Four questions to steer your daily creative work
Are you happy with your clarity about whatever creative project, exploration, or change you are working with?
How well do you stay on track toward a creative goal, day to day, week to week?
Are you confident in your usual trick for getting unstuck, unblocked, and back to work?
If you want a boost for all of that, and a way to make more sense and success of creative breakthrough, take three minutes to try this mini-navigator for change, invention, and creative projects.
A Daily Navigator
This works for any transition, change, creative project, inventive problem, or discovery mission you’re in. You can navigate a little smarter and more sure-footed about your day by checking in with these four quick questions.
1. What are your wins?
2. What right-sized thing will you do next to move forward?
3. How will you succeed with that?
4. What will that win mean to you?
Go ahead, give it a quick try. Essays not required, first thoughts are often all you need.
First, name a new or change-y thing you’re working with. Write it down, type it out, with just a few words. We have to look our next action in the eye as a compact, contained, defined thing.
Next, answer the 4 questions as they apply to your new or change-y thing. Short and sweet. Write or type, so you can look them in the eye.
Finally, get started with that right-sized next action that you named in the second question.
Or, take the incubation option. If you want to punch up the effectiveness of this navigator, do the exercise at the end of your day. You will be setting your right-sized next action, your success strategy, and your motivation insight in advance. I use the incubation option, because I’m hooked on the benefits of getting a little ahead:
Time, sleep, and other friends of the subconscious can work ahead on the next step, bringing familiarity and insight to the task.
Background, even unconscious, anxiety about the next day’s creative work is reduced or eliminated.
Working ahead takes no extra time or effort, but pays delicious virtue dividends.
Getting started with the project the next day is effortless. No need to take even the three minutes to get oriented by doing the daily navigator exercise. Just glance over the navigator you did yesterday (this is essential, since it reconnects you to what you mean to do and how to do it, and it gives you an effortless warm start to the work).
Whether we choose to do the navigator a day ahead or the day we are working, it will work for us if we get it on screen or on paper. If we try to do this in our heads, often there is mush, and it isn’t very helpful. What works is setting down this thing outside ourselves so we can look at it and then act on it clearly and effectively.
If you find a way to keep these questions with you, ready for quick answers, whenever you need them, this little daily navigator becomes a no-excuses way to own your project--bless it, guide it, boost it, whatever you want to do for it--from fresh start to powerful finish.
Do You Have Time for This?
Time yourself. Once you’ve done the navigator just a few times, rhythm and familiarity will carry you along.
I spend less than 2 minutes most days navigating a project. I use a notes app on my phone, where I copy-paste the 4 questions for a new entry every day.
I gain far more than a few minutes in time saved getting started, going straight to my most valuable action, often already squirming with ideas for what I want to do, and having a plan for conquering the things I expect may get in my way. It’s confidence on a screen or page.
Do You Need A Navigator?
When we are rolling right along day to day with a creativity or change project, in a positive groove, not meeting strong resistance, procrastination, or frustration, we may not need to navigate on the outside. Navigation is happening well enough on the inside.
But if we aren’t easily getting started, getting into flow, and making progress day to day, we need to get this thing out of the muck, rinse it off, look at it, and get going with clarity.
Doing a mini-navigator every day, or every work session, is a best practice. A bit of planning makes us better problem-solvers. We get to the goal more directly, with fewer missteps and less wasted time.1
Being oriented and ready to show up makes a difference whether things are going well or we are struggling, whether we’re just getting started or chugging toward the end.
Navigating simply and regularly builds a valuable loop of planning just far enough ahead. We quickly apply what we’ve just learned, instead of just nodding to the lesson and stumbling on. This is an agile technique for working smarter, a way of doing just enough planning, using principles that many people find boost creativity and innovation instead of stifling it.2
It’s the apple-a-day principle. Small, smart routines can boost creative productivity, help us avoid project malaise or derailment, and make the 99% perspiration from the genius equation count for more. 3
A coaching client who seemed to always have it together shared what her mother drilled into her:
If you’re always ready, you never have to get ready.
Is that not an appealing way to operate?
Staying clean and clear every day on a creative or change project helps keep us out of the muck. It’s easier to stay clear with two or three minutes a day of reflective planning than it is to flounder or struggle to move forward again.
Do this navigator daily, or however often you work on or deal with this creative project or change situation. Always know where you are, what’s coming up next, and how you plan to be smart about it. You’ll never be unsure where to start, how to proceed, or what good this work is doing you.
There you go, navigating creative breakthrough.
Your voice. Your standards. Being remarkable.
1. Gunzelmann, G., & Anderson, J. R. “Problem solving: Increased planning with practice.” Cognitive Systems Research 4 (2003): 57-76. Print.
2. Conforto, E. C., & Amaral, D. C. (2008). Evaluating an agile method for planning and controlling innovative projects, presented at PMI Global Congress 2008—Latin America, São Paulo, 2008. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute. https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/evaluating-agile-project-management-innovative-products-7093
3. Popova, Maria. (2013, May 22). How to hone your creative routine and master the pace of productivity [Blog post]. Retrieved January 22, 2019, from https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/05/22/manage-your-day-to-day-99u/.