On a recent Tuesday morning, after enjoying a long-weekend due to holiday, I studied my list of to-do’s, and attempted to organize the week ahead. I have become accustomed to starting my day with a ‘big three’ list, the top three things I must accomplish that day. Throughout the day, I revisit the list, to ensure I am on track for completing my agenda. Sometimes the items are specific: ‘Complete Photo Assets for Web Project.’ Sometimes they are general: ‘Forecast Design Profiles for June.’
As I made my way through the day, I quickly learned that Tuesday’s list may get held over to Wednesday, which is often the case. Waking early Wednesday, I proceeded to the airport for an early flight, and quickly boarded the plane. I am writing this while aboard a United CRJ 700.
It got me to thinking- perhaps I should have pulled an all-nighter. Remember those?
The old, college all-nighter. The thirty page term-paper, or exam-cram, or presentation prep. Back in the day, no all-nighter was complete without a pizza, a trip to Denny’s, or endless amounts of caffeine. They worked, usually without many long-term consequences, besides sleeping through the next few days while trying to catch up.
But, did they really work? They always felt more like cheating than really accomplishing anything. Virtually nothing of those evenings made it into long-term memory, and, aside from nailing the presentation, or landing that score, they were a blip on the college experience.
Creative Work is Unique
Okay, I know that’s a ridiculous headline- obvious, perhaps. But, for a moment, let’s acknowledge that many of us find ourselves in creative work. And, whether we ever thought those two words would cram themselves together and haunt and befuddle our lives, they have, and they do. Creative Work.
In my more than twenty years as creative and art director, I have learned that, even though every project begins and ends on a specific date, the life experience of your art director is part of his or her employment.
For example, if I know that I am starting a project focusing on, say, the rebranding of a major soft drink, my eyes are opened to every drink around me. The customer at the table next to me during date night becomes my test patient in my very public laboratory. I eavesdrop on conversations, spy on consumers, and evaluate every sip of every drink in my sight.
And that is the creative work. Though my pen hasn’t yet touched paper, and no images have been conceptualized, no talent hired, no scripts produced- the work has begun.
Some days I jump from the shower and type notes into my iPhone centered on a thought or idea that works with the new beverage campaign. And sometimes I test ideas on my family or friends.
Perhaps it is that way with every profession. Perhaps lawyers, accountants and teachers all do the same thing. In fact, I am sure they do.
However, artists begin their work- their craft- long before they sit at a canvas, and dip the tip of a brush into paint. The only difference is, they don’t look at those moments of ‘life’ as ‘Work.’
My children will often chastise my wife or me for talking ‘work’ for hours after we get home, How unfair is that? We shouldn’t be clouding our home with the mess of our days. And yet, some of the greatest insight I’ve had comes from our smart, insightful boys, usually unbeknownst to them.
Today, it is expected that employees and associated be available, or at least on-call virtually always. When was the last time you ignored work issues over a weekend? Being available to life is equally important. Or, we may miss it.
So- when does the work begin? When does it end? Maybe it is as simple as re-framing our thinking.
Maybe life fuels our work, not the other way around.