Removing Physical Barriers to Creating Amazing Things

Lazy Goat

A physical barrier is anything that slows you down or prevents you from creating or doing amazing things. A physical barrier can be something as simple as having to take an extra step to do something. Physical barriers can seem like minor inconveniences but they can create a lot of mental resistance.

Imagine, for example, you want to be a professional gamer (We have those here in Korea). You’re training on Wii, but you have to share the television with your roommate; they’re training on an XBox 360. Every time you want to play the Wii, you have to crawl behind the television (with the dust and spiders), unhook the Xbox and hook up the Wii. The extra steps aren’t physically difficult, but unless you’re super motivated to ‘practice,’ you might just end up watching drama.

The same could be said of a website checkout system. The less steps a customer has to take, the higher the conversion rate. Think about irritating sites that make you register just to view a forum. Most people would just look elsewhere.

Why? It’s easier.

People are lazy, and I’m no exception. Like objects in motion or at rest, we tend to take the path of least resistance.

By removing the physical barriers to our creative work and activites, it makes our lives just a little easier. We face less resistance. Here at Happenchance, I like silly formulas, so here’s a new one:

If a physical barrier = mental resistance, then less resistance= more amazing things.

Let’s have a look at some ways to remove these physical barriers and get a little more awesome.

Eliminate Setup & Startup Time

Think about how many steps you have to go through to get started on a creative project. If you have to drag your materials out of a closet, plug things in, sharpen your tools, or bribe someone, you have a physical barrier.

Someone once said a song can write and reveal its basic essence in about 15 minutes. The song isn’t finished, but when the idea comes, it comes pretty fast. For someone who occasionally writes songs, quickly and easily capturing that basic essence is an important step.

Problem: I have a recording interface for my laptop. To use it, however, I have to fire up the software, adjust the settings, and hook up the cables. By the time all that is done, I’m usually frustrated. This device works fine for recording a developed idea, but for capturing new  ideas, it fails.

Solution: I bought a cheap tape recorder. If I have a song idea, I press record and I’m good to go. Once I started doing this, I found I could get ideas down on tape twice as fast and, interestingly, I had twice as many song ideas. Now I capture the basic ideas on the tape recorder and, once they’re sufficiently developed, allot some time to record a proper acoustic demo on the interface.

If you have the space, leave your tools setup so you only have to do one or two things to get started.

Examples:

  • Writers: keep your main notebook handy, your word processor files in easy-to-find locations.
  • Visual artists: keep your materials out and ready to go.
  • Digital workers: have a good file management system, easy-to-access bookmarks, and let your browser remember passwords for the websites you frequent.
  • Finally, while this isn’t creative work, I found keeping a backpack full of camping gear & dried food ready to go made it a lot easier to go on impromptu camping trips.

Use Quality Tools

You can’t turn a screw with a plastic screwdriver, and you can’t make a decent screwdriver without quality vodka. Quality goods are cheaper than they’ve ever been, but there’s a lot of shoddy stuff out there. While sometimes using junk can yield interesting results, using the right tools helps ensure the best results.

Problem: When I was fifteen, I went to a pawnshop and bought the cheapest guitar I could find. The action (distance between strings and frets) and intonation were terrible; after a couple weeks of diligent effort, my playing still sounding like a goat choking on nails. Even though I was making the correct chord shapes, they sounded out of tune and clanky. I gave up for several months…

Solution: I eventually saved enough money for a decent guitar.  This one had good action and intonation. Once I had a quality instrument, I picked up where I left off and made a lot more progress a lot faster.

Examples:

  • Using a good pen and paper makes writing more fun.
  • Musicians should get quality gear and keep it in tip top shape.
  • If you use a computer at all, perform regular maintenance (removing temp files, defragmenting, etc).

Use Your Time Well

Time, like plutonium, is a limited resource, and like plutonium, you can use it for the purpose of world domination. Unlike plutonium, it is not a tangible, physical thing, but as long we exist in space, we exist in time. So…for our purposes time is physical.

Problem: In the past, I always wanted to write for myself, to create things besides school assignments. I told myself I would write when I had some free time, that I’d get around to it eventually. Sometimes I did, but usually other things would find ways to use my time. Over a two year period, I wrote maybe ten pages. Sad, sad, sad…

Solution: I chose a set time to write, everyday. What I wrote didn’t matter, only that I wrote crap…and write crap I did. I started small, only an hour a day. The barrier of not having enough time was eliminated. Instantly. Why? I set aside time. I knew I had to sit down and it, and the barrier of vague ‘other stuff’ was gone. I didn’t make time, the time was already there.

Not having enough time to create stuff is a common excuse problem, but the solution is straightforward: treat your own creative work like actual work. Show up on time, every time. This is the easiest way to remove the barrier of not having enough time.

If you really do have a full, Korean-student-style schedule, either shed some commitments or stop worrying and focus on what you’re already doing.

Examples:

  • Start small and set aside an hour or even a half-hour. Everyday is ideal, but two or three times a week can work.
  • Write down what you want to accomplish during this time. If you’ve got nothing specific, just plan to spend the time brainstorming.
  • Claim your time and eliminate all possibilities of interruptions. Ignore the phone. Turn off the interwebs.
  • Treat your creative time like a part-time job. This takes a while to get used to, but the payoffs are better than the lottery.

