My head was spinning.
I was sitting on a bus with my face pressed against the glass window. It was the middle of the day. Outside people and cars passed by as they went about their daily business. I didn’t register any of it. My mind was elsewhere.
I was going home from my final critique in an architectural design subject at uni. This is where you post up posters of your design solution for the project you have worked on over the semester. It hadn’t gone well.
The whole semester hadn’t gone well. I didn’t get on with my tutor, I didn’t understand the ill-defined focus of the project and I couldn’t make the project – the design of a certain building – work. I was told I would not pass if I submitted what I had presented today. Anyone who has been through architecture school knows how cruel and unforgiving it is. The assignment was due the next day. There was a group exhibition the day after. Can’t pass with my current work – no time to do more.
Or, was there?
As I sat on that bus my mind kicked into gear like never before during the semester. On my way home I bought only two things: a pack of Red Bull and a bottle of red wine. The red wine was to fuel the passion that I felt over the hatred of this subject and myself. The red bull was to keep me going until I re-did the whole assignment.
When I got back to my apartment, I moved all the furniture out of the living room (except the long couch, I would need that for five minute power naps). On the space that left on the floor, I spread out all my posters from my recent submission – except with the picture side down. Five big A1 blank sheets of paper and one night to complete an architectural assignment that everyone else did in 4 months.
I cracked open the red wine and began to sketch. I already had ideas lined up from the bus ride back from uni. Once I got pencil on paper it was like a dam breaking. After a few hours of sketching, I brought out my laptop and began drafting. Soon I had a 3D model, which I began to render. While it was rendering, my computer was out of action, but I realised I could do my site and context analysis diagrams on my iPad so once the renders were finished everything was good to go.
Shortly before daybreak I had finished the red wine and started on the red bull. This was the home stretch but also the toughest part. Finally, at about lunch time I rushed it to the printers. I showed at the exhibition and comfortably passed the subject.
Did I do exceptionally well? No. My assignment still looked like only 24 hours of work because it was. Would it have been better to plan the assignment, check in more with my tutor and do it properly over the course of the 4 months? Yes.
Then what am I talking about here? What was accomplished that night was still a good effort. I had condensed 4 months of work in to 24 hours. That means I did the assignment in 0.8% of the time. That is efficient.
While I do not actually recommend any of this to anyone, ever, there was a lot in my story that was right – and sometimes it takes extreme circumstances to learn these things.
1. Be motivated and don’t accept defeat
Over long projects, keeping motivation up can be hard. Tasks just become to-dos and checklists that you need to tick off. Passion is lost and can be hard to find. This happened to me through the semester, it was only being torn apart by my tutor that re-invigorated me. Being told you are not going to pass a subject can be the last nail in your coffin, or it can be the best motivation ever. Rod Judkins in his book The Art of Creative Thinking has a chapter titled “maintain momentum.” He also has a chapter called “pick yourself up” sounds spot on to me. Find this for yourself in your projects. Over longer projects it may change, week to week. It will probably be hard to find. For me, now, I just think of having to do a university-style critique at the end of it.
2. Clear your space / Clear your mind
At the time my desk and my dining room table were covered in drawings and sketches and work from a bunch of different subjects. The clutter had penetrated my mind. I knew I was in for a hard slug with this assignment so my first action was to clear a space for me to do it. I used the floor as it was the largest available and least cluttered flat surface. It was open and receptive to all the clutter I could then regurgitate out of my mind (the type of space you work in really makes a difference, see my post on Beautiful vs. Productive Space).
3. By some wine
No, don’t. Especially if you’re working for someone else… and it’s the middle of the day. What I mean to say is relax, be comfortable mentally and physically. I bought wine because I was angry at the universe and I wanted a distraction. By midnight, I was slowly sipping, peacefully and enjoying myself in the design. Being agitated or uncomfortable will distract you. You need to feel in your circumstance.
4. Know your stuff
Here’s the thing. I didn’t complete a 4 month assignment in 24 hours. I completed a 4 month assignment in 4 months, I just spent 3.99 of those months chasing a bad solution. This doesn’t mean that I hadn’t done the work. I knew the research, the background, the brief, the context. It was all put in my head over those 4 months. This meant that when the good idea finally dropped, it was there and ready to go. If you get stuck trying to do something, start learning about it and (conceptually) around it. This way when you need them, the facts, knowledge and understanding is right there at your fingertips.
5. Have the Tools for the Job
I had paper, pencils, my laptop all set up because I had already been using them. Luckily I also had an iPad that I could use while my computer my rendering, which meant I could do two things at once. Don’t underestimate how much of an impact having to go walking around trying to find some pencils and paper, or how using something that isn’t quite right to do the job, can have on the outcome. You need the right tools (Not having the right tools is one of the 4 main blocks to creativity according to Singer & Adkins, 1984, Managing for creativity in consulting engineering – more in my post here).
In summary, what I am saying is do not leave things until the last minute. However, when we do we often unwillingly start to do a lot of the things that help produce a creative environment. Know these things and do them well in advance.
Feature image used courtesy of Benjamin Watson.