Tell me if this rings true for you, Reader:
Sometimes you’re thriving.
You stick to your routine, you produce good work, you feel naturally inspired and you get shit done.
And other times you’re simply surviving.
Running on autopilot, just trying to make it through your days with your physical and mental health in tact.
Have you noticed these two modes within yourself?
I was in the latter mode for the last week or so. My mood was low, and so was my productivity. I spent barely any time on my own business (hence why you didn’t see a newsletter from me last week) because it took all of my brainpower just to do my ‘day job’.
If you saw my daily routine video or read issue 57 of this Dispatch you’ll know that this year I’ve developed a more structured morning routine to set me up for a good day. The true test of any routine like this is how it serves you on your bad days, and as I was floating through last week I noticed something that felt kinda different to previous times I’ve been in survival mode.
I did some sort of exercise/movement every. single. day.
Even on the days that I didn’t drag my tired ass out of bed til 9am, or the days when I felt really stressed about the amount of work on my plate; I still made time to head out for a walk or roll out the yoga mat for a short practice. I’m really proud of that. And I think it’s the reason that I’m emerging from this slump a little faster than I have in the past.
It got me thinking about motivation, and how building it as a habit (yes, a habit) is important for us as creatives.
Building the habit of motivation
In 2016 I gave a talk at the seanwes conference about creating content consistently. At the time I’d been making YouTube videos for 3 years and I had never—not even once—missed a week of uploading.
The most common question folks would ask me about sticking with something for so long was how I stayed motivated. I shared this slide in my talk as an answer to it.
The point I was making was that motivation isn’t something you can just wait around for.
You can’t sit there hoping motivation will strike, or blame your lack of progress on it when it doesn’t. You have to make it happen.
That’s still something I believe today; but I no longer think ‘hard work’ is the best way to explain the path to forming this habit of motivation. Seeing this great tweet thread from Adam Mura earlier this week helped me clarify my thinking a little.
I believe motivation is a habit that is formed through discipline and process.
It was discipline and process that led to me continuing to work out when I didn’t particularly feel like doing so, because I’d already formed the habit through my daily routine on the good days.
It is the discipline and process (repeated over time to form a habit) of putting my headphones on and turning on Coffivity that gives me the motivation to focus and get design work done even when I’m feeling stressed or blocked creatively.
There is a limit, of course, to what this habit can do for you. The workouts (and work, honestly) that I did last week didn’t really help me progress. I didn’t really get stronger or better, and I certainly wasn’t operating at my peak. But I was moving. I was able to do something. I wasn’t staying stuck. I was maintaining the habit. And sometimes that’s the most important thing.
Building the habit of motivation, through doing the thing even when you don’t feel like it, and setting up processes and an environment to put you in the headspace for it, is something every creative professional to work on. Waiting for inspiration and motivation to strike isn’t an option when you have deadlines to meet. Knowing how to generate these things when they’re not occurring naturally is the key for a successful creative career.
But realise too that this is not a silver bullet. Motivation can get you moving, but you’ll still be dealing with the limitations of the energy you have to work with. When you form the motivation habit though, you’ll have more control over where you apply that energy.
Last week I applied my limited energy to motivation for daily movement sessions (for my mental health) and my work (for paying the bills).
This week I have a little more to give, so I’m applying it to this newsletter to share these thoughts with you. I hope they’ve been useful! You can click the heart below to let me know if it was.
Recommended Twitter follow: Nadieh Bremer
If you’re not already, you should be following @NadiehBremer on Twitter. She’s a data visualization artist who makes truly beautiful things from data and code, and she shares her creations and experiments in her tweets. Things like this!
What happens when you leave your code running (and double pendulums swinging) while you have a BBQ outside and check back in after 1+ hrs 😬 pic.twitter.com/UK36iORPVp
May 30th 2022
We get better, and more creative, as designers when we find inspiration in things outside of our main field. So while I love looking at well-designed websites, I also love soaking in other types of creative expression. Following Nadieh brings lovely artistic and inspiring moments to my Twitter feed.
The process of creating a design system for a marketing site
I’ve started a new series on my YouTube channel documenting the work we’re doing on the marketing site design system at ConvertKit.
I’ll be sharing updates every so often along the way as David, Cory and I work on getting a new version of our site live, with a refreshed brand and a solid system to make it easier for us to iterate faster.
I’m stoked to have already heard from a few other folks who are currently dealing with creating a system alongside fulfilling allll the other marketing design work in the comments of the video. If that’s your situation too: I see you! and I feel your struggles. I think this series will be especially useful to others on small teams.
What habits do you have in place that bring you motivation? I’d love to hear about them! All responses to this email go straight to my inbox, so please hit reply and share them with me.
I hope you have a good week.