cards down the middle so I could answer the questions for the blog and my personal work separately, but you could also go with a project per set of cards.

While they’re only simple questions, don’t be fooled into thinking that answering them is a quick or easy task. It took me a good chunk of time to work out what the best answer to each one of them was.

I’ve put my answers below each of the questions to give you a bit of an idea as to how you might answer, and to keep me honest.

1. What do I want to get out of this?

  • Share my learnings and encourage others to pursue their creative interests
  • Establish myself as a thought leader around design, creativity and productivity
  • Add depth/credibility to my design and illustration practice

2. Who is my audience?

  • Essentially people like me
  • People interested in learning more about design/creativity
  • Young professional women mostly

3. How do I want my work to make people feel?

  • Informed
  • Empowered
  • Like they have a slightly different take on the world around them

4. What can I offer?

  • Illustrated blog posts – something more editorial compared to a lot of lifestyle blogs
  • Insight into my dual roles
  • My experience as a junior illustrator/service designer
  • Researched editorial content – use my English degree
  • Curation of the wild web

5. What are my core values?

  • Honesty
  • Consideration – work that’s thoughtful
  • Inclusivity

6. What is the personality of my work?

  • Credible
  • Friendly
  • Straightforward

7. How do I want my work to be known?

  • As smart and good to look at

8. Can you sum that all up succinctly?

I want to create work that’s considered and well easy on the eye, which encourages people to see design in the world around them.

 

Now that I’ve put some work into finding a focus for my work. I’m going to try and anchor everything I do to that purpose, because it’s a big one. So, every blog post I write, every time I take on some work around this platform, every time I start to think about a new social media series I’m going to ask myself how does this link to my mission statement?

I might even pin it up in massive lettering above my desk so I can’t avoid it.

*By the way, in all of this it’s also 100% okay if your end goal in your blogging or creative outlet is just to have fun. In fact, it’s super useful to identify that, so you can use it as a reminder not to take on anything you’re not going to have fun doing or get something enjoyable out of at the end.

I know we’re already in mid-January, but I know I, at least, am still trying to organize my life and get on track for 2018. One of the tools I’ve been using to do that is the Kanban board I set up towards the end of last year. So, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about it, and why it can be such a useful way of managing tasks.

WHAT’S A KANBAN BOARD?

A Kanban board is a productivity tool that allows you to visualize your workflow and all of the tasks you have to manage. It’s often used by teams (I learned about them at work) but they can work just as well if you’re a one-person band.

The idea was developed by Toyota in the 40s, as part of their revolutionalisation of manufacturing. As a side note, there’s a great This American Life about Toyota’s approach to productivity that’s well worth a listen if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

Workers in the Toyota factory would use coloured cards to display where they were in a process and to let their other team members what was ready and what was needed, and, perhaps most importantly where the process was getting stuck. This process has since been adopted by other factories, as well as industries like software design and human resource management because it allows teams to visualize their work and manage the flow of tasks.

In practice a Kanban board is just a board, whether that’s digital or physical, divided vertically into stages of a process e.g. to do, doing and done. The board is then populated by cards including the details of a task what it is, who’s doing it etc. These cards are then moved through the stages of the process as they are completed.

HOW DO I USE MINE?

I have a very simple physical Kanban board. It’s just some washi tape and post-it notes.

Mine has four stages: to do, doing, done and a backlog of things that need to be pulled in in the future. These are then divided into two lanes, hygiene, and development.

Hygiene tasks – these are things I have to do but are basically admin e.g. queuing posts

Development tasks – these are things that take more work which help me develop those might be commissions because they’re good practice and help get my work out there or courses or just an illustration for fun.

I also colour code my tasks: blue for recurring work (e.g. blog posts), pink for one-offs (e.g. commissions), yellow for anything super important. Then I add the date the work has to be finished, so I don’t forget if it’s a one-off. 

I review what’s up there on a Sunday night, and see how I’ve done, what needs to be pulled in, and what should come off the wall.

I personally find it really useful to see all of the tasks I have for the week out visually and to physically move them through the process. It’s so satisfying to pull a post-it down. I can also see how I’m dividing my time between hygiene and development work, and where the holdups are. When I started using the board I found that by the end of the week the only tasks I was completing were the hygiene ones rather than the more interesting development stuff. That really made me realise how I was prioritising work and made me shift in how I did things.

 

If this is something you’re interested in, you can modify your Kanban board to suit however you work, whether you want to divide up tasks differently or you want to have more stages in your processes. Plus, if you don’t have the wall space, or you just work digitally, there are so many online versions of Kanban to get you started!

I’m back and I’m, hopefully, going to be better than ever!

Based on your feedback last year (thank you to all of the wonderful people who filled in my survey) and some thinking I’ve been doing things are going to be changing a little bit around here.

I’m still going to be producing the content I want to make and I’m still going to be posting at the same times. But I’m going to be prioritizing quality over quantity which might mean that some weeks I’m only going to post twice.

I’m also going to be doing a few more regular features including a monthly “how to” design based post, monthly roundups of some of my favourite people/reads/links and a few more researched long-form pieces a bit like my design stories series last year. I also want to share a few more reviews, but we’ll see how that goes.

I’m also going to be way better at replying to comments – I got super overwhelmed at the end of 2017 and pretty much stopped, which doesn’t help foster the kind of community I want.

Personally, I’m implementing a few changes as well. I know that new year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone. A new year doesn’t have to mean a new you. But I’m the kind of person who likes to have a marker to review against, and a new year is as good an arbitrary marker as any other. So, I’ve set myself a few habit based challenges.

Just like last year, inspired by a friend from uni (the inimitable Tucker Cholvin), this year I decided to put together another poster of my new year’s resolutions to hang above my desk to remind me to stay on track because I really think it helped me stay on task. 

I’ve gone for 5 habits again this year, because it felt like a doable stretch last year and I succeeded (with a minor blip) on 4 out of the 5, which isn’t too bad. This year I’m going to:

  1. Read 25 books. This is 5 more than last year’s goal. I know for a lot of people, this might not seem like a lot, but my time to sit down and read full books for fun rather than articles is always very tight
  2. Take a photo/video of some kind every day. This is building on how much I enjoyed doing my one line a day journal last year (and am continuing).
  3. Learn 10 new skills. I really want to push myself to go to more classes and to try my hand and making a few new things – I’m kicking this one off with a screen printing workshop next month which I am super excited for!
  4. Do 120 hours of exercise. Last year I ran the equivalent distance from London to Edinburgh, this year I want to keep up that momentum but also start to try a few new things rather than just running, so I’ve gone from distance to time.
  5. Implement a better sleep schedule. Last year the resolution I failed (really hard) at was getting up without hitting snooze. One of the big issues was that I didn’t address the fact that I hit snooze because I’m tired, so this year it’s all about having a better, more regular sleep schedule.

Did you set any new resolutions or goals for the year? How are they going? If you’re struggling it’s not too late to put up something visual as a reminder (I really like the fill in as you go aspect of these posters) – they actually work!