Examining Your Personal Limitations. Extracting the Hacks.

How to work smarter, not harder. The different types of procrastination. Agency life hacks. Meditating while driving. As a copywriter, I’ve got no shortage of ideas. Especially when I’ve been given a topic, some direction or a problem to solve. But without direction, I jump from one thought to the next, without reaching a single solid solution. Which is where this post began.

With the freedom to write about whatever topic I wanted, I froze. What would be relevant? What would other people want to read about? Who would care what I had to say about anything, much less something specific?

And so, the brainstorming began. What do I know, think or do that might resonate with other people? What interests me? A wave of ideas flooded my mind, but nothing felt right. It was either too personal, super-generic or hard to relate back to this industry. Here’s a peek at a few that came up:

Should I share that I meditate on my drive into work and drive home? Legs crossed in the driver’s seat; eyes closed. Just me, my breath and my meditation app doing 65 down the highway.

Just kidding! I usually go 75.

And my eyes are open, both hands are on the wheel, one foot is on the gas. As I tune into my breathing, I become calmer, more observant and mentally prepared for the day ahead. I smile at the other drivers, let them over and develop a complete awareness of my surroundings. It feels like I’m floating in contentment. But how can my commuting habits make for an interesting blog post?

Then I thought about how I’m a sucker for a good life hack. I must not be alone, because there are blogs, TV shows, Reddit threads, YouTube channels, podcasts and more—all dedicated to sharing a novel way to do anything and everything—from fixing your blown-out flip-flops with a bread bag clip to performing a magic trick that results in a perfectly folded T-shirt.

How could I make that relate to the communications world?  What helps me get through the day? Would my time-tracking cheat help anyone else? It’s pretty simple. I learned it from a really smart co-worker back in the day—you pencil in dots for 15-minute increments and Xs for hours. As someone who has worked in an industry that requires you to track your time, down to the quarter hour, for 19 years, it’s been indispensable.

Beyond that, I only had my trusty MacGyver tool—the binder clip that gets repurposed as everything from a cord organizer to headphone rack to wardrobe malfunction assistant—and my creative sugar (or salt) mug-scrubbing trick. Both were born out of necessity, which is usually how these things go. Same with my semi-legit writing tips. I only listen to instrumental music when I write, because lyrics make me lose my train of thought. Basically, I can’t think of words while listening to other words. Another process that works for me is starting with the nitty-gritty details of a project. Once you get all of those in place, you can move onto the good stuff.

Sculpting the supporting points, crafting the main message, then concepting the headline. Yup, you heard that right. I write the headline last!

Hopefully, now, you can see the challenge I faced.

Discouraged, I read a few akhia blog posts. One of which had this to say about finding inspiration. Straight away, I chose #2 and went to Mike Lawrence, one of my friendly, neighborhood creative directors for advice. He suggested I write about not knowing what to write about. Of course! He’s a genius! And after he provided that “direction,” I promptly sat down and wrote this. Which led me to an eye-opening realization about myself—the best way for me to think outside the box is to be put in one.

I need parameters, restrictions, rules. I need something to focus on—a problem to solve. If I don’t have that, it’s unlikely that I’ll get very far. Seems weird, right?

Well, maybe it isn’t so strange. On more than a few occasions, I have come across articles that support the idea that having too many options isn’t a good thing. Consider Barry Schwartz’s TED Talk on the paradox of choice. It might be from 2005, but it still stands up. For me, it’s the absolute truth. (I don’t think anyone can argue that it also applies to the menu at The Cheesecake Factory!)

Now, it is clear to me how my mind works in these situations. If there is no box, there’s no way to get out of it. There’s no need to get out of it. Really, there isn’t an out at all, because there is no in. Sorry if this is getting deep. What I’m trying to say is: Box me in. Tell me I can’t do something. Tell me you can’t figure out how to do something. Set up those constraints, then let me loose. I’ll be outta that box in no time!   

Does anyone else out there have the same problem? Because I’m happy to help you solve it!