creativity

10 Ways to Get Shit Done. by Simeon Smith

 

(Thanks to Ben who suggested, months back, that I write "How to write an album and a book and make short movies, and keep a band going and design synth modules and volunteer at a local community project while having three kids"... I changed the title to something more snappy)

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My grandparents, in perfect contrast to my hippie parents, were prim and proper. Their house was always immaculate and their lawn always cut to a precise 1.5 inches, long enough to hide the occasional clump of moss, short enough to look like Wimbledon's Centre Court, and perfect for a game of french cricket with my cousins (which my tiny but sprightly grandmother was surprising good at). 

When visiting they had a lot of code language to discuss my parents (sorry, mum, I know you read this blog). My favourite of which, when something had been left and left, and never completed, was "...Always had a square one", meaning that my parents often had good intentions, but never got around to it. 

A "round" to it. 

Hilarious, I know. 

This kind of lead me to see productivity as something to aspire to, and it's certainly true in our society that "hard work" is seen as something worthy. And, sure, there are times when things need to get done. 

But rarely is doing more important than being. The weird thing is that the more I concentrate on being the best I can be, the more things I get done. 

And that bit of pop-self-help-mindfulness-baloney is the deepest thing I have to say on the subject. 

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The rest of my advice for people who want to become more productive is much more straightforward, and probably more worthwhile. This is just stuff that works for me, though, so take it with a pinch of salt. 

  • Drink coffee. Or yerba mate. Or water or whichever natural and relatively healthy stimulant gets you going. Humans started out as hunter-gatherers, and that only takes a few hours of hard work a day. Want to compete in the 21st century? You're going to have to hack your half-arsed body. Caffeine makes me more creative, more positive and is a great hunger-suppressor leading to...
  • Don't eat butt-tonnes of carbs. This is a really difficult one for me. I love carbs. Big plate of pasta? Yes, please. Sharing bag of crisps? Get me one just for me. 12-inch Sub? Sign me up. Following every carb-fest I partake in, I feel like I want to take a nap. Carbs kill motivation. Perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Not so great for the rest of the time. I find that also since I've stopped eating meat, it's harder to avoid the carbs because some of the best vegetarian food is carb-heavy. Every day it's a battle. 
  • Take your pills. As a society, we're probably over-medicating, but many of us, myself included, often need reminding that if we've got a medical problem that requires treatment, we need to listen to our doctors. I have depression and generalised anxiety disorder, for which I take Sertraline every day, but every now and then I think "Do I need this? Could I do without it? Should I...?" The answer being, for me at least: YES. Yes, if I want to be a productive member of society, if I want to be a good dad and do some good work I need to take my pills. And I see this time and time again. If you're in pain, take some painkillers and get on with being the best version of yourself. Don't let preventable illness stop you from getting shit done. 
  • Get a sleep routine. I don't sleep much. I joke that sleep is for the weak, but the truth is that everyone needs a different amount. I find, though, that when I have a good routine around sleep, I sleep fewer hours. Weeks when I'm in bed by midnight and get up at 7 every day seem to go smoother than when my sleep is all over the place. In fact fewer hours sleep on a regular routine seems to leave me less tired than when I sleep more! Ever had a lie-in until 10am and then felt dreadful the rest of the day? That's me all over. And don't get me wrong. I love sleep. I always want to sleep. But I need to right amount; not too much, not too little. 
  • Throw away your television. It's not that TV is bad, it's that TV is bad for productivity. There are some shows I love, Preacher is a current favourite, but man does TV kill my productivity!  I still have a TV but I try to limit my consumption to 2 shows a week. Same with video games. I love my gaming, but an hour of Final Fantasy followed by 3 hours of photography seems to work better than vice-versa for me. As for movies, it'd better be good for me to invest 2 hours of my life in watching it! 
  • Keep lists. I use Trello, which I find useful, but you could equally use a biro and the back of your hand. One area where I find I lose time is the space between tasks. Lists help me move quicker between activity. I especially use lists when working on music when I might listen to a recording and list a dozen things I need to change. I can then change them all and listen again, rather than having a listen between each change. 
  • Get outside. Especially at midday. My parents used to chuck me out of the house for half an hour every day in the hope this weird, home-schooled kid would make friends. It didn't do that (as a kid. I have friends now. Real ones!), but it did teach me how energising getting out for a short walk or to run an errand can be. 
  • Exercise when you don't want to exercise. The Oatmeal described this better than I ever could so, here goes: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running 
  • Self-cannibalise your own art. I get a lot of energy from the first couple of hours of any activity, and the last couple of hours of any activity. The dirge in between, though, nearly kills me. So I start another project. My creative process goes like this: Start new project, get excited, realise it might be hard work... Start another project! Get excited, then do a bit more work on the first project until I've run out of steam and I need to... Start another project! Get excited, work a bit on projects 1 and 2 until it all gets a bit much and I need to... You guessed it. Start another project. Eventually, one of these projects will near completion and that gives me more energy to hopefully finish a few projects. Which is why I released a book and an album and a synth module in close succession. So when people ask me "You're always doing so much! How do you do it all?!" The truth is, I DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO LESS! The energy I get from one project feeds another project which feeds another project which...
  • Collaborate. We're social beings and productivity takes a mix of co-working to stimulate constructive criticism and creativity, and lone-working to finish things. Don't neglect either area! When you're collaborating, also try not to be a leech, draining others of their ideas without giving back. I work with some amazing creatives, and hopefully they get as much out of the collaborations as I do.