Have a Good Space

Having a good, dedicated place to create is like putting a houseplant into a bigger pot with better soil. The plant can stretch out its roots and have room to grow. Working in a shared space is like having a pot that’s too small. Yes, the plant may grow a little bit, but eventually it reaches the edges of its confines.

Your workspace is your home base, the place you keep your idea files, tools, materials, etc. Each space, of course, varies by medium. At the bare minimum, you’ll be able to setup in one or two easy physical steps.

Problem: Back in the States, my wife used to make really cool custom picture frames. She would paint the frame then, along the outside, she would glue the bottle caps. I drank the beer, she made the frames. Win-win. Here, though, our apartment is just a bit larger that a shipping container. She simply doesn’t have a space to lay out her tools and materials.

Solution: The easy solution would be another apartment, but that won’t happen until we leave Korea. We made some space on the floor, but that’s not the same; she has to get everything out and arrange them just right. Afterwards she must put things away so bottle caps don’t become glued to our feet. In this case, the solution is suboptimal.

Sometimes you have to work with the space you have. Sadly, in a place this small, there’s not much she can do. On the other hand, she has taken up knitting and cross-stitch (we have some wild Saturday nights); these  activities don’t require much space.

Examples:

  • If you need to make room, sell some stuff on craigslist. It’s like having people pay you to take your stuff away.
  • Get your own desk and keep it clear of clutter.
  • Figure out the minimum amount of space you need to do your thing.
  • Get rid of your television. You’ll have more space and more time. Leave the professional gaming to the Koreans.

Over to You:

  • What physical barriers have you eliminated to make creating easier?
  • Do you have any suggestions for my upcoming post about removing mental barriers?
  • How can you apply these ideas to other areas of life? Nutrition, exercise, education, for example?
  • Is time physical?

I’d love to hear from you.

Update: This series continues with Removing Barriers Series: How to Mange Your Inner Critic and How to Manage Fear of Failure.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Great blog post, really enjoyed it. In regards to start up time. use what ever technology you have. Your PC has a recording device even your mobile phone.
    My mobile gets used to record ideas, public lectures, training events; then when I am traveling some where espcially a long car journey I listen to the talk I’m about to give, etc.

  • Hey Roisin, thanks for stopping by. Using a mobile is a great idea; if anyone has an ubiquitous device, it’s a cell phone. I used to have a blackberry, and I used it for typing random notes.

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  • Thanks for the good ideas. I discovered that if I roll out my exercise mat the night before I get my morning situps done. If not, I often don’t. One other benefit of having previous setup is that it gets in the way of other stuff you might do instead. Since I can’t roll my desk chair out because of the mat, I tend to just do the darn situps so I can roll it up. One benefit of limited space, I guess.

    Setting a minimum daily amount of time is good too. I make it small enough that I will be successful early in the process so it grows into a habit.

    Good luck in Korea.

    Dale

  • Hey Dale, I never thought about the extra benefit of doing something just to get it out of the way, but I can see how that works.

    Yes, daily time minimums are a good idea as well, especially starting small and working your way up.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  • Edwas

    Hi there, thanks for a post.
    Have a nice day

  • Peter
      Thanks for the post.

      Three things have helped me. Getting rid of the TV was the first. My mind woke up the day I said goodbye to it. Without a TV, you have to think what to do with your leisure time. Scary.

      Mindmapping was the next. Now I’m organised, not just in planning but in actual writing. Whereas talks used to be ready an hour before the event, now they are ready to go at least a week ahead.

      Third, snow, in a country (UK) where more than a half a millimetre causes everything to grind to a halt. If everything’s closed down, there’s nothing to do but work.

      The real third is having space to leave my books, laptop and papers in situ, so that whenever I sit down, there they are waiting to be worked on.

      Biggest barrier: having interesting blogs to read, think about and reply to!!

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  • I’ve happened upon your blog via “Write to Done”, and I really appreciate what you wrote. I am a singer-songwriter, and I have a horrible time allowing myself to write “crap” as you pointed out above: “I chose a set time to write, everyday. What I wrote didn’t matter, only that I wrote crap…and write crap I did.” A major barrier for me is tolerating the musical drivel I write on the way to a good song.

    I look forward to reading more of your stuff!

  • Hello Roia, thanks for reading. You’re right that it’s tough to tolerate musical drivel, but in my opinion even the best artists produce a lot of so-so work. For me, when I give myself permission to fail and just have a little fun with things, I’m happier with the results.

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  • Veronica

    removing barriers…I had been searching for info about literally removing barriers in the brain. I found you, instead- so I’ll talk.

    my current obsession= a thing cannot be done until it is perceived. If I perceive the anger rolling off of someone, then I only need transfer the skill and refocus on another subject to perceive other things within other things…

    how to eliminate certain barriers that allow extrasensory info to pass through unfiltered???? I can do it with people, but I want to merge with the wind.

    thoughts are for thinkers. ideas are for me.love you.
    V

  • Hey Veronica,
    That’s some pretty wild stuff about merging with the wind, but your current obsession is dead on: if we can’t perceive thing a thing, we can’t do it. I forget who, but a lot of philosophers talk about the world existing only in our mind. While this doesn’t mean the physical world doesn’t exist, it does mean that, for each of us, the way the world is is the way we perceive it.

    Can we allow information in unfiltered? That’s a lot of information. For me, I think my tiny little brain would overload.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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