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Being a Productive Creative on a Daily Basis

Productivity is a term I don’t use all that often, because I tend to think in terms of creativity rather than productivity. But beyond the semantics of it all, when it comes down to it, creativity without productivity equals procrastination. Yes, like most creatives, I could spend hours thinking about all sorts of designs and ideas. In fact, I tend to spend some time doing just that while falling asleep at night, and I guess that is ok for the most part. It’s during the day, when productivity should be the focus, that creative thinking alone—or anything else that becomes a distraction from being productive—can become a problem. Like Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Life presents many obstacles and distractions on a daily basis, so I decided to make a list of some of my most challenging ones and find solutions to tackle them on a daily basis as well:

1. The E-Mail Trap. Reading email can take hours, especially if you are like me and get work related email and personal message from friends, organizations, blogs, and loops you belong to. A lot of those email messages have links that you click on to read a post, go to a specific web page, fill out a form to support a cause, and so on, which in turn may lead to other pages, so before you know it you can find yourself surfing the web for hours. Yes, there is wonderful information to be found out there, but each minute you spend online is one productive minute you are losing for yourself.

My Solution: Scan your email messages earlier in the day and choose only the ones related to work, those that you need to reply to during business hours. Reply to those and close your email application. In other words, save all the non-work related email for the evening, and forget about it. You can quickly scan only for work related email during a break in your day, but avoid checking your email every 10 minutes!

2. The Facebook Trap. Whether it is to connect with friends and family or to promote a business, Facebook has become this huge social hub that everyone belongs to. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the time you spend on FB doesn’t take away from your productivity.

My Solution: If you have a FB page, visit it only once or twice a day, check if you have any new comments you need to respond to, post something on your wall if you have something to say, and sign out of FB. You can check what your friends are doing and posting about later in the evening.

3. The Blogging Trap. Yes, blogging has also become a big part in a lot of people’s lives, including mine, yet it can also take so much time to do this on a daily basis that it can also become a hindrance to productivity. As part of a marketing campaign, it is fine to spend some time blogging or visiting other people’s blogs, as long as you don’t get lost in the blogosphere, which can happen very easily!

My Solution: Blog in the evening and don’t try to finish a post at once if it is taking too long. In other words, give yourself the time to write the post, but limit it to what feels ok to you in terms of time, and leave it for the following day if it’s not done. Don’t think that you need to finish the post at once, if it’s not flowing smoothly, and take your time, or spread it in installments. Just don’t spend all evening with one post. If blogging is your main business, then this wouldn’t necessarily apply to you, of course.

4. The Self-Sabotage Trap. Well, anything can go in this category, really. We can find a million ways to sabotage productivity—from watching TV and doing house chores to unexplainable reasons to justify why we don’t just go into the studio and work. The important thing here is to identify how we do it, how we sabotage our productivity and utilize the time we should be spending creating something that fulfills us, and redirect that energy toward productivity.

My Solution: Set up a schedule and stick to it. Get things that need to be taken care of (work, house chores, email, FB, marketing, etc.) earlier in the day or later in the evening, depending on what works best for you, and leave a good chunk of the day for productivity and only that. Allow no distractions and no interruptions. Before you start creating, sit for 10-15 minutes in meditation to help you focus, release all stress, and clear your mind of other concerns. Now get to work!

Have you found your own way of being (and staying) a productive creative? I’d love to hear it here…

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Is a Copycat the Right Choice?

Sacred-Jewelry.comI have been looking at sites where you can either post jobs for independent contractors, or you can offer your abilities and skills as a free lancer by bidding on the jobs offered. I think the idea behind it is good, as it connects freelancers from any field with potential customers, but of course there are many variables as to whether it’d work for you or not, including costs and/or wages. Needless to say, most people want quick jobs done as cheaply as possible and don’t consider the level of skill that certain jobs require, but there is also more serious offers with decent money involved. In any case, what I really want to share with you is what I see in those types of sites that I consider not only unethical but also counterproductive as far as marketing is concerned.

I often find job descriptions that say something like, “Look at our competitors and design a web site like theirs,” or “Copy a competitor’s look to design ours,” or better yet, “Copy a blog but change it enough so that it looks like you wrote it,” and “Grab some of our competitor’s photos, twist them a little, and use them for our web site.” It never stops to amaze me how people try to market their products or services by being so completely unoriginal!

Copying someone else’s web site style obviously speaks of a lack of creativity and clarity of purpose (i.e., brand), but to copy someone else’s blog or pictures to use on your site is definitely something that can get you in trouble! Haven’t these people heard about copyright laws? Regardless, many web designers/writers will bid for those types of jobs. After all, they are independent contractors and it’s not their responsibility to build someone else’s brand or reputation, so why not grab a buck or two for an easy, albeit unethical, job?

I’ve mentioned before how important I think it is to find your own style of doing and saying things. I think it keeps you growing as a designer, artist, or creative type in any other field, as well as a person. I believe that the more positive, conscious energy and care you put into what you do, it will eventually pay off in the form of recognition, more customers, new clients, or good possibilities and ventures coming your way. Likewise, trying to find the easiest, quickest, and cheapest solutions will either give you a bad reputation or simply keep you stagnant where you are. And that is true for any type of business.

It is clearly a matter of choice, and like everyone else, you have to make that same type of choice throughout your life: To be yourself or to be like everyone else; to find your true passion or to do what’s expected of you; to stick to your principles or to follow the money; and so on. An easy choice for some, but a tough one for most people, it seems, given the state of imbalance and excessive greed our world is suffering from.