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Block by Simeon Smith

Sometimes I take photos. 

And sometimes I do not. 

Last time I went to London I shot an entire roll of film in my walk from the underground to the conference I was attending and during my lunch break. 

Today I went to London and didn’t take a single photo. 

Maybe there weren’t great subjects. Maybe the rain put me off from taking the lens cap off my camera. Maybe I was focussed on the meeting I was there to attend, and in a different frame of mind. Maybe I took the wrong camera. 

Or maybe I just didn’t take any photos. 

I loathe the term “block”. Writer’s block. Artist’s block. Photographer’s block. As if we’re machines that have jammed. Printers churning out content until we overheat or run out of paper. 

I especially find it unhelpful, because then you focus on what might be causing you to not be inspired to write, create, make photographs. 

Instead I prefer to relax a little more in my skin. Enjoy being. Take the scenic route. And yes, enjoy not making art. 

I used to be more hungry, but then I realised that not all of the greats are crazy prolific. 

As a photographer people will only remember a few of my images. Maybe not even that. 

How many Picassos can you remember right now? Guernica, the blue guitarist dude, the squiggle of a dove, the lady with the big eye… And yet this is an artist that changed how we look at the world. 

So maybe it’s okay that sometime I take photos. 

And sometimes I do not. 

A beginner. Always. by Simeon Smith

Buddists know their shit when it comes to mindset.

One thing I’m learning from Zen Buddism is Shoshin, or beginner’s mind.

I want to be open to learn, to unlearn, to relearn.

I want to eagerly jump into projects I have no idea how to complete.

I want to throw out my preconceptions and marvel at this ugly, lovely world.

I want to sell my cleverness and buy bewilderment.

I want to grab creativity by the hand and run together without knowing where we’re going.

I want my eyes wide.

I want a purposeful naivety that knowingly ignores doubt.

I want to begin anew, again, every day.

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How to be Inspired. Always. by Simeon Smith

You don’t need fancy gear, a purpose built studio, the right weather and a full moon to be inspired.

You don’t need fresh ideas, positive vibes, and the praise of peers to be inspired.

You just need to go to work.

Picasso said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

So get at it.

1.       Carry a creative tool with you everywhere. No, your phone or laptop does NOT count. I carry a film camera with me everywhere, or if I’m on a train, I take my tenori-on. Having something to hand always reminds me that I’m on this earth for more than survival.

2.       Switch off your phone, switch off your wifi. I am weak. Chances are, so are you. I can’t even read a book these days without being distracted by ooo… shiny! I wonder what’s on Instagram. My hands do it automatically. Even when I’ve left my phone on purpose, I still reach for it. I was with David last night, and he called his smart phone “crack cocaine”.  Yup. It’s that bad. Disconnect from the world, and reconnect with… oh that was about to be cheesy. Thanks for stopping me.

