Eliminate Indecisiveness With This Method
Whenever we’re hit with a creative block, it’s usually because of indecisiveness. I used to find this really common after a design tutorial. Although I had done all the right things, taken the notes I needed, planned my tasks immedietly and even took a bit of a break from my design project. But when it comes down to actually sitting down and doing the work, a blank page becomes incredibly intimidating. There may be two causes of this. First, you may be confused on what exactly to do because you’re unsure of how to move forward. Second, you might be creating more work for yourself and there are too many things to focus on at one time. The latter is known as decision anxiety which we will be talking about today and figuring out how to eliminate that indecisiveness.
This form of indecisiveness often leads to doing nothing at all. Procrastination, especially in such a creative career where outcomes aren’t typically the same across the board, is very common. It means you’re unable to finish that drawing or progress your model even though in the back of your mind you know that’s what you should be working on. Sometimes this might be because you’re not really enjoying what you’re creating and that’s okay. I find that there are certain tasks that require different kinds of energy from me and you’re not always going to be able to sit and complete one long task all the time.
Another point to mention is finding a good level of clarity early on. This usually should happen during or straight after your tutorial. If you leave a tutorial feeling more confused than when you sat down, or you’ve been thrown off in a totally different direction, making you feel stuck or annoyed, then you should try and re-group, then aim to speak with your tutors again if you can. I found that even sending a quick email can be just the thing to helping you get unblocked on what to do next. At the end of your tutorial, try and reiterate the tasks that both you and your tutors are agreeing on to complete for next week or an upcoming deadline.
Lay out all your options
I’ve mentioned this throughout many of my other posts and it really just comes down to listing everything that you need to do (or what you think you ‘need’ to do). I use this as the basis of my productivity so to speak and you might not even need the next few sections if this exercise works for you. First of all, you should try and keep a task list for the week. Accepting the fact that you might not actually complete everything on that list is a process and can take some time to get over that guilty feeling. So when you’re stuck and don’t know what to do next for your design project, or you’re looking at your notes and feeling overwhelmed, start from scratch.
Grab a sticky note or turn to a new page in your sketchbook and start a list. First write down the things that you missed last week - don’t worry too much right now if it’s not relevant. Then replay the conversation you had with your tutors (bonus points if you’re able to voice record the conversation) in your head. Next, write down everything they suggested you to do or look into or research and the stuff that came to your mind on potential tasks for the week. These could be smaller tasks like adding annotation on a page that you missed or something bigger like researching a precedent.
Once you’ve got your list and laid out all your options, you can start to eliminate and group the ones you actually need. Remember that time is an important factor when it comes to managing expectations and not leading yourself to burnout. If you don’t feel that the task you’re looking at is relevant or will actually help you in the long run for this project, cross it off your list. Soon we’ll also discuss prioritising these tasks to avoid doing the easy or fun stuff first and procrastinating on what actually matters.
Shift your focus
I know it can be tempting to do the things you enjoy first or those that require a lot less energy and focus than the harder tasks. When you do this, you might find that you trap yourself in a loop of just doing the wrong kind of tasks. Eventually, you’re stuck with things that don’t really add to your project and aren’t helping you move forward. In this instance, you have to come to terms with doing the hard stuff and shifting your focus towards the tasks that matter.
A way of doing this is to block time on your calendar. This almost makes the task seem a lot more official and since it’s on the calendar, there’s really nothing else you could or should be doing in that time. However, not everyone works in this way and our brains don’t listen to the calendar all the time. Practicing this kind of discipline does take some time, but it can become an easier exercise when done with others. It also doesn’t need to be too official but working alongside a friend who is also attempting that difficult task could be a good way of holding yourself accountable.
I’m sure you must have heard some version of this rule in the productivity space. I found this version on a wellness blog that explained it pretty well.
“The 5x5 rule states that if you come across an issue take a moment to think whether or not it will matter in 5 years. If it won't, don't spend more than 5 minutes stressing out about it. When your problems need to be put into perspective, the 5x5 rule is a good thing to remember. The fact of the matter is, there are some problems that do not need your full attention. It is easy and quite honestly just human nature to devote hours to days, and even sometimes weeks to being upset about trivial matters. So, if something won’t matter in five years don’t bother being upset at it for more than five minutes.”
This talks more about your mental wellbeing and how you’re feeling but the same can apply to design projects. Even if you don’t know exactly how your project might look and what the outcome will be, there could be a general direction in mind that you can use. In this instance, starting from the end and mapping your tasks in reverse can help to put the project into perspective. For example, when thinking about the choice of colour in your portfolio and deciding between a dark teal or a bright turquoise - think about the 5X5 rule. This kind of panic most likely isn’t going to matter in 5 years (or you can use months if that makes it easier) and therefore you shouldn’t really spend more than 5 minutes on it.
We often end up overthinking details and spending time on things that won’t matter in the long-term and it can get quite problematic when we lose sight of the things that do.