I recently finished Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work. I thoroughly enjoyed this short read and I’d highly recommend it for instructional designers and developers who are looking to gain a voice and a presence in their organizations or even in the larger industry. Two of the final ideas I wanted to discuss was the idea about chain smoking and going away. In the later chapters, Austin introduces these two opposite but interconnected concepts, Chain-Smoking and Go Away so You Can Come Back. Chain-Smoking is about continuously feeding your maker-brain by finding the gaps, the what-ifs, and the weak points in the work you just finished to launch you into a new project.
Whenever I do a post-mortem of a project here on the blog, I usually cover lessons learned and things I would improve about the design or the process. Austin recommends turning those things into your next project. I haven’t really worked in this way previously; instead, I have a Trello list of projects, but I think it’s really interesting and I wonder what it might look like for an instructional designer. I think, for us, instead of being a content chain, it would more likely be an process or tool exploration chain. For example, if I did a game design in one tool and I noticed some gaps, I might want to continue to explore those weaknesses by developing a game in another tool. I can see that as being extraordinarily useful at work, as well. If I designed a synchronous online course and I noticed some weaknesses or issues, I would definitely want to take time to expose those and focus trying to mitigate or fix them in the next synchronous course. The sister-idea to Chain-Smoking is Go Away so You can Come Back. I loved that he put these next to each other. As I’ve explored here before, as much as I love to make stuff and encourage people to do the same, on a consistent basis, it can be tiring. There’s also the opportunity cost involved. If I spend my weekends working on a project, that’s time I’m not spending going outside or reading books, or doing other things that I enjoy and can help me learn new things and discover new ideas to synthesize. So there’s definitely a balance that is incredibly difficult but really important to figure out. You may have seen the great TED talk from Stefan Sagmeister on his year-long sabbaticals.
While most of us can’t afford to do that, Austin suggests an alternative:
[W]e can all take practical sabbaticals—daily, weekly, or monthly breaks where we walk away from our work completely.
– Austin Kleon, Show Your Work
That’s really sound advice I think to help most people continue to make, keep up the momentum of consistency, but also take much needed breaks to rest and refresh. I experience this need from time to time, especially when performing my day job means taking work home with me. It’s easy to feel guilty sometimes, like I should always be doing something but I know myself well enough to know when burnout is approaching. It really is best to just walk away every so often. I’m still learning to balance that with a desire to be someone who finishes things.