Taking a silo pause as a creator

Pause. Break.

It doesn’t matter which word but they are scary words for some. And just the mention of it could potentially trigger an anxiety attack in creators who have relatively low amount of followers and viewership. After all, at the beginning, there’s no other metrics other than view and like counts that matter more to the creator. He or she probably isn’t confident enough in their ability to attract and engage people to take a look at their content. So every view or like serves to validate their thoughts and feelings that they did something right. It’s serves as a micro fuel for their next content release.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only wrong when you tie your overall well-being to being validated. The moment you think you aren’t validated, you slipped into depression. And that’s bad.

For me, I came from that and have been slowly learning to not seek validation in what I do. It’s a difficult journey. And that’s why I never like the word “pause” when it comes to content creation. I feel like I should keep churning out content.

But for the past two days, the creative well that drive my writing is really empty. Every time the level is pulled and the bucket rise up, all I see is empty. Best part is, I knew it was coming ever since I put up the article titled, Focus on playing the infinite game. The metaphorical weather hasn’t been giving me the rain necessary to fill the well.

And you know what? My blog viewership have pretty much dropped to just a couple of visitor and even then those visitors are only here for the review I wrote about the Ogon Designs’s Stockholm V2 Smart Wallet. It’s in fact my most popular piece of content by view count. As for likes, it’s pretty much zero.

And I’m perfectly okay with that.

Even then, it doesn’t mean one should be ok with not creating. It’s a pause from writing for me but not a pause on other creative work.

You see, if you view yourself as a creator, there’s really no restriction on what you can create. The only possible limitation comes from whether you’ve got the skills for it or not. Even then, it’s probably a weak excuse.

Let’s use the following example.

You could be a full-time writer but at the same time you enjoy making cupcakes. And you know what? Making cupcake is a form of creation. So you have the skill to write and make cupcake. Now, you decided to take a break from writing because you are suffering from some kind of writer’s block. However, you can continue to make cupcake. And I’m pretty sure you will learn something from the process.

In my case, I may be suffering from a writer’s block but the other creative work that I can do is building software. I have learn and developed the skills for it over the last ten years or so. That’s why I’ve decided to spend some time to setup various development studios on my computer and learn different kind of development platforms. The next step would be to figure out a pet project to do so that I can take on the challenge of developing an iOS app (never done it before) for the frontend and a .NET Core web application for the backend.

This way, my coding skills can continue to improve, which in turn allows me to make more money. And what does having more money means for me? It allows me to create art because I won’t find myself starving, stressed out by how am I going to pay the bills and still can take my family out for meals.

So that’s why it’s important for one to be multi-skilled. It’s even better if you have totally different kind of creative skills. That way you can take a pause, switch between different kind of creative work and don’t feel like you hadn’t achieve anything. Furthermore, you become a more diverse person and that is fuel for your overall creativity.

Importance of a tidy and spacious workspace

Workspaces. It’s something that most of us don’t spend a lot of effort thinking about. After all, how many truly enjoy the very idea of work? If given the chance, we would rather kick back, relax and lie down on some beach chairs and watch the sunset. And even for those who do love work, they too don’t think much about their workspaces. They are there to work and be productive. Thinking about their workspaces is an unnecessary waste of their energy and doesn’t contribute to anything at all.

And that’s where I believe they are wrong.

Our workspaces are no different from the rooms or building we spend our time in.

Let’s take a well-designed office building located somewhere in downtown for example. Imagine for a moment how do you feel when you see it for the first time in your life? Then you stepped in and chances are the first thing you see will be the lobby. Now imagine it to feature a soothing lighting, has a clean overall look (probably minimalistic), and has some kind of music playing from the overhead speakers. How would you feel?

So if you agree that you feel great about seeing a nicely designed building with good looking yet soothing interiors, then I suspect you have the intelligence to understand why it’s important to think about your workspaces. Especially since most of us would spend hours after hours working on it.

The human brain is irrational. At its core, the limbic system and reptilian complex drives most of its actions. Ever notice why you feel disgusted after seeing certain things or simply don’t like something but can’t provide a reasonable explanation? That’s because before the neomammalian complex realised what’s going on, the rest of the brain has already made up its mind about that one thing you have seen, heard or experienced. The decision made then was the result of subjecting the input data collected by your senses through a series of filters that created your personalities, your tastes, likes and dislikes, etc.

Just as how nicely designed objects make you feel, a tidy and spacious workspace can ultimately contribute to this subconscious decision about whether you enjoy working there or not.

For me, I love a good stable wooden desk. Although glass table look cool and modern, it gives me this feeling that it’s not as stable. If it’s normal glass, it could just crack and shatter when there’s a major impact, causing potential injury. And could explode in my face any time if it’s tempered glass.

