Inspiration is like picking up one of those blinky things in a video game that makes you invincible for awhile. You can do anything, go anywhere, and you don’t have to worry about it.
Those blinky things exist in real life too. It may be a picture, or some words, or a sound, or a idea, or a mistake, or a moment. Whatever it is, pick it up and run with it. Run with it like you stole it.
You can’t bottle up inspiration. You can’t put it in a ziplock, toss it in the freezer, and fish it out later. It’s instantly perishable if you don’t eat it while it’s fresh.
On Friday I was inspired by a few things. I swore off the weekend and dove into it. And I got about 2 weeks of work done in 24 hours. Inspiration is a time machine.
Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.
Mattaon 23 Oct 06
Mate, agree totally. The only problem I run into is it strikes at times that really need to be family time. The wife and child don’t see my point of view when I tell them that inspiration has just slapped me in the face :)
Strange Pantson 23 Oct 06
You have captured the essence of it!
It is great to be swept away by sheer inspiration … but if you’re married (or otherwise partnered), it helps to have an understanding spouse because inspiration will not play second fiddle :)
Ryanon 23 Oct 06
I’ve learned that inspiration can come from anywhere. I used to be close-minded in that I thought for building a website, inspiration must come from other websites. That’s exactly how NOT to think. I can now find inspiration from tv commercials, buildings, scenery, photos, etc. I’m imspired by you guys and what you’ve done so far. In fact, I’m inspired right now after reading this post!
raminon 23 Oct 06
It also helps when your partner is also employed in a creative profession that requires inspiration. Then they generally will understand the need to follow through on inspiration as the same need is experienced by them.
At least it works in our household.
JoshuaRuleon 23 Oct 06
I often times change my sleep schedule to accomodate the hours that I am generally most inspired. It works especially in the Seattle winters…I come home from work at 5:30 sleep till about 9pm. then eat. people start going to bed. It is quiet and for some reason 10pm to 4am just works for me. It is just unfortunate sometimes because I have to work the next day and sometimes I can’t get back to sleep because I am so into the song or project I am working on. It however doesn’t make for a very good social life. I drop nearly everything when inspired.
Thinkworxon 23 Oct 06
Many times I have experienced the same. In the moment that inspiration hits you see the vision, it all seems so clear, it makes sense, it works. If you don’t act immeditately to capture the idea it fades, each day losing flavor. When you finally decide to act you have lost the vision and have to start from scratch.
Andrew Sutherlandon 23 Oct 06
Inspiration almost always strikes at bad times. It creates 3AM coding marathons on school nights!
Benon 23 Oct 06
So very true! I had a very similar weekend and damn it feels good!
Alexon 23 Oct 06
Hear, hear! There’s slippery inspiration too, like wet soap. The stuff that’s good, but you can’t quite get a firm grip on. It’s there in your head, but you can’t put it to practice. In my experience, anyway ;)
Deanon 23 Oct 06
“And I got about 2 weeks of work done in 24 hours”
That’s one of the daftest statements I’ve heard in a long while!
Ianus Kelleron 23 Oct 06
Very nice, this is really about what to do with inspiration.
To be inspired has to do with serendipity: the gift of stumbling upon things you weren’t looking for. And yes, you can even do research into and make tools for inspiration.
Leeon 23 Oct 06
I agree, but I have to say that if you let it take over all the time like I do, you get a lot of little things done, and at the end of the day it would have been better to push the inspiration aside and concentrate on your primary product.
that is my issue anyway, although I am lucky to be able to run with the inspiration most of the time, if I was more routine and stuck with what I should be working on I think I would be ‘further ahead’ in life.
Frozentoaston 23 Oct 06
Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth is worthwhile reading.
The following is one I definitely live by:
Coudalon 23 Oct 06
Wondering if I’m alone in this?
Sometimes when I have a pressing deadline on something. Something that I need to do but am not especially motivated to do, I find an amazing rush of energy and inspiration to do something totally different.
It’s as if the mere act if not doing the one thing, fires up the engines to do the other. It’s not a particulary efficient way to work but like Jason, I’m don’t question where the inspiration comes from, I’m just glad to have it and usually try to milk it for all it’s worth.
Tony Mon 23 Oct 06
2 weeks worth in 24 hours?