Anyway, I think that being a copycat (or hiring one) can save you time and money, but I personally prefer a marketing strategy that helps you stand on your own and makes you memorable for who you are and what you have to offer. After all, those businesses that inspire imitators didn’t become successful by copying others, but by creating their own unique identity and sticking to it. That’s more my style…

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Whatever Brings You Joy and Inspiration…

If you have kids, you probably recognize Olivia, the book character on the picture below. And if you have kids and don’t know who Olivia is, you should run to the bookstore and get some of Ian Falconer’s books because they are incredibly creative and fun. My daughter and I still enjoy reading them, even though we have read them a million times over the years and pretty much know them by heart. Oh, even if you don’t have kids, you should check them out. They will inspire you and make you laugh!

This is Olivia. She is good at lots of things.

When I saw this Olivia doll at the bookstore I simply couldn’t resist buying it because just looking at her makes me smile and feel good about myself. Yes, Olivia is good at lots of things and has no problem testing and trying new ones, even if just once, like the Pollock style painting she created on one of her home walls after a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City! Olivia is also a dreamer and her great imagination takes her to great adventures where she is the main heroine. She is a famous ballerina, opera singer, tightrope walker, lion tamer, band leader, storyteller… with a very unique sense of fashion and style. Olivia’s drum beats to her own rhythm. She is unique, original, and very proud to be truly herself.

So I decided to buy the doll on the picture and place it in a prominent spot in my studio, where I can easily see her. Olivia makes me smile. She reminds me that imagination is key in my creative ventures. She assures me that I am good at many things. She tells me that I can be myself and feel proud of it. And she also is a living proof that good design doesn’t have to be complicated, and that creativity creates a momentum of its own. Ian Falconer’s style is unique in that he uses simple lines and 4 basic colors (black, red, gray, and white), with which he creates a wonderful world for Olivia and her family. And of course, he came up with this adorable character that now even has a TV show of her own…

So grab whatever brings you joy—your favorite painting, a souvenir from a nature walk, a cartoon, a friendship token, a childhood toy, or a doll like me—and place it in your studio where you can see it while you work. Let it remind you why and how you became an artist in the first place. Let it uplift your spirit when you need it and bring inspiration when you muse takes a vacation. Let it provide you with the smiles that you require on a daily basis so you don’t take yourself too seriously. Hopefully it will prod your creativity in the right direction and refresh your sense of purpose, especially when doubts start creeping in. Let it help you remember that, like Olivia, you are [you name here] and you are good at lots of things!

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Where Does Inspiration Come From?

Someone asked me the other day, “Where does your inspiration come from?” As a business owner and manager, I have to spend a lot of time dealing with business related stuff, learning about and implementing marketing strategies, designing new ads, keeping inventory and books up to date, optimizing web sites, etc., and with all the “technical” stuff going through my head sometimes it can be tricky to turn that switch off and jump back into the creative process of my jewelry designs. You may find yourself in a similar situation if you have a job that is not related to your creative endeavors. Even if you are a full time designer or artist, I am sure that sometimes you wonder what happened to your muse…

I have to admit that it is not inspiration that is generally missing in my creative process, but time to convert all my creative ideas into reality! Not to say that I haven’t had those blah days like anyone else, or doubts about what it is that I am doing. I don’t think any artist or creative type is completely free from those days, ever. But those are the times when I take a close look at myself to make sure my creativity is on the right track. Any designer or artist has to find their own style, their own voice, their own personal statement (that which makes their creations totally theirs), to find satisfaction in what they do. Otherwise it becomes like a mechanical job. I have to make sure I stay true to myself with what I am doing. This, of course, doesn’t mean that I don’t think about who my customers are or how to market my designs. It does mean, however, that creativity and business have to find a healthy balance to keep me sane and to keep the inspiration flowing.

So, where does my inspiration come from? Obviously, it emerges from my own life experiences and interests, but it gets nourished with the creations of other artists and designers. I really enjoy going to a bookstore or the library and browsing books or magazines on art, jewelry, and design (of course I love museums, too, but there aren’t that many where I live now). I browse the internet, too, of course. Not to copy or try to emulate anyone, but to get inspired by the length and depth of human creativity.

To give you an example, today I bumped into a blog post that I find not only inspiring, but also fun and ecologically minded, and if it has nothing to do with jewelry. Plus, it was like the perfect blend of “technical” (read, electronic) and creativity:

Animals from Old Electronic Parts
Animals from Old Electronic Parts

Inspiration can come from looking at shapes, colors, hues, ideas, designs, ads, and pretty much anything in between. That is why I don’t just look at jewelry books, but at a wide variety of art and design sources. It can also come from the feelings that certain music, movies, or conversations triggered in me at any given time. Regardless of where inspiration comes from, I keep myself in check to make sure that my designs come from my own ideas. Inspiration is one thing and trying to emulate someone else is a completely different animal. Not to mention that trying to transform creativity into a selling statement doesn’t work for me either. I am always in search of my own personal style, however changing and evolving it may be. Still, just my own.

Anyway, if you ever feel like your inspiration took a vacation, just give yourself a break  and go to a good concert, talk about the stuff that you like with a friend or other creative types, visit a bookstore, and check out other artists and designers to get re-inspired to find your own voice. Finding your true creative expression can be a challenge, but you have to remember that everything in life is a process and give yourself the necessary mental fuel to feed the creative flame!