Other than a good stable desk, the desk has to be at least 1.20 meters wide for me to put my computer on it. Any smaller than 1.20 meters, it actually feel claustrophobic. Just imagine a desktop computer with monitor, keyboard and mouse sitting on such a small desk and you have to spend hours working at it. Doesn’t it feel like you are being squeezed? And you can’t seem to put anything else important on the desk? In my case, I could never focus because of this subconscious pressure. That’s one reason why I switched to using a laptop as a desktop replacement at home. It’s smaller and can give me more desk space.

Last but not least, the state of the desk matters. If the desk is messy, it can actually give you this feeling or impression of being lost and unsure what you want to do next. It can also lead to issue finding where you have placed a certain document you need for certain task. And mess can actually cause undue amount of stress even if you don’t realise it. Mess is actually no different from chaos. Chaos is detrimental to the mind since it’s unfamiliar and lack a certain kind of stability or security.

If there’s anything to understand about the mind is that it craves familiarity and stability. That’s why it, ultimately us as human, is so resistant to change.

That’s why decluttering is a big thing in minimalism and that minimalism has help people live a more meaningful and content life. The decluttering process is all about clearing out the mess and being very intentional about the role of each object you do keep on your desk and how they fit in your life, be it professional or personal.

Once your workspace is tidy, believe it or not, the mind actually will finds itself going into a neutral, possibly calm, state. Before you know it, you are off into the zone, doing highly productive work instead of procrastinating and feeling stress even when the work is so simple.

So if you find yourself feeling stress, can’t seem to do anything productive when you are at your workspace for no reason or just hate being there, maybe it’s time to evaluate how does it make you feel. If it’s not a good feeling, then maybe you need to ask yourself what you could do to improve it. If you need to clear out the desk and leave only your work computer on it, do it.

P.S. It’s probably why these past few days, I’m still evaluating, designing and thinking about my desk setup at home. I needed it to be even better, more conducive for me to do my writings.

The moment

It’s my belief that everyone would have a certain moment in their life when they realised something only after an event have long passed. And at that point in time, you would be in this weird situation of being simultaneously aware while still unwilling to accept the fact. The fact that the moment is already here. Slowly but surely, you accept the situation and move on with your life.

In my case, it was this realisation that I’m in my thirties only after months have passed since my thirty-first birthday, had achieve some stuff but not quite made an impact on the world. There is this doubt lingering at the back of your head whether you have enough time to achieve what you want in life and that people knows who you are. At the same time, you also know you have done your best and is ready to give your younger self some advice.

Now, in terms of personality, people can find me behaving still like a man-child on certain things because of my idealism. Seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses is still pretty much the thing I do. The inner-child in me is still pretty much alive when it comes to taking on new challenges and seeing new things. At the same time, certain aspect of my personality have changed as a result of the real world smashing in and slapping the idealism and inner-child around. So parts of my mind has been hardened by challenges it faced.

And it’s a constant struggle to keep that hardening process at bay because once that happen, it could potentially erode your ability to see the world differently and be creative. As a creator, I would hate for that happen.

Well, the biggest change that you grudgingly accept when you enters your thirties is your stamina and physical capabilities is no longer like in your twenties. Excessive sitting down makes you tired. Excessive standing makes you tired. Eat too much and you feel sick. Work too long you feel like sleeping for days. And if you are a gamer? You will find that your reaction times in first person shooter games drop dramatically. So you end up dying more often. And lastly, your weight just keep piling on despite your effort to exercise.

But it’s not the end of the world.

This moment, this very act of being aware of your age and proud of what you have achieved, is cause for celebration. At least, you didn’t fumble through life aimlessly. You are still alive. You have also gone through enough life challenges to enable you to make better decisions for your future as you enter your mid and late thirties. And maybe give you enough confidence to do the thing you really want to do as well as increasing your potential good impact on the world. It’s also a moment of your life where people can at least start taking you slightly more seriously than when you are in your twenties or teens.

For me, I will still keep doing what I do because deep down, I’m a minimalist when it comes to interests. The only problem to deal with is how to find the intersection of all my interests so that I can do and put out my best work for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Sleep debt kills your creativity and motivation

Sleep is a very important activity that all of us has to participate in. A good night sleep contributes to your overall well-being, allow you to function at your best and keep your mood stable.

However, our modern lifestyle with all the digital devices we have, all those radio waves passing through us every second, and long working hours ensured that we don’t participate in that activity fully. By that, I mean we don’t sleep the maximum hours each of us actually need.