Is ‘inspiration’ some new slang for llello?
Mradon 23 Oct 06
Dude – love the analogy Jason. Being a child that grew up with Nintendo and someone who craves inspiration constantly, I can totally relate.
Tomas Breenon 23 Oct 06
I had to study for an exam last week. So the night before the exam, I retiled part of my bathroom.
So yes, I know what you mean.
Boss: “Did you do x?” Me: “Um, no. But check out how cool y looks now!”
dandanon 23 Oct 06
Anyone ever go to sleep, dream about something ace, wake up and apply it to the ‘canvas’? I’ve done that a few times to great effect.
Robby Russellon 23 Oct 06
Hmm. Perhaps your estimating skills are bad because if you’re estimating two weeks of work and can do it in one day, you’re must not generally be motivated. Also, motivation can cause an increase in performance, whereas, I would argue that inspiration promotes a feeling that can, as a result, increate your motivation.
Imagine if you got so inspired that you were able to accomplish a years worth of hard work in 3-4 weeks?
That would take quite a lot of inspiration… and motivation… and stamina.
Brad Hon 23 Oct 06
Like all the others, I can relate. However, I also find that giving yourself time to consider those late night strayings of the mind is beneficial. For me, the light of day can help to bring coherence to the wonderful madness of the night. (Aside : I also have a wife who usually prompts me to ‘be reasonable’ when 2:30 or 3:00 AM rolls around :) ).
innonateon 23 Oct 06
I get a lot of work done in my towel because for some reason the shower “showers” me with inspiration, and when I get out I get straight to work. A few hours later I look at myself and realize I need to get dressed.
Gesenon 23 Oct 06
I almost get tears in my eyes, Jason. Very beautiful written… :)
Iain Farrellon 23 Oct 06
Interestingly enough a conversation with a friend of mine on Friday night put me in a frame of mind that meant that when I came home and watched the 37 signals video on the pro section of apple.com I was inspired to stay up into the wee hours thinking up ideas for my work, chosen discipline and career.
You guys look like you have a great job. It’s great to see people talking about what it is that gets them going.
matiason 23 Oct 06
I couldn’t have said it better than this…
Inspiration puts you on fire. You have to live it to understand it.
Thanks for an inspired post, Jason.
Rajivon 23 Oct 06
Beautiful. Thanks for the magic.
Erica Gon 23 Oct 06
The reason inspiration often strikes in the shower, late at night, etc., is that one of the things that feeds inspiration is downtime – time where we are given permission to be reflective. I often come up with solutions to sticky problems at work or in my outside projects while I’m washing the dishes, or walking to work, or waiting for a bus. Modern workspaces need to figure out ways to give employees more downtime/uninterrupted time to allow for the strike of inspiration – and for the mad scramble of pursuing the inspiration that must follow.
[Corollary: it would be sweet if someone would invent a cheap and easy to use mobile voicemail where, when I get that sort of brainstorm while walking, I can dial with my cell, talk as long as I need (critical improvement on existing options), and then have not only my voice call as a sound file in my inbox when I get home, but also an auto-transcript so that (even if there are some mistakes), I can get the general gist by glancing at an email and not have to listen again to my rambling unless I decide I need to. Please someone invent this and, even better, add it to an existing productivity suite…]
I envy everyone who has the flexibility in their work life to follow inspiration as it comes. Most of us don’t, even if the places we work for would be far better off if we did.
David W.on 23 Oct 06
I’ve found there are a few levels of inspiration. There’s the kind that allows you to really focus and be able to tune everything out while you solve a problem or do a project. Then there’s the kind where you suddenly see a new solution to a problem, and you’re able to replace three days of work with 30 minutes of code.
The best though, is that kind of magical inspiration you’re talking about. You’re totally in your groove, and can suddenly finish an entire project in one day. My record is a project I estimated 50 hours for, accomplished in 8. That was my best work day ever.
Don Schenckon 23 Oct 06
“Two weeks in 24 hours …”
To all those who are nit-picking this statement (and, I might add, you might want to look up the definition of a ‘nit’) ... let me say (write?) to Jason:
That’ll learn ya to use a figure of speech, or hyperbole!
Best to leave the hype to me; I’m the Best Ever at it!
