A while back, I remember reading an article by Paul Jarvis about creating vs. consuming . We spend so much time reading social media feeds, full of articles by others on how to get better at X, or tutorials to learn something new that can make us feel like we’re constantly behind. Day after day, the churn of new information just keeps pouring in, and without even knowing we’re doing it, we desperately try to keep up. Even in all the consuming I’ve done, and continue to do, I still see the occasional article talking about the very thing I’m talking about now, how some people choose to shut out noise and decide to make things instead. And I nod my head in agreement.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with keeping up, or with being the type of person who is always learning. But the fact is, if you’re consuming, you’re not creating. You can’t receive input and deliver output at the same time. But there’s a balance, because we still have to learn. And sometimes we just get tired, and consumption is easy, and sometimes even relaxing.
Looking back over the past few years of running my small business, it’s crystal clear that my routines revolve around consuming when I’m not creating for actual projects. This is the pattern that I think we all need to make sure we’re purposefully balancing. If we don’t assign purpose to our time in between production work, it will fill up with effortless consumption, the kind that makes you feel like you’re being productive. After a long, hard project, I’m always making the excuse that I just spent weeks or months creating, being in output mode, and that I should take some time to sit back and see what’s going on or learn something new. This isn’t wrong. But you’ll never get your business to new levels by allowing this to be the default behavior.
I’m not naturally the kind of person wakes up every morning like a Spartan warrior, ready to take on the day. Actually, it's quite the opposite sometimes. I grew up on Maui, and I’ve got that Island vibe. “Everyone just relax!” Or, in the words of Bob Marley, “Don’t worry…About a ting…Every little ting…is gonna be alright.” And I’ve learned, and am still learning, to both embrace and balance that attitude and approach.
The web industry can really grind you down due to it’s fast pace. Many times, the last thing I want to do after a long, hard project is more web-related things, like blog about it, or create something new on the side to share with others. I honestly just want to get out of the chair and do something physical, or exercise a different part of my brain. And there’s nothing wrong with that either. In fact, I think that’s healthy (we’re all dying in our chairs). But I think that’s a symptom of not purposefully implementing the right structure for how I will spend my time, both on, and away from my business. It’s a reaction to burnout and overwork. Or more simply, too much of any one thing. This can be even more true for solo or small business owners. Things are very flexible, and it’s really hard to figure stick to a routine of creating things that will help your business grow.
But it’s not enough to just know this. We’re all faced with the challenge of creating unique content with our own voice in this industry. We know we need to do it, but we let ourselves make excuses or get intimidated out of doing it ALMOST EVERY TIME. And before you know it, we have another project to work on, so there’s no time anyway. This is the guaranteed stagnation, or worse, the slow death of your business taking place right in front you. And noone will change it for you.
This over-arching theme from Paul Jarvis’s article about this has been with me for years now, in the back of my mind, eating at me every time I make an excuse, or fail at structuring my business in a way that allows me to have the time I need to to create. Sometimes, we truly don’t have it in us to force ourselves to take action. The right time is always “now”, but sometimes we’re just not ready.
Why holds us back from creating content?
If you’re like me, and you’ve found yourself consuming far too much when you should be creating, I would challenge you to find the reason(s) why. And don’t stop there. Be honest with yourself about what it would take to tip help you bring some balance to your creation vs. consumption scale.
Here are some of my reasons for avoiding focusing on creating more than consuming for so long:
This is probably the biggest one. I feel like I have nothing new to offer when so many people are telling me about new things every day. Learning is wonderful, but waking up every day feeling like you’re the one that has to continue learning, believing that you have nothing new to share, is absolutely untrue! So what if someone else wrote an article on a topic you consider yourself to be knowledgeable at. This gets me all the time, but do you know how much duplicate content is out there? This article is my own, but it’s just an echo of something I learned from reading someone else’s thoughts on the same topic. And I’ve avoided sharing my thoughts on the topic before because of that. Nonsense.
Choosing the wrong audience
This is another big one. It's a symptom of imposter syndrome, but it’s worth discussing on it’s own, because it’s something we don’t know we’re doing as a result of falling victim to imposter syndrome.
Focusing too much on end-results instead of slow steady progress
Setting goals and asking yourself what you want to achieve are very different than asking yourself what type of person you want to be.
I was one of those people who would say things like “If I’m not going to do something really well, why do it at all?” How stupid. If you’re not careful, this kind of mentality can prevent you from doing anything. NO ONE creates something incredible or perfect in a space they’re not familiar with out of the gate. Now, I wasn’t so naive to believe that I didn’t have to put practice and effort into things, but it often meant I would start something without being committed to the long-term investment it would require to see the results feel like they were worth the effort. As a [former] musician, you’d think I would understand this, too. Slow, steady progress, day after day, is what made us all eventually very good at our crafts.
If you’re the type of person who is paralyzed by this type of thinking, it’s important to learn the science of why we do this to ourselves. I would recommend checking out the blog posts over at James Clear’s website . Learn about becoming type of person who forms a habit of doing something small each day over a long course of time. It’s less about a one-time result, and more about deciding what kind of person you want to be, and proving it to yourself with small wins . Here’s an example he gives, which is the one I’m currently working on:
Want to be a better writer?
Identity: Become the type of person who writes 1,000 words every day.
Small win: Write one paragraph each day this week.
Definitely take a read through is articles. He also has a great newsletter .
Not knowing what you want
What do you want? No one can answer this for you, and maybe you can’t either, but you won’t be driven to create much of anything if you don’t have a reason to.
For a long time, all I wanted was to be the one in charge of my own business. I wanted to take my own risks or make decisions the way I believed they should be made. This made me highly unemployable, and drove me to launch my own business. It was my "why". I had some other reasons as well, like wanting to find ways to get away from the computer more, or to be able to toy around with pricing approaches, or to have the freedom to travel and set my own schedule.
Now I’m learning that your wants can change. Those things are all still important to me, but they’re just on the surface. They’re not enough by themselves to propel me for another 5-10 years. And sometimes it’s more of a daily question of what you want, along-side the core things that drive you. And if you start asking your self what you want every day, you begin to see the importance of all the industry news and social feeds fade in comparison to learning what drives you to tackle your day and how you will balance your consumption vs. your creation. Because what you create begins to echo what you want instead of being an obligation that helps you increase your status in your industry or build your reputation for potential clients.
What to do about it.
Everyone will be different. The reasons I gave above are my own. Maybe they resonate with you. But for me, finding and keeping the motivation to create on a regular basis is related to me understanding my own “why”.
Understanding my “why” is motivating, but it doesn’t stop there. If you read more of James Clear’s articles, you’ll learn why we can’t rely on motivation alone to push us. It comes down to establishing a new identity, based on tiny wins every day to help us become the type of person we want to be. This means you have to set up a structure and routine to allow for building that new identity. So I’m doing two things. I’m going to limit my intake of industry news, and schedule time each day, week, month, etc. to allow myself to build a routine of creating, whether I share what I create or not.
Go create something.
I only intended for this article to be a few paragraphs long. I just wanted to create something, and the only thing I could think of was to talk about the things preventing me from creating things. But that’s the point. Go create something.
Shout-out to Chad Crowell for his article that prompted me to create something today.