3.       Collaborate. However inspirational you find stuff, art, music, nature, it’ll be better if it’s shared. I’m lucky enough to live with my best friends. I work on art at least once a week with someone else, and I could see this as time that is taking away from me making my own art, but it inspires me so much. Also, without collaborators my palette would be seriously limited. They introduce me to new sounds, new ideas, new instruments.

4.       Be kind to yourself. Take a shower, go for a walk, grab a coffee, sit outside, eat healthy food, phone a friend, get comfy. You can be blindsided by inspiration anywhere, but sustainable inspiration comes from a place of wellbeing.

5.       Slow down. Count your victories, not your frustrations, maybe today you took just one photo, maybe you recorded just one harmony. Maybe that’s enough. Start looking at how much you’ve accomplished this week, this month, this year, not how much you’ve done in the last half hour.

The Great Tradition of being Easily Distracted by Simeon Smith

A while ago I played a festival, under my own name, playing the kind of down-tempo electronic music I usually make. 

The organiser billed me as a "polymath".  I think this is because some of the people attending the festival probably knew me better from my time in Kinetic Money, or from my anarchic chiptune sideproject

But I kind of think most people probably read "polymath" as "twat", or just don't know what it means. I read an artist biography recently, and the guy had described himself as a "true renaissance man".

I can't even type that with a straight face.

How can it be that in the 21st century where almost everyone under the age of 40 has multiple income streams, multiple interests and is part of the "gig economy", we STILL need to explain this fact to people?

I was reminded of this question recently when I saw prolific musician Andy Burrows on twitter. His profile reads: "Tom Odell, We Are Scientists, David Brent & Foregone Conclusion, I Am Arrows, Smith & Burrows, The Snowman & the Snowdog, onceuponaRazorlight"

People seem to need the mental hook to hang people on, but also seem only to be able to hang people on one hook at time.

Austin Kleon wrote an amazing thread of tweets about this same issue and included the following two quotes:

“You’re supposed to do one thing. If you do more than that, people get confused.” Margaret Atwood

"I made every mistake in the book. You should never do two things. You should hammer one nail all your life, and I didn't do that." - Brion Gysin

And too damn right he didn't! His Wikipedia entry reads: "Brion Gysin was a painter, writer, sound poet, and performance artist". 

A lot of people know me for one thing and when they find out about other things I do they say unhelpful things like "Oh, are you not doing music anymore?", "Are you focusing on your photography now?", "Are you trying to make writing your full time job?", "Are you hoping to give up your work at the university soon?". 

No, no, no, and no. I'm having fun, I'm following my heart. I like what I do, and I do what I like. 

For some reason people look down on diversity of interests. The common phrase goes, "Jack of all trades, Master of none" but I just can't get on board with that. A lot of people spend their entire lives following one path, and I love their dedication. For some of us though, we're more easily distracted. And we follow in a great tradition of easily distracted people: Da Vinci - Artist, anatomist and war-machine designer. Jefferson - President, lawyer and inventor. Asimov - Biochemist, author, and ethicist. 

For a lot of people, personal satisfaction derives from diversity of output. Last night I wrote words, music and developed film, and went to bed satisfied with my work.

I'm convinced I'm on the right path for me for now. My problem is marketing myself. 

I met with someone for lunch today. They wanted some friendly advice on advancing their career, and had followed a couple of career paths in recent years. I told them, "For the job you're applying for, you're going to get asked if you really want the job, or if you're just waiting for your other work to pick up." And I hated myself for saying it. We all only have one life and should be encouraged to follow as many interests as like. But that is where society is at right now, asking us which one nail we'd like to hammer for the rest of our lives. 

I've been using the strap-line recently "Digital Creative / Analogue Heart". The aforementioned Austin Kleon describes himself as "A writer who draws". It's like we're trying to justify to the world that we do more than one thing. 

We're not special though. Everyone I know has side-hustles, hobbies and the 21st century economy is blurring the lines between who we are and what we do. 

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