I am a huge fan of dilly-dallying. Or rather, I should say I have perfected the logic of partaking in activities which masquerade as work-related, when don't really fit in that category. I’m very skilled at sustaining the delusion that reading my favourite op-ed piece in the New York Times counts as work, and that faffing about in Facebook groups is a legitimate business task.
It’s a flawed rationality that I have a torturous relationship with. I am very hard on myself for missing deadlines, or even letting meetings go on for too long as they eat into my precious writing time. Yet still, I can find that a 30-minute podcast break turns into an hour, and all the while I’m talking myself into further procrastination. It’s all work, right?
At some point in my first year as a full-time freelance copywriter, I realised that procrastination was my psyche’s way of telling me that I was bored and lacking inspiration. If you knew me around September-December last year, you’ll know that I became mildly obsessed with logging my time in Toggl. Counting is a particularly quirky behaviour of mine, and Toggl gave me permission to indulge this obsessive side. The idea was to see where I was spending my hours – copywriting for clients, checking emails, marketing – and a lot of it was on social media.
However much I do enjoy a good Tumblr binge, scrolling through amateur acrostic poetry was not the activity I needed. I needed creative fuel and more energy to fuel my new freelance copywriting venture, particularly as I was in the middle of a caffeine detox. I needed something that would feed my brain, not give me RSI and FOMO.
I needed inspiration.
Inspiration has become such a hackneyed phrase lately, so I’m partially hesitant to use it. It’s a phrase which is partially reminiscent of an obsession with overlaying hand-written text on a scenic photograph, the type you see on Instagram or Pinterest. It’s also a term often misused by big companies who want to be portrayed as more human, ethical and connected to their audiences. When I hand over a copywriting brief, an overwhelming amount of brands seek to ‘inspire’ their customers. What they really mean is ‘influence to buy our stuff’. That’s not what I mean when I talk about inspiration.
I’m talking about that current of energy that flows through the computer screen as you listen to one of the youngest magazine publishers in the world, their words and cadence reaching out and zapping you across space and time. Inspiration is that fire in your belly that’s ignited by a friendly (or not so friendly) argument, the type that outrages you and demands you do something, anything, about this atrocity.
For myself, I feel particularly inspired when I catch up with a dear friend and ex-editor. She has a particular way of making me feel indestructible.
Getting your inspiration can be as simple as going to an art gallery and letting a David Bowie exhibition marinade in your mind, or walking from Bondi to Bronte with the ocean scent in your nostrils. It doesn’t take much, but the results are profound. These are the best forms of inspiration – those highly potent doses that require little effort, time, and money.
It’s these moments which are essential to combat a fatigued mind.
But sometimes you can’t attend the best seminars in your industry.
Or maybe it’s raining, or your inspirational friend is sick.
If you’re going to keep inspiration as a source of fuel, it needs to be scheduled.
How to stay inspired
We’re creatures of routine. Ask me to change my yoga schedule, and you will be met with a stern look that says under no circumstances will I miss my Tuesday morning vinyasa flow. And don’t get me started on breakfast: if we were to run out of eggs, I would walk through torrential rain to fetch a free-range batch, or lay them myself. But routines can create boredom, and it’s hard to stay focused and productive when you’re unmotivated.
And when you’re unmotivated and tired, it’s really hard to do a thing without grimacing.
So you sit, and you wait for inspiration to materialise. But therein lies a fault in your flawed logic.
Inspiration is not a magical occurrence that materialises as you login to Netflix. True, you might feel inspired after a coffee date with a colleague. But these occurrences aren’t always possible. Inspiration doesn’t lead to action, it comes from action.
And the idea that inspiration must come to you is one of the biggest mistakes people make when productivity is top of mind.
If you’re not feeling inspired, you can’t wait for the muse to knock at your door.
Not feeling inspired enough to hit the gym?
Lace up your shoes and go anyway. Spend five minutes on the treadmill. I doubt you’ll want to get off.
Writer’s block got you down? It’s a terrible affliction, but you’re not unique. Just write one paragraph. It’s all about baby steps. Eventually, you’ll have a whole chapter or blog post.
By all means, book that workshop. Go see that person talk about their thing. But if you truly want inspiration – the type that sticks around and is easily accessible – you need to be responsible for it.