Sunday Inspiration: Getting Excited AKA Inspo Hacks

This morning I thought I’d take a little moment to talk about inspiration.

When we talk about inspiration or feeling inspired, we often refer to it as something that happens to us. We’re struck with inspiration. We don’t do the striking.

This is completely untrue.

The most important skill I have developed in the last 8 months of being self-employed is realising that it’s my job and my duty – to my business and clients – to get F**KING EXCITED about whatever it is I’m working on.

This is not always easy.

The gulf between thinking about a project and being actively working on is sometimes vast – and filled with uncertainty, even fear. If I’m still uninspired when I get to work (usually after putting things off as long as possible) the fear doesn’t go away. It becomes discomfort. Sometimes full-blown anger. I find myself gritting my teeth and wearing those feelings as I work away, raging against my own bubbling dissatisfaction at every mouse click and keystroke. Not a great way to be, and a sure-fire way to associate a lot of negativity with particular projects, making them harder and harder to work on as time goes by.

There is another way.

In order to get excited about any of the projects we’re working on – even the real clunkers – we can do three things:

  • Capture what we find inspirational.
  • Find angles in projects that trigger inspiration.
  • Apply our inspiration.

Inspo-Repos

If the goal is to recall that feeling of inspiration as quickly as possible and direct it into our current projects, it makes sense that we should capture and store the things we find inspiring when we find them.

I store bits of inspiration in two different places:

1. Pocket. This is my app/chrome extension of choice for bookmarking articles on techniques, trends, technologies, etc.

2. Google Keep. My “in the moment” brain dump. Ideas, photos, screenshots and links to cool stuff go in here.

Of course, there are gazillions of apps and services you could use. These just happen to be mine.

By regularly pushing content to these places, I create a growing gallery of the very best stuff the world has to offer. I can tag these into topics like #webdev or #design to narrow things down later, but half the fun is exploring the spaces as a whole and appreciating the wild variety of things I find truly exciting.

Some things I’m fascinated by and want to come back to:

1. Awesome branding designs.

Last year I was blown away by the branding of #hacktoberfest, an online, open-source collaboration event. The website was exciting, uncluttered and appealed to my love of vaporwave design. After asking around, the team at DigitalOcean claimed responsibility and pointed me at their other work on dribbble. Creating an illustration-led site with SVG animations is currently top of my priorities, and DO’s gallery is full of amazing executions of web- and user-friendly creative design.

2. How-To Guides

As most of my websites are built on WordPress, my ears prick up when I hear about new features or technologies. I’ve heard WP transients mentioned a few times now, and yesterday stumbled across this article on CSS-Tricks that gives a pretty good overview. It’s something that I definitely want to try out on a personal site or in a new build.

3. Über-cool Sh*t. (It’s a big category)

Did you ever see the opening titles of American GodsHalt and Catch Fire, or Westworld? Every mind-blowing main title sequence has been coming out of the elastic studio for years now. Taking a look through their website is an inspiration-overload all by itself.

These and a hundred other links are stored safely in the cloud to peruse through when I need a hit of inspiration.

Finding An Angle

When it’s time to start working, we can do a couple of quick things so that we’re approaching the task with true excitement, rather than vague foreboding.

Firstly, we can set aside a little time to revisit our inspo-repos and remind ourselves of what we love, what gets our blood pumping, or things we’d like to try.

The next is to simply start banging out ideas. For me, it’s a process of getting a notepad and writing down ideas for the project. At least ten, but as many as possible. In web dev and design, it’s all the things you might expect. Here’s some examples I’ve jotted down:

  • Nav toggle animates from SVG text “MENU” to X close button on click
  • Older userbase – start with JAWS compatibility
  • Riff on government style headers for added authority
  • Mini-explosion on submit button
  • What if the whole site was a text adventure game?
  • Good excuse to test out Genesis Framework

The important thing to note is that it’s as much about you, what you want to test, explore and implement (THIS) as it is the project’s specific needs (THAT). THIS will be an awesome solution for THAT. Fulfilling the brief is a must, but why not do in a way that uses your best ideas and is genuinely enjoyable to you?

I like to think of this process as a pre-workout warm up. You can dive right in without it, but you’re probably going to hurt yourself, and not achieve the results you want.

Inspiration As Motivation

I’ll take a vulnerable moment to say, this feels awful – even dangerous – to admit.

I’m not motivated by money.

That’s a BIG problem for someone running their own business.

I can be enticed, seduced and wooed with money, but when the rubber hits the road, an extra £10k on the table – on its own – wouldn’t make me one iota more interested in a project.

I’ve had to wrestle with this for some time because, without motivation, productivity is impossible. The speed at which my projects get delivered is directly linked to my excitement and interest in the work itself.

That’s not to say I won’t take projects on that I don’t like the look of, or charge more for them. It means that I simply have to bring self-awareness and understand:

  • What are the angles that will MAKE each project exciting to me?
  • Where can I find the inspiration for solving the interesting problems?
  • Is this an opportunity to try a new approach for the first time?

I mention this because you might be in the same boat. For too long I struggled to push things forward and wondered why I simply couldn’t bring myself to care, even though it meant getting the project paid and off my desk. Finally, I started figuring out what steps I had to take to not just care, but be fully inspired by the opportunities and challenges the work offered. That’s when motivation kicked in.

