Select One Tool

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Updated July 28, 2022

Youโ€™re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

Professor, author, and human-technology researcher Sherry Turkle suggests in The Empathy Diaries, โ€œTo be good at a job, you had to love the objects associated with that job.โ€ This can also apply to your chosen creative operation. Finding an object that sparks joy could change how you operate.

For example, Big Mikeโ€™s current journey with painting started off with a canvas he found across the street from his workplace. Even if this lucky event hadnโ€™t happened, I can imagine him buying a canvas and paints and getting started painting the same day. He didnโ€™t let himself get stuck figuring out which paints were best, which brush to use, where he could work. His method, in his own words, is simple: โ€œPut the paint on the canvas!โ€

Choosing a tool provides you with a clear idea of what you will be doing. You paint with a paintbrush. You draw or write with a pencil. Commit to this tool for a set amount of timeโ€”maybe 10 daysโ€”just enough time to see what you can do with it but not so much that you get bored.

Donโ€™t overthink the tool just yet. Start with the simplest version of the tool, the one you already have lying around, and figure out what you need out of it along the way. As Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly writes, โ€œStart by buying the absolute cheapest tools you can find. Upgrade the ones you use a lot. If you wind up using some tool for a job, buy the very best you can afford.โ€

Set a Time Limit

In 2018, the average Instagram user on Android spent 53 minutes a day on Instagram. Over the course of the year, thatโ€™s 322 hours, the equivalent of over eight full 40-hour work weeks.

Imagine what you could create with 53 minutes a day! (Especially if youโ€™re reclaiming that time from Instagram.) Even five minutes will move you further along your creative path than no minutes at all. You can begin to reclaim time for creative work by setting yourself a manageable limit.

You can use a technique called timeboxing, which means giving yourself a set amount of time to do one thing. One of my favorite devices is the kitchen timer. Iโ€™ve bought maybe a dozen of these in my life so far, and I plan to buy dozens more. I set the timer for a few minutesโ€”for a short workout, for a sprint through really boring paperwork, or to get started on a big creative projectโ€”and then I press start. I give myself a window to work through. After that, I can choose to stop, and sometimes I do. But many other times, I keep going.

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