On Clearing Creative Debt
In computer programming – the term “technical debt” is used quite a bit.
The idea is that over time as you build something, you slowly accumulate technical debt.
- Added bits of code that didn’t need to be there.
- A new piece of technology that now overwrites an old function.
- Random integrations that were deprecated but never removed.
The idea is that you start by building something.
Then you add something else on top of of it.
Then you build something else on top of that.
Over time, if your’e not particular about paying down your technical debt, you end up with a little bit of a Frankenstein monster of bits of code all technically working together but in no way optimally.
Elon actually mentioned this in a twitter spaces about Twitter itself a month ago or so. Twitter is so full of technical debt, that moving one thing breaks one hundred other things. It’s so fragile that’s actually hard to make any substantial changes at all.
The short term fix is to try to make small changes, but the long-term fix is to tear it down and build it from the ground up.
Sometimes, despite the sunk costs of your previous work – the best way to level up on your overall work is to start fresh.
A similar thing happens creatively.
Let’s call it creative debt.
You build up a project up. Then another project there. Maybe you had the right idea, but maybe implemented it in the wrong way naively. Pretty soon, you a smattering of projects that make for a creative feel, but also feels cluttered and physically tough to create.
But with creative work – it’s even worse. Because sometimes the best parts of creativity are mashing together different parts of two completely different things – so the partial projects are useful in a way.
However, there’s also times – where the best way to make things creatively is to start from scratch.
Clear the deck.
Instead of building on X years of work – you ask “if I started now know what I learned the last X years – how would I build this?”
The answer is surprisingly obvious sometimes.
You have to let it go emotionally, but declaring creative bankruptcy and starting over can be freeing (and sometimes gets you to the end state faster than continuing building on the Frankenstein project the way you always have).
Instead of trying to organize and file away
- Half-finished ideas.
- Never-started products.
- Stuff that you did one time, but no longer care about.
Instead of trying to organize it – you can take a deep breath, clear the decks and trash the stuff that’s holding you back.
The last few weeks, I’ve spent a ton of time clearing technical and creative debt.
Everything from clearing my real-life desktop, to organizing redirects on the site (mesmerizing) to clearing my virtual desktop, to cleaning up plugins, streamlining content, redirecting entire sites, down to clarifying exactly what content fits on which of our family of Impossible sites.
It’s taken a while and isn’t quite done, but both the content and structure on the sites is clearer than ever.
→ We’re building world-class performance nutrition products & resources at IMPOSSIBLE.
→ We’re creating free online training and documenting some of the hardest physical challenges at Impossible Fitness.
→ MoveWell is turning into one of (if not the best) mobility training and recovery product resources on the internet.
→ We even cleaned up Impossible.org to make it easier to showcase the non-profit work (watch this space).
If you’re feeling stuck creatively, I highly recommend clearing the decks, setting your jaw and just doing the work creatively to clear the space of blockages as you can be so much more creative when you feel like you can breathe.
Here are some things that have helped me.
Make the Basics Simple
It’s easy to fall in love with complication. Moving website stacks, optimizing productivity software, moving your to-do tracker into yet another productivity tool of the year.
You know what’s more productive than learning (yet another) productivity tool? Doing the actual work.
I’ve found agonizing over software lately has been a net drain more than a positive, so I’ve drastically simplified my criteria on stuff I use now to:
- Make it easy to ship.
- Make it easy to time.
My productivity “stack” lately is primarily a
- to do list (in apple notes and a physical notebook)
- a timer
Set the time – 25 minutes – work. Set the time again. Repeat. Do it again.
Workstation popcorn, but without the movement.
Instead of a smattering of different platforms all over the board, I moved 85% of everything back to WordPress and am keeping it simple – despite the latest and greatest hyped up software of the year.
Get Clear on What The Project Is
The primary motive behind procrastination isn’t laziness – it’s lack of clarity.
You can waste so much time going back and forth when you’re not sure what a project is or what it’s supposed to become.
Once you know what it’s designed to be – you can just do the work and make it happen.
Procrastination is often decision anxiety disguised as perfectionism.
Do the hard work of figuring out what it is you’re building first – then the steps become clear.
Take Out The Trash
Consolidate or straight up throw away / delete / trash what doesn’t need to be there any more.
There’s a reason chefs make their kitchens immaculate when they’re done cooking. It makes it that much easier for the next meal.
Imagine trying to cook a high-end meal with the remnants of the last meal strewn about your kitchen utensils.
You wouldn’t and it’s gross.
It’s the exact same thing with any creative endeavor.
Outline 50 Examples In The Desired Direction
If you’re going to start a project – don’t just start. Sit down and outline it like you would an essay. What’s it going to look like, how is it going to feel, what is it going to end up as?
When you do this, you clarify the project and exactly what should happen. You also play a creative “cheat code” because you exert your creative energy up front basically outlining the entire thing in one fell swoop. When you do that – you no longer have to spend creative energy wondering about what to write or make next – you have the outline already. You know what to do.
All you have to do is fill it in.
Let The Old Stuff Go
You gotta let the old stuff die. Emotionally, you might be tied to it, but you gotta just let it go – for now at least.
If you can’t bring yourself to toss – a good way to do this is write it down, and put it in a folder you’re not going to look at. Clean up the papers and hide them away in the closet. Archive stuff instead of deleting it.
You might be surprised that you may never come back to it, but doing this will remove it out of the way and at least stop it from being a barrier to you creating more.
If you ever do come back to it, it will be unexpected after you’ve finally let it go – creativity is weird like that.
Wrapping Things Up
One of the common phrase you’ll hear creative use is that they’re “waiting for the perfect time to create.
This notion sounds great. Doesn’t work.
Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. – Chuck Close
One of the weird conundrums around creativity is that the more you create, the more you create.
The more you can do to remove the barriers to creativity ahead of your actual work session, the more you can actually get don in the work session.
Set your jaw. Clear the tables. Free your mind. Then get to work.