The Application of Inspiration

Inspiration is pointless if we don’t use it. Choosing to set the time aside to get inspired before getting started takes discipline and habit. Habits work best with triggers.

Here’s a trick, leave a sticky note in the centre of your monitor that says:

“Step One: Get Excited.”

Don’t turn the damn thing on until you’ve spent ten minutes wandering through your inspo-repos on a non-work device, and another ten banging out some ideas for the project you’re about to work on.

You’ll know when it’s time to head to the computer because you’ll have thought of something so interesting and exciting that you simply MUST get to work.

The feeling is mutual

Your best clients think you are the absolute best person for the job. They’re letting you do your best work, and you keep smashing it out of the park.

Your worst clients – the ones causing you all the problems. They think you suck. Whatever they wanted out of you, you’re not delivering.

So step aside.

Good Judgement

A lot of the time, we think we’re paying experts for their technical skill. But we’re also paying for Good Judgement.

Technical skill is the ‘What’. Good Judgement is the ‘Who’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Why’ and ‘How’.

A person with technical skill can charge by the hour and do whatever you ask.

A person with Good Judgement won’t just follow orders. They’ll tell you what work needs to be done. They’ll know the territory. They’ll have tested similar ideas dozens of times before. They’ll understand the value you’re looking to create, and how to achieve it.

Good judgement is hard to find – and even harder to quantify. If you’re asking an expert to ignore their judgement and just do what you ask, you’ll end up with work that no one is happy with.

Being liked

If you’re working for clients or a boss, chances are someone else can do your job better than you can, for less money.

The only edge you have is that you’re sat in the hot seat right now, with immediate access to the people in charge – exactly where everyone competing against you wants to be.

Our performance and results are only half the story. It’s easy to forget that our boss, our clients, need to like us as people.

You don’t have to be best friends, but a sharing a little bit of joy goes a long way. What’s something you can do today to make that bond stronger with the people that pay your wages?

Peripheral Treasure Hunts

The search begins!

Got the new iPhone? Let’s find the perfect case.

Got the latest 4k drone? You’ll need FPV goggles.

Invested in crypto? Better download the most reliable wallet.

We’ve all been down the rabbit hole.

With each giant innovation, a new market is created and an ecosystem of products and services spring up. Thousand of small, effective ideas to enrich the experience for everyone invested.

When we’re trying to figure out the next big idea, it’s worth remembering that we don’t have to be like Apple, and invent the iPhone.

We can also be like Spigen, corner the market for a certain type of iPhone customer, and still do amazingly well for ourselves.

Seven Years

In seven years, we’ll all be dead.

Well, mostly. Almost every cell alive in our bodies right now will have died and been replaced. We’ll bear a good resemblance to ourself, but the flesh-and-blood person reading this will be gone.

We’re all becoming a new person all the time, whether we like it or not. Passing the baton forward to our future selves. The only things we take with us are the habits and thoughts that we’re choosing to hold on to.

You’re not a fixed point. Seven years from now you’ll have died along the way. A fresh start. Who do you want to be standing there instead? And will they thank you for the life you’ve prepared for them?

Being Authentic

2019 was, without doubt, the year of “being authentic”.

Like being in love, its not something you can simply go out and do. It’s a byproduct of how you live your life, run your business and engage with the world.

It’s a cop out, too. You can hurt others and excuse your own poor behavior – you’re just being your “authentic self”, after all.

Instead, why not focus on “being responsible”? Treating ourselves and others consistently and professionally – the way we know we should – instead of how we feel in the moment?

If we own our responsibility, we can see what work needs to be done. By defining our values and making sure we hold ourselves to account, being authentic will come naturally.

Conversations over scale

Like a megaphone, email marketing is a great tool to speak to a big group of people that need to hear a message.

But it’s a terrible tool to speak to people that want a personal conversation.

When we speak to businesses as customers, we usually want them to solve our individual problems with their products or services. Not to treat us as part of a crowd with one-way conversation.

Businesses that thrive this decade will be those that can have meaningful, personal conversation with thousands of customers and solve their needs.

The ones that will fail are already preoccupied with growing their marketing lists.

Pens

Giving someone a photo of just your (admittedly handsome) self as a gift would be a joke.

But people at exhibition stands give me pens with their own name on all the time.

Pens are cheap and easy. A pen is inclusive to all. Everyone might need one, therefore no one does. They’re everywhere. And ironically, people who truly care about pens will be the least interested.

A better gift is something riskier. Something that most people won’t want, but that a few will find absolutely fascinating.

Whether it’s merch or a whole business concept – give people something that they find remarkable, indispensable or personalised to them – not yourself.

Trying again.

People often miss the most important lesson of New Year’s resolutions: trying again.

Whether you’re joining a gym, quitting smoking, or doing something more specific to you and your business, you’re almost certain to fail at some point. You’ll lose interest or your will to go on.

But if you stop there, you teach yourself only to give up. How much better would it be to fail, fall or give in – only to get back up and try again? And it’s as easy as putting your running shoes back on or throwing away the leftovers.

So go do it. You might fail. But you have the opportunity to achieve something far greater. To learn that you’re a fighter, who can keep showing up.