Romanticising Crunch Time

One thing that I’ve learned a lot about over the years is crunch time. The night before a pitch or an important creative presentation is rarely an easy one.

Work will expand to fill the time allotted. It’s called Parkinson’s Law. I’m not a mathematician, so I can’t prove that it is the natural order of the universe, but I think we can all agree that it should be considered one of the fundamental laws of physics.

At an agency, crunch time usually means late nights and some early mornings.

Early is relative, by the way.

There will be pizza and snacks and tightly-wound bundles of nerves.

Crunch time gets a bad rap. It feels high pressure, people are tired, spouses are irritated, weekends are lost.

But this is when a lot of good work is done.

Priorities become immediately clear and everything else falls to the wayside.

Decisions have to be made.

Difficult problems are wrestled to the ground.

Arbitrary ideas have to be pulled out of the air and fitted with cement shoes.

Differences of opinion have to be forded and compromises have to be made.

There’s no time to dance around the details or wait for someone else to come around to your way of thinking.

This is when the magic, as they say, happens.

I’m not arguing that all work should be left until the night before.

That work will almost always suck.

Crunch time works best when the work is 90% done, but another 90% of it still needs to be done.

The focus and intensity that a group can bring to their work at the very last minute can be powerful. It’s like pissing-off the Hulk and pointing him towards something that you need smashed.

Is that a good metaphor? I don’t read comics.

7 Days of Blogging

Today is my 7th consecutive day of writing and publishing online. This is the most I’ve ever done. Or that I remember doing.

After a difficult second day, things started to click.

It helped a lot when Russell and Erik both noticed what I was doing. That gave me a kick in the pants, and was affirming from the standpoint of “hey, people I really respect are paying attention!”

Finding topics has become fairly easy. I’ve been clearing out the dark, dusty corners of various drafts folders, as well as finally building out ideas that have been laying dormant between folds of grey matter, covered in cobwebs.

Writing about the process for 3 out of the 4 days probably means that I’ve cheated. But I have so many more ideas now than I did before, so even if the output was a bit focused on the process itself, I’ve seen real benefits in terms of idea generation.

Some of the new ideas have come from editing posts down for single-mindedness. But I think I’ve also managed to shrug off my internal topic sensor. My list of ideas has grown pretty long.

When it comes to the writing itself, knowing that there will be a new post to write tomorrow has helped to control the urge to bludgeon every post perfect for publishing in the New York Times. In the past, that perfectionism has stopped me from finishing a post, or even starting a new one, in the past.

Oh, and since I’ve been trying to actually write, rather than my usual links with pull-quotes, I’ve been spending much less time in search of interesting things to post. That time, which usually didn’t result in anything besides too much time in an RSS reader, has been put to much better use at the keyboard.

It’s also helping to prime-the-pump on my work days. It gets my mind turning, my fingers used to putting together ideas, and I’m free of the ridiculous pressure I’ve put on myself to do more writing.

I feel good about it so far.

Let’s keep going.

Let’s see what happens.

Start Before You’re Ready

A few weeks back I was finally able to tear into Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Do the Work. I wasn’t disappointed. Both of these books are right up my alley, dealing with the process of actually doing things in the face of the myriad ofbarriers that prevent the doing of said things. He refers to those barriers as The Resistance.

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

Everything he says about The Resistance is incredibly familiar. In fact, I’m pretty sure that he wrote both books specifically for me. It’s all really useful thinking, but after my first read through there was one take-away that really stuck and proved the most practical of everything he writes about:

Start before you’re ready.

Don’t prepare. Begin. Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account. The enemy is Resistance. The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Begin it now.

And then, for the planners:

Research can become Resistance.

It’s probably a no brainer for most people. As for myself, I’ve become really good at making sure that everything is ready to go before getting down to business. Sometimes it’s physical noodly things like topping off my coffee or getting a new pen. Sometimes it’s some sort of bizarre pressure that I put on myself to do better work…like if I start at the right time it will be great, but starting at the wrong time will lead to absolute ruin.

Turns out that just starting will take care of all of the angst and anxieties lurking about in your head. Oh, and that actually working on things is the best way to figure them out.

It’s been really helpful for me. I highly recommend the books if you’re at all into this sort of thing. Otherwise, you may resume eye-rolling.