brief notes on process

by s.

I’m obsessed with process: what it means, what it looks like, and how it varies so wildly between projects and creators. It’s the reason that so many books about writing exist, and it’s one of the things that make the world of blogs endlessly fascinating. From big business to design to science to all manner of media, everything begins by establishing a process.

This weekend, I’ve been splitting my indoor time (which decreases in proportion with daylight’s increase) alternately getting some work-related processes in line and reading Scott Belsky’s “Making Ideas Happen”, a book so nicely organized that I’m only fifty pages in but I keep losing my place due to excitement. The book is all about the hardest part of being a creative: harnessing all of that energy and those ideas, and transforming them into actual, actionable items. The book hinges on the premise that we are all, at base, “creatives”, and what makes us so is this very need to continue the generation of ideas and act on them. This in itself becomes a new way of looking at the workday, and it frees us from having to say truly awful things about looking for people who can “think outside the box.”

Was there ever a box to begin with?

I find myself always returning to process in conversations with friends: I am interested in what they do, and I am even more interested in how they get it done. I don’t just want to know what it feels like in the hours that they sit down to create a spreadsheet, a painting, or a sandwich; I want to know about what they spent the rest of their day doing and how it contributed to the end result. (For many of us, the time we spend actively avoiding the thing we most want to be accomplishing holds a great deal of the power in our process.) I want to know at what point motivation begins, and what it looks like in execution as its momentum starts to increase and snowball towards a goal. I want to know how people organize their task lists, what their production schedules look like, what tools they find most helpful in keeping themselves anchored in their worlds. I want to know if it ever gets easier.

My favorite blogs are the ones that reveal people’s workspaces, their habits, and their frustrations. Sentences that begin “I have a chart,” or “I use this app,” or “I set aside time to,” or even “to clear my head, I…” are my favorites because what comes next seems revelatory. I wonder, sometimes, if I’m wasting my time with my own spreadsheets and workflow charts and task lists. Like my urge to grab a backpack and hike off into the wilderness, I wonder if what I really want is to disappear inside the processes of others, working to excavate the secrets of how thoughts get from their brains into the world.