…and why you might care.
I grew up in a household of traditional routines. One of the routines was easting at the table — all meals — even if you ate alone. Time passed. I got a family of my own, and out went dinners at the table.
I mean, we own a table. We own a few tables.
But the table holds the laundry yet-to-be-folded, maybe a stack of books, or my son’ s iPad. The table has turned into something fancy — a place to eat only when company comes over.
Now, dinner is a free-for-all in my house. People eat on the couch. People eat standing, because — things to do, gotta keep moving. If we have family snuggle time we pile in the bed to eat, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I enjoy the way we eat. It’s cozy. We share our days. We just don’t do it around a table.
But something happened.
Recently, I made myself an omelette. I was heading into the bedroom with my plate and I stopped myself. I felt undignified, like I was about to do the food a disservice. As if the eggs wouldn’t taste as good while being eaten on a bed.
I set down my plate. I got myself a napkin, and I ate in the kitchen — alone.
Now, I get it. This story seems random as hell, but I have a point. And this story has little to do with neither beds nor omelettes. The omelette represents everything worth doing correctly. No, it wouldn’t taste different had I eaten it on the bed, but maybe it would.
We do out best work when we make hard-stop decisions about what we’re willing to accept and what we’ll ignore.
Everything we do has the opportunity for corner-cutting, laziness, or good-enough.We must make the conscious effort to improve our work one percent better than the day prior.
To improve, we create principles for ourselves — rules we’ll never break.
As creators we run into omelette problems frequently. We might get frustrated with a client and ship a project too early. Or we want to meet a deadline so we cut a few corners.
When we develop a set of principles for our work, we give ourselves a little map. It’s like a mental check-list we roll through to make sure the flaps are up and the lights are on before takeoff. If checklists are good enough for pilots and surgeons, they’re good enough for us.
Make your own list of principles:
- Develop a core list of five items that are non-negotiable (or three or nine — but not too many).
- Read this list when you wake-up in the morning and before you go to bed each night. You want these burned into your brain.
- Revisit the list often — tweak and repeat.
Principles become your core work values. Your craft and reputation are dependent upon them. When your work is consistent your audience will return repeatedly. They know to come to you for a certain experience.
We don’t ship until all our principles are met.
Ship only your best work
Now, your best work isn’t perfect work. There’s no such thing. I even have a story about the myth of perfectionism here:
Your best work is work that meets your criteria. What are your standards? How do you want to be remembered? How do you want your work to represent you?
We do the best we can, we tape the box, and we get it on the truck before we tweak our work to death. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, a speaker, a consultant, a developer, or a manufacturer — all our work needs principles behind it.
Creatives need boundaries
Do you know anyone who’s a real artsy-fartsy type? You know, the people who live in their head all the time and don’t like any rules for their work? The people who are terrible listeners:
Introverts: How to Listen Better — Instantly
Using this simple tweak, you can become a better listener, even if you live in your head
As you watch limitless people work it’s hard for them to finish anything. Without guidelines we don’t when it’s time to finish and ship. We take on too many projects at once and leave a wake of unfinished work.
Boundaries aren’t as confining as we’d think
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” we say. We don’t want boundaries. Boundaries are for suckers. Boundaries or for sheep. Boundaries are for worker-bees. We’re creators. We make the rules, not follow them. Well, I’d like to argue otherwise.
Principles will help you work smarter.
Once you develop your list, it’s easier to ship your best work. You now have a decision tree. Does your work meet all your principles? Yes — ship it. No — finish it.
Boundaries give us room within which to operate. Free-for-all makes it hard to concentrate. Your mind prefers structure for problem solving. When the boundaries are gone, we run in too many directions — like horses with an open gate.
We’ve all got our own omelette problems
Ever compromise on your principles and feel bad about it later? Ever ship something you weren’t proud of, but you did it anyway, because you wanted to hit a deadline? Ever take a shortcut? These are omelette problems.
Being a creator is hard enough.
Why not take the time to give yourself a set of principles to guide your craft? We want our audience to expect a certain level of quality — to appreciate an experience. That consistency comes from principles.
Now, I’ll still eat all kinds of food in bed, and occasionally we’ll eat at the table. But now I’ve got my hard-fast principle about omelettes. It’s a binary decision. I don’t have to think about it.
I hold principles for my writing and my daily life.
These boundaries give me more room for creative decision-making. The basics are covered. I no longer have to make one hundred simple decisions. If the criteria are met, I ship.
Now it’s your turn. What’s your omelette problem?