For most of us living in a modern city and have a demanding day job means that we have to wake up early but sleep late. And that’s not to say all your wakeful hours are spent at work. But rather, there’s 101 things for us to take care of in life, ranging from having a simple dinner with family to settling the bills to getting your kids ready for bed. So by the time you actually gone to bed, it’s probably past midnight. Before you know it, your alarm clock goes off and you looked at it, you realised it’s only 5 or 6am. It’s time to wake up.

In my case, I tend to sleep only after 12am. It’s not because I want to sleep that late but rather if I turned in any earlier, I would have tossed and turned in my bed until I get very frustrated and couldn’t sleep or simply talk to myself until I do sleep. End up, I still sleep after 12am. So why do I force myself into bed so early and suffer?

So, taking into account I only enter sleep 15 to 30 minutes after I lay in bed, I typically get only 5 hours, max 6 hours, of sleep every day. That means I am one of the 62% Singaporeans who are sleep deprived because I have to wake up by 6.50am. We as a nation rank second in the world when it comes to being sleep deprived. Not a good statistic, mind you.

I’m only functioning everyday because of my caffeine intake these days. I suspect it will soon no longer work because caffeine has this diminishing return effect the longer you’re consume it. Your body simply developed a tolerance for it.

With this constant sleep debt everyday, don’t be surprise if it dampened your mood. I can feel like I’m about to lose control of my emotions again. Furthermore, it’s affecting my creativity in really subtle ways. Associations between two different ideas becomes harder to create. After all, the best ideas are usually at the intersection of different fields or topic.

Then the mind also stops picking up on subtle changes in the environment as quickly. Understanding of ideas and concepts mentioned by people during conversation and meetings also suffer in terms of speed.

And productivity is definitely out of the window.

Last but not least, the motivation to do anything isn’t there anymore. Not even with coffee. An example would be, it took me two hours just to finish coding a piece of function at work when it could have taken me half an hour or less under normal circumstances.

The good thing is at least now I saw it happening and can attempt to remedy the situation. Should always prioritise sleep over any other activity that isn’t important. There is always another time to do that activity.

To achieve mastery is to do it for free

As they say, money makes the world go round. It is precisely because of this that most people chose to keep mentioning money as the most important thing in the world.

They are not wrong. Without money, there’s a lot of things that you can’t do. No food for you. No access to water. No house. No clothes. And you can’t even get anywhere on public transport if you are utterly broke.

But if you are an idealist like me and someone who put emphasis on the experience and lessons learned more than anything else, you can’t help but feel that the people around you are sick. Sick in the mind. It’s especially so if they mentioned that everything you do should give you money in return.

Let’s put this into practice.

If let’s say all your writings are behind a paywall. By that I also mean the very first article that you ever wrote to be published. Not only that, you have just also just graduated from school with a Degree in Creative Writing and have no working experience publishing a piece of writing for another person but yourself. And submission to the professor as part of your coursework is not counted.

What do you think will happen to you?

It would be very obvious that as a writer, you won’t be able to grow because no one will pay to read a newbie’s stuff. Not only that, the market is full of contents created by other writers and they are mostly free. So why should anyone pay to access yours?

For me, there’s an example I could use. For those who follow me long enough knows my day job is a software creator. My Honours Degree in Engineering (Computer Science) could get me through most doors of companies based in Singapore. But how did I graduate in the first place? Before entry, I spent time creating software, doing my own pet projects to experiment with something new. That was how it made me better than most of my peers when it comes to programming. If I hadn’t done that, I could honestly tell you I will struggle through the course. Even after graduating and working, I continue to spend time to read up on some of the latest development in technology and software.

And just over the weekend, I setup Docker on my Macbook and run a container inside of it. The container is host to the Microsoft SQL Server. And why did I do that? I wanted to understand what is Docker all about. Been hearing all about it but never used it anywhere during my work. And if I waited for my company to finally used Docker in one of their projects and have me onboard, do you think they would want me to play with Docker considering I have no experience?

Besides all that, do you know that I also mentor some of my colleagues in coding despite them being way more senior than me in terms of age and work experience. Auditing their code style is also something I do without really being “paid” for it.

Now, the big difference between them and me is the passion in software creation. To them, it’s just a job. To me, it’s part of who I am since I see myself as a creator. And to be any good, I have to continue to improve by learning anywhere and anytime I can. Same goes for my writing. Don’t even need money to push me forward.

With this, I hope you can see that to even be any good at what you do, you can’t expect to be rewarded now with money. You’ve got to have the interest and passion for the thing you are doing. Furthermore, life is all about playing the infinite game; to continuously grow and be better than who you are before. If you want to wait for money to spur you to do anything new, well, you will become stagnant very quickly.

And that is you playing the finite game.