Tag Archives: austinkleon

If your outputs aren’t great, look at your inputs


Are your outputs bad lately? Do you find your work is not up to the same grade they used to come up to? Are you finding yourself struggling to maintain good relationships with others? Maybe you find you aren’t taking care of yourself the way you used to? If your outputs are not great lately, I recommend you look at your inputs.

Simply put, if you have bad inputs, you will have bad outputs. Anyone who runs a well run machine will tell you that. It’s also true for you.

First of all, you are living in a pandemic in the middle of winter as I write that. Some of us are in a lockdown.  Just that alone is one big bad input into every day. Part of your pandemic life may be that you don’t get to see and meet people who at one time would give you a lot of positive input. A deficit of good inputs can be as  bad as a surfeit of bad inputs.  If you find you aren’t sleeping properly, or eating properly, or doing other things to take care of yourself, then those too are bad inputs.

Some of us can do well with even meagre inputs. But few can thrive that way. If you want to do better, you need to improve your good inputs and reduce your bad inputs. To do that,  I want to point you to this piece I wrote about it some time ago: Motivational Jiu-Jitsu: Staying Positive in the Face of Negativity & Indifference – Adobe 99U

There’s some inputs you can’t change. But you can tune some of them out, just like you can amplify some of your good inputs. If you do, I can assure you that you’ll get better outputs.

P.S. For more on the importantance of inputs on outputs, see: Austin Kleon – Posts tagged \’input and output\’

(Photo by Pete Nuij on Unsplash)

If you are afraid to draw, blind contour drawing is a good way to start

There are several benefits of blind contour drawing:

  1. if you are afraid you can’t draw “well”, then use blind contour drawing. Chances are it won’t look like the thing you are drawing, and that’s ok. But you will learn and get better at drawing.
  2. it is a good way to be mindful. If you are focused on doing a blind contour drawing, it’s hard to think of anything else
  3. It’s a good way to shake off your bad habits that you may have picked up.

Here’s some good links to help you learn more about it:

(Image is a link to the Austin Kleon post)

On John Baldessari

John Baldessari passed away recently.  He was one of my favourite artists from the post World War II era. Here’s two traditional write ups on him from the leading papers of our day:

  • John Baldessari on his giant emoji paintings: ‘I just wondered what they’d look like large’  The Guardian
  • John Baldessari, Who Gave Conceptual Art a Dose of Wit, Is Dead at 88 –The New York Times

They are fine. However, I found what helped me reappreciate him was this piece: A brief appreciation of John Baldessari by Austin Kleon. It’s a short piece, but I came away from it with a better appreciate of Baldessari than I did from the other two.

Finally there is this interview in Interview magazine where he speaks with the artist (and former student) David Salle. Well worth reading.

Why you should point at things on the Internet (and elsewhere)

A person pointing at a painting

If you are stuck at creating things, find something worth pointing at and create something about it. For example:

  • if you see something interesting, take a picture of it and post it somewhere
  • if you have a favourite song, sing it for someone
  • if you have a favourite food, make it for someone
  • if you have an interesting place or person or idea and you think others should know, write about it

You get the idea.  I have been mulling this idea over since I read this: Pointing at things – Austin Kleon. 

The format of my blog since the beginning has been to point at things by writing about them. I’d estimate over 90% of my posts are me pointing at other parts of the Internet and saying why they are interesting. Even this post is about pointing at someone else’s post about pointing at things.

Pointing at things is an old tradition of the Internet. There is far too much information on it and often the only way of finding something useful is for someone to point it out. The best pointers often garner the most attention.

I hadn’t thought before to apply the idea of pointing to other creative forms. I somewhat do that on Instagram. Now I want to try and do it elsewhere.

Start pointing at things! Then tell people why you are. Everyone will benefit.

(Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash)

The arc of every long project and what you need to keep it mind

 

This chart came from John Hendrix.  It is much like the Gartner Hype Cycle but with some key differentiators.

At the beginning of John’s curve you get an idea and as you imagine it more and more, the idea may get better and better.  You get excited about it. By the time you are about to start, you can imagine how great it will turn out. But it is only an idea still.

Then you start the project. As you progress, the idea goes from being Great to Good to Ok to Horrid. At some point you enter The Pit of Despair (or as Gartner calls it, The Trough of Disillusionment). This is the low point of the project. Like John says: a) you want to give up b) this is normal. Think of it as the first draft of something.

How do you get out of the pit? By applying yourself. By sticking to it. Slowly it gets better. It goes from Horrid to Ok to Good. It may even get to Great.  What will happen for sure is that it will Suck Less. (A concept I learned from Austin Kleon.)