Leeon 23 Oct 06
Coudal, happens all the time! Glad I am not the only one :) Wonder if there is a way to get over this because it is quite inconvenient at times.
Matt Cooperon 24 Oct 06
Nicely put Sir! I totally agree!
Alex Bunardzicon 24 Oct 06
This is a very good post, Jason. Pointing to something very significant.
I believe strongly in what you’ve described here. I know for a fact that a couple of hours of inspired work can outperform weeks of ho-hum work.
It would be foolish to approach this in a flatliner manner, and extrapolate linearly. Like, ‘if 2 hours of inspired work outperform several weeks of doldrum work, then two months of inspired work will outperform two decades of doldrum work’ and so on.
Inspiration is something you cannot summon at will. As such, it cannot figure in your yearly budget. If it happens, magnificent, if not, business as usual.
On the side note, I think Jason is slowly but surely approaching the heights of Kathy Sierra in these recent posts. I’m amazed at the level of maturity and insight he can dish out.
I will conclude this rant with an anecdote: my wife is a legendary technophobe (being an artist and a very pragmatic woman). She simply cannot stand computers, and can only be seen sitting at her iMac, and even that for very short periods of time. She is very intolerant toward anything high tech.
I, on the other hand, like to capitalize on that situation. So I always use my wife as a final arbiter in any endeavor I’m engrossed in. Of course, goes without saying that nine out of ten times she will tell me that the product I’m working on sucks. But that’s what’s so good about sleeping with a technophobe:)
Anyway, to cut the long story short, I made her watch Jason’s screencast for the Basecamp, and that was pretty much the only time she ever gave thumbs up to any high tech product!
So Jason, in my book, you’re something close to a genius!
Phil Willison 25 Oct 06
Those few paragraphs alone are inspirational.
You’re right though – the inspiration expiration is a problem. You have to use it or lose it.
I’ve printed it and mounted it on the wall.
MrBreadon 25 Oct 06
I know that feeling, and you put it beautifully. I’m going to print that out and put in my diary/scrapbook (where I cut out ads/photos/horoscopes and things that, ahem inspired me).
On the topic of where we find inspiration:
Sometimes I’ll stare at a problem for hours, not seeing a good way around it, and then someone else will walk over and ask why I look like my head hurts. Oftentimes, just talking about it for a minute helps me see the options better, and then Bam I get that flash where I realize what the answer is. I keep a pen in my back pocket so when those moments hit I don’t have to scramble for something to jot it down with.
Of course, then folks give me crap for writing on my arm.
Mike Gowenon 25 Oct 06
This reminds of me of something I was discussing the other day.
When some designers begin a project, they can see the end product like a photo in their heads…and they simply transfer that to the screen. I usually see a very spotty and splotchy image, and I end up spending most of my time trying to “discover” what it is I am seeing. I know I’ll see it when I hit it, but I’m not sure how to get there.
BUT…there is one time that I see designs clearly and consistently…and that time is the point right before I fall asleep, but am still conscious. I’ve always wondered why. My recent conclusion was that this is the only time I am truly focussed on the task. There is no outside stimuli…just me and that thought. I wonder if there is a way to achieve that state without falling asleep at my desk :)
Phil Willison 26 Oct 06
One thing that just struck me.
I hear and understand the people who raised the valid point of what happens when inspiration strikes but you have family or personal commitments.
Best counter to that is to be available to them (um, do I really have to spell it out: GO HOME EARLY!) when you’re NOT inspired.
Why bang your head against a wall?
If I’m not inspired, I just turn up at 9am, leave at 5pm and I do not feel guilty at all.
That way I haven’t burnt all my emotional bridges with the people that matter in my life for being work-centered (or self-centered) for a few days of energetic activity.
Now when the muse speaks – that’s a whole different story …
Amandaon 26 Oct 06
I suddenly felt a rush of gratitude in being lucky enough to understand - and relate to - this topic. While those times of being completely UNinspired can make you feel lower than low, those magical instances of enlightenment will always inevitably make you thankful for the creative juices that you were fortunate enough to be born with.
Because, who wouldn’t get addicted to the intense satisfaction of looking back upon one’s own creation and thinking, “Wow. I made that.”
This discussion is closed.