1. Create something every day. If there’s one secret to productivity, this is it. It’s not sexy or exciting, but the bottom line is that creative masterpieces aren’t built overnight. They take time and dedication, and you will only make real progress if you work every day. If you haven’t formed a daily habit of creativity yet, start today. It takes about a month if you’re serious about it, and then it becomes second nature and you’ll never look back.
2. Value progress over perfection. Productive and perfect are not synonyms. Which would you rather be?
3. Accept that what you create won’t be perfect and create it anyway. Perfect is the enemy of good. If you give yourself permission to just create, chances are you’ll create something pretty darn good—at least some of the time. But you have to give yourself a chance.
4. Make a mess. Perfectionism is neat, but progress is messy. You can get organized later, but you can’t clean up what hasn’t been created.
5. Work hard. Get dirty, put in the time, and don’t confusing thinking about, talking about, or wanting to do something with actually doing it.
6. Work alone, work fast, and don’t look back. It’s hard to make progress without a sense of urgency and continuous forward momentum, so know what you’re working toward and go after it relentlessly. Don’t slow down, second guess yourself, or edit yourself while you’re putting in the work. You can do that later.
7. Focus. Ruthlessly cut out distractions. Do one thing at a time. Don’t multitask.
8. Do whatever you’re doing because you’re passionate about it, because it genuinely brings you pleasure and satisfaction, and because it will provide value to others. Creating things for any ulterior motive is not sustainable.
9. Experiment. Constantly try new things in your work and in your life. You may fall on your face a few times, but it’s the only way you’ll stumble upon brilliant new ways of doing things you’d never before considered and keep your work from becoming stagnant. Don’t write off any idea is crazy until you try it.
10. Create a project plan with action steps and follow it. Don’t box yourself into a bad plan and be willing to make changes if a better course of action becomes apparent, but taking action is imperative. The best-laid play will get you nowhere if you don’t act on it.
11. Finish things. Follow through. Work against a deadline if you have to. What good is an idea if you don’t do anything with it? Don’t let good ideas sit around unfinished or unshared.
12. Learn to recognize when you’re spinning your wheels and let go of projects that don’t work or when it becomes apparent that you’re working with a bad idea. Don’t give up because the work is too hard, but it’s OK to move on from something that isn’t bringing you satisfaction or that won’t provide value to anyone. Failure is not the end of the world—it’s the beginning of the next thing.
13. Share your work. Don’t worry about whether it’s perfect or even good enough; if it can provide value to someone else, it’s serving its purpose. Share your work with people who will get value from it. (Of course, enjoyment and entertainment count as value!) If people aren’t getting value from your work, find new people to share it with before you automatically assume your work is the problem.
14. Accept critique only from people who understand what you’re trying to accomplish and have legitimate advice to offer. Not everyone will like your work or understand your intension behind it, and not everyone who offers advice will know what they’re talking about. It’s OK to ignore those people and find people who do appreciate your work. But don’t ignore good advice from the people who honestly enjoy your work and can help you improve. Listen, learn, and apply the suggestions you feel will help you grown as a creator and help better your work.
15. Embrace your influences. Surround yourself with good work made by creative titans and emerging free thinkers that both confirm and challenge your perspectives. Study their work, learn and grow from their knowledge and insights, and shamelessly steal whatever works for your own creative process.
16. Remember that inspiration does not come from your laptop. Inspiration comes from experiences and people and everyday beauty, not from your tools. Use the tools that work for you and ditch the ones that don’t.
17. Cut yourself some slack—sometimes. You know when you need to work hard and when you need a break. Sometimes brilliant ideas will strike when you’re digging in the trenches, and other times they’ll pop into your head when you’re kicking back with a glass of wine. You have to do both and find the right balance that works for you.
18. Leave your ego behind. Remember that everyone you meet knows something you don’t. Accept the fact that you don’t know everything and keep an open mind. Maintain an attitude of a student who’s always learning no matter how much of a master of your craft you become.
19. Teach what you know. Pass on what you’ve learned from all your experience and study to the new creative minds following behind you. Give back to the community that helped you get to wherever you are. Teaching others is a great way to continue learning and growing, and it’s a constant reminder of why you love to create. It’s motivation to keep creating.
20. Live a rich life. Spend time with people you love or just find interesting. Eat good food. Make time for physical activities. Go new places and see new things, even if it’s just taking a different route to a regular destination. Learn to notice all the details. Listen to and engage with the interesting stories you encounter all around you in whatever form they may take. Pay attention to everything in life, because you never know where your next insight, inspiration, or idea might come from. Then get to work.