When you have finished the project,  you may notice two things. One, it is different than how you imagined it. Two there is still a gap between what you had hoped for or imagined and what you had accomplished. It’s important here to acknowledge that and also acknowledge how far you’ve come and how good it is.

John’s chart is for art projects, but it can be applied to fitness projects, IT projects, home improvement projects….you name it.

It’s February. A great month. Here’s why

I used to think February was a terrible month. In Canada it is one of the coldest and darkest parts of the year. By the time you get to this month, you’ve already been slogging through months of winter. The joy of Christmas and the New Year has worn off. February is bleak.

Now I think February is a great month. It’s a good month to make resolutions and challenge yourself. It’s a good month to get things done indoors. And it’s a good month to get ready for spring.

If you have to make resolutions or challenges for yourself, make them in February, not January. The latter has 31 days, the former at worst has 29. So if you are trying to exercise every day for a month or not drink for a month or…whatever….you have less days to get to your accomplishment. You will still have a sense of accomplishment and you will have an easier time accomplishing things.

In the cold northern hemisphere, you are likely spending more time indoors, so do some excellent indoor things. Why not take that time and start a new hobby? Or purge your closet/basement/attic of stuff you always wanted to get rid of? Or lie down and binge watch that show you always have been planning to binge watch? Soon Spring is coming and you will want to get outside. Now is the time to tackle all that.

Once you have done your indoor tasks, plan to do your outdoor activities. If you are going to do gardening in the spring, figure out how to do that in February. If you want to get a bike to do cycling in spring, start researching where to get the best bike before March comes. Whatever you want to do in spring, start thinking and planning for it now before it’s too late.

For more on why February is a great month, see this: February resolutions – Austin Kleon

(Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash)

Instead of trying to be great, try to suck less


Yesterday I wrote about building up a new habit. Some habits do not require you to gain new skills (e.g. eat more fruit, walk every day). Some habits do (e.g. learning to code, draw, run a 10K). When you first try to build up new habits in those areas, you are going to suck. Your code will suck, your drawings will look like crap, your running might be difficult and painful. To deal with this, you need to do two things.

One thing is to make your goal to suck less in the time to build up your new habit. If you are drawing every day, don’t worry if it sucks. Aim to suck less than the last day. To do that, you will need to do two things:

  1. pay attention to where your new habit sucks and make some notes on where they suck
  2. research how to make such suckage go away
  3. apply what you learned from your research

If you are learning to run and it is hard, research how to make it easier. Maybe you need to stretch more, maybe you need to vary your routine, maybe you need to just cut yourself some slack. If you are learning to draw, maybe you need to draw different things, or maybe you need to draw the same thing every day, or maybe you need better media. You get the idea.

For more good advice on this, see this post by Austin Kleon. In that post you can get a PDF of the calendar pictured above if you need a way to track your progress to less suckage.

And what happens if you keep working on sucking less? Eventually you will find you don’t suck at all. (Or if you do think you suck, everyone else will think you are good and wonder why you think that. :))

On recording (why you should think about it differently, why you should resolve to do it)

Recording. Record. To me those words bring up images of black vinyl disks to play music. Records are great, but there is so much more to making a recording.

A recording can be anything, on any media. All the photos you take on your phone and store on Instagram are a recording. All the receipts you collect in a box are a recording too: a recording of what you spent and where you spent it. Last year I wrote down all the dinners I had since the start of the pandemic: it too is a recording.

For 2021, a good resolution is to record some part of your life. Do it in a way that is easy to do regularly. Do it such that there is enough information to look at it later. Some of my recordings this year were terrible: books I read, runs I went on. Others were strong: things I enjoyed despite the pandemic, politicians I wrote, friends I kept in contact with.

Some people like to use paper for this. Austin Kleon, a master of recording, outlines his process here: The year in notebooks. As he says

If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution, keeping a daily notebook is a pretty solid one.

On the other hand, if you are a digital person like me, use a simple tool like SimpleNote or Evernote or just your smartphone camera to record that part of your life. Whatever tool works best for you is the best tool.

It doesn’t have to be a diary or journal format. It can be a log of the best thing that happened each day. Or the funniest thing that happened that week.  Or the weather. Just record something, even if it is a few words.

There’s a number of benefits to making these recordings. If you do it well, at the end of your year you may be able to build up a list like this: 100 things that made my year (2020) – Austin Kleon. Even if your list is smaller, what you may get out of such a list is a recording of what makes your life worth living and what made things worthwhile during times when perhaps things weren’t that great.

Later, as you go through it again, your memory will fire up and you may recall other good moments not captured on paper or computer but still there. That’s another great thing about recording things: it helps you remember so much more.

Your life has value and meaning. Recordings help show that. So get making them.

(Photos by Photo by Samantha Lam  (top) and  by Markus Winkler  (bottom) on Unsplash)

On being moderately gifted, and the pain and pleasure that brings


This piece by Austin Kleon on being moderately gifted got me re-thinking this idea he discusses.

I say re-thinking because it is something I have thought about since I was a young man. Back then I was getting into  jazz (as one does) and someone told me: the problem with being a jazz musician is your new album is always competing with the albums of Armstrong and Fitzgerald and Davis and Coltrane and Simone. People putting out pop music don’t have to worry about that. It’s tough to be moderately gifted in jazz, I thought, for you are always competing with the best. But in pop music, you are usually competing with the now. There’s more room to get by being moderately gifted. (Especially in the era I grew up when three chords was all you needed.)

If you have a creative spirit but moderate talents, it is easy to get dispirited and put your tools away. You will never be great you say, why bother? But I think the answer comes from looking at pop music. You may never be great, but you can enjoy putting in play whatever talent you do have. Maybe you can only paint flowers, or knit scarfs, or bake brownies. Do it with gusto! Do it like a punk rocker pounding away on his guitar with the 3 chords he knows! You might never be great, but in the moment, you are living large and the audience at the time is loving it. That’s enough. And enough is as good as a feast.

Perhaps you will go on to greatness. Whether you do or not, shine on as brightly as you can. Not all of us can be the sun, but sometimes being a campfire is fine.

Three sets of rules to help guide you

  1. Marcus Aurelius: 3 Rules For Life – Darius Foroux: a good set of rules to govern your life. Stoics and stoic wannabes, take note.
  2. Wells’s Rules, annotated – Macleans.ca: a good set of rules on governance. These are aimed at Canadian politics, but really can apply anywhere.
  3. A very simple rule – Austin Kleon: finally one simple rule which is where the top image comes from

The first thing on your todo list this week? Deciding what you are looking forward to

You are putting your todo list together for the day, the week, who knows…but it likely has a quite a few things for you to get through. Now make another list of things you are looking forward to. It could be taking a coffee break. It could be going for a walk and admiring the leaves. Or catching up with a loved one. Perhaps doing something creative, like knitting or painting or making a nice meal. Whatever these things are, make sure you list them and strive for them. Because life is harder if you don’t have things to look forward to.

I thought of this often recently. I would look at my todo list and feel unproductive. Then I started approaching it from the viewpoint of what I will look forward to once I start and finish the tasks. I’d think: what positive things can I look forward to as a result of doing this? The more I thought this way, the more I found it easier to get things done.

Try it: you might find you get more done too, the more you look forward to things.

For more on this topic, see this: Something to look forward to – Austin Kleon

P.S. When the thing you are looking forward to happens, make sure you really take the time to appreciate it. For example, there was a messy part of my house I recently cleaned. I was really looking forward to it looking good again. Now it does, I take the time every day to appreciate it. I now find anticipating fixing up more of the house so I can enjoy that same feeling of satisfaction. You will too!

(Photo by Alexis Fauvet on Unsplash)

On how care leads to love and how it relates to having more by having less

I have been thinking of this post by Austin Kleon, how caring for something leads us to love it, which leads us to care for it more. I think this is true. It’s a virtuous circle.

I have found this myself during the pandemic, when I purchased house plants with the expectation that they wouldn’t live long. I was wrong: because I was around them more, it was easier to care for them, and because I cared for them, they have thrived, and I loved them more and have cared for them more. Now I have more plants than I ever did before.

It’s tempting to try to stretch this virtuous circle, and you can, to a point. The limiting factor is your ability to pay attention and the needs of the things you are caring for. If you have something or someone that requires much attention and care, you can’t have multiples of those things without exhausting yourself. You need to strike a balance.

To strike that balance, you need the right level of things to care for. Chances are, you have too many things that requires your care. I think you and I need to find the right level and pare down the rest.  Give those things to people who need things to care for. By doing so, you end up caring for and loving yourself. You are the root of all this love and care you are providing. Take care of the root, and the love and care you have for other things and beings can branch out and spread.

P.S. If you are having a hard time paring down, take the advice of either Marie Kondo (keep only things that spark joy) or William Morris (see below)

(Imagine via mylightbag.wordpress.com)

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February is the best month to make resolutions


Why? Because as Austin Kleon points out, it is the shortest month. Even this year, when we have a leap year.

It’s also a better month to go to the gym, because all the people who made resolutions have dropped off.

In the northern hemisphere it’s cold and dark, which makes it a perfect time to resolve to read more.

If you want to diet or not drink or not smoke for a month, why not pick the shortest month.

And hey, if you need a calendar to keep track of how well you are doing, go here: 29-day challenge – Austin Kleon.

Good luck!

P.S. You get an extra day  this year, and it falls on a weekend! Use it to do something you don’t normally have time for!

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Checking in with death

If this sounds morbid and unappealing, I recommend you overcome that and give it a read: Checking in with death – Austin Kleon.

Checking in with death lets you live better. If you are into mindfulness or dealing with mental health issues or just want to appreciate life more, I recommend checking in with death.

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It’s 2019. Should you start a blog?


This article makes the case: Why You Should Start A Blog In 2019. Austin Kleon backs that up, here.

If you do certain things on a regular basis, you should blog. For example:

  • If you contribute to twitter on a regular basis, then you should consider blogging. All those tweets will be lost: your blog posts won’t.
  • If you discover new ways to do things, blogging is a way for other people to find it
  • If you want to demonstrate your expertise, a blog is one way to do that
  • If you want to keep a historical record of parts of your life, blogging is a good way to do it
  • If you find good things on the web and you want to track and comment on them, write that up in a blog post
  • If you find yourself sharing the same information with others regularly, write a piece on your blog and then point people to it
  • If you want to improve your writing, blogging is one way to do that

Forget about becoming famous or having a million viewers or getting rich. Just start simply and write what matters to you. Get a blog.

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Advice to young (and not so young) artists. (We are all artists in some way)


Here are two good pieces full of advice for artists.

One big: Advice to Young Aspiring Artists from Patti Smith, David Byrne & Marina Abramović | Open Culture

One small: None of us know what will happen – Austin Kleon

Key quote from the Austin Kleon piece is this, from Laurie Anderson:

The world may end. You’re right. But that’s not a reason to be scared. None of us know what will happen. Don’t spend time worrying about it. Make the most beautiful thing you can. Try to do that every day. That’s it. You know? What are you working for, posterity? We don’t know if there is any posterity.

(Image from pexels.com)

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When to think about your life, and when not to

There are times to think about your life, and times not to. Austin Kleon has a very simple rule to help him decide:

I have a very simple rule that serves me well: Don’t think too much about your life after dinnertime. Thinking too much at the end of the day is a recipe for despair. Everything looks better in the light of the morning. Cliché, maybe, but it works.

I first agreed with this. Afterwards, I concluded it depends on each individual. For me, I found a good time to think about my life was between midnight and two. It’s quiet then, I am tired but also relaxed. There’s no distractions, nothing else left to do but sleep. If I accomplished things in the daytime, it was especially good to think about what’s next in my life. Likewise if I had a good weekend, the best time to think about my life is Monday morning: I’m rested, energized, and feeling I can get a lot done during the week.

I found the time to not think about my life was any time I am really tired or sick or having a very bad day. Then the goal is not to reflect but to recover.

If anything, my rule is: if I need to recover, then I should not be reflecting.

I think we should all find times to reflect upon our lives and assess ourselves and where we’re heading. We just need to find the right times to do it, and do it then. And find the wrong times to do it and not do it then.

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In praise of composition notebooks


They’re as basic as notebooks get, and cheap to boot. But as you can see from
via Austin Kleon’s Tumblr, some great artists have done fine things with them.

Go to a stationery shop or dollar store and get yourself one or two or more and get creating.

Do you find yourself on your phone too much? Here’s a trick to help stop that

I find myself on my smartphone too much. It’s too easy to fall into that trap, and afterwards I wish I did something else instead. Did something useful. Or made something beautiful. Austin Kleon feels the same way, based on this post of his: Read a book instead. He made a screen lock for his phone to remind him to read a book and get off his phone.

I decided I wanted something similar. In my case, I found a photo I liked and used the Over app on my iPhone to create this:

test

I then saved it as my LockScreen. Now when I pick up the phone to start doing something mindless, the phone reminds me to do something better.

You can do the same thing yourself. You don’t even need an app or drawing skills. Write a reminder on a piece of paper and then take a photo of it with your phone and save it as your Lock Screen. It could be just the nudge you need.

Thanks for reading this. I hope you found it useful. If you did, then time spent doing it instead of playing with stuff on my phone was worthwhile.