Tomago House #3: Focus.
Hello from the past! I'm writing this post on the first week of February while Toronto is in the midst of a polar vortex. However, since I like to have about a month's worth of buffer for my posts, by the time you read this newsletter it will be the beginning of March where hopefully the weather is nicer and the days don't end at 5PM.
I want to talk a little about time as it relates to work and focus because, to my own surprise, I've grown very specific with dates and time in recent years. As you can tell from my last post when Leo ate my planner, I kind of lose my mind a bit when I lose the structure of a schedule.
I've always been quite an unstructured person and I think this is still my natural state if left to my own devices. One of my favorite things to do with my time off is to just wander around looking at things at random without any regard for time.
Unfortunately, my natural tendencies aren't really suitable for the freelance life where survival and success usually depends on some self imposed rules and structure. In the past I would just brute force the problem by working a billion hours every time I sit down at my desk but that's sort of the opposite of time management. The "crunch time" mentality works in short bursts or during emergencies but it's not sustainable.
Over the last several years I've tried to develop several habits to help me find a better work/life balance. None are ground breaking but I've found the following to be quite helpful:
Use A Timer.
This is a pretty simple one. Everybody's probably pretty familiar with the Pomodoro technique where you set a 25 minute timer and work uninterrupted before taking a break for 5 minutes and repeating the process. I also like using this approach because I've found that when I press "start" on the timer, my mind naturally tends to quiet down and I'm ready to get to work.
I tend to adjust the length of my work period according to the work on hand. Sometimes when I have a lot on my plate, I'll set the timer for 55 minutes before taking a break but on normal days (or when I'm tackling something I find extremely difficult to do), the 25 minute limit breaks it up to more digestable chunks.
Take Scheduled Breaks.
I'm pretty bad at this. I tend to just continue working past the timer and ignoring my break time. Unfortunately, this often leads to me just spinning my wheels and not actually making any progress at the task at hand.
Taking a break provides you with a new perspective when you return to work. So much of drawing and writing comics amounts to problem solving and there's times where you're just beating your head against the wall because you can't see the forest through the trees (or vice versa). Taking a break can provide you with fresh eyes and often the solution to a difficult task is easily solved with some lateral thinking.
Secondly, and more importantly, it allows you the opportunity to replenish your focus and attention. Creative work can be hard on the mind and body, so be good to yourself, get up from your desk and and step outside and look at some trees (or some buildings, people... anything other than your monitor).
Like I said, I'm pretty terrible at this. While writing this newsletter, I ignored my break timer and kept on going until I had to help put away the groceries.... womp womp...
Value your work time.
One of the things I've learned in recent years is that focus isn't really a matter of willpower. So much of our ability to focus is reliant on other factors in our lives(ie. sleep, excercise, diet, mental health).
Focus is a limited resource and we only have so much of it per day, so when it's time to work value your work time.
Turn off that podcast, close all your browsers, hang up the phone, turn off the television and just focus on what you're doing because otherwise you're just wasting your limited and valuable mental energy. You only have so much focus each day, don't throw it away by splitting your attention across multiple simultaneous distractions.
This was quite a late revelation for me. I watched all of Mad Men while working but I didn't enjoy any of it nor the work I was working on because I was splitting my attention.
None of these tips are particularly earth shattering. In fact now that I've written this post, they seem quite banal. But considering how common sense they are, they did have an outsized effect on both the quality of my work as well as the quality of my life.
Hopefully they'll be of some use to you as well.
Bits and Bobs, Odds and Ends.
Some random things I've been into as of late:
If you've been following my SUPER TOMAGO newsletter, you'll know that I've been working on a pitch for a mech comic. Unfortunately, I don't know how to draw mechs so to educate myself I've been building Gundam model kits (also known as "Gunpla"). I've been so impressed by the engineering of these model kits... and might even prefer it to LEGO?
The Last of Us TV show.
The age of terrible video game adaptations is over. I've been really enjoying HBO's take on "The Last of Us" and dare I say, it might actually be better than the source material? Of course it doesn't hurt that Neil Druckmann, the game's creator, is steering the ship with Chernobyl's Craig Mazin.
By the way, I still haven't watched Chernobyl despite it being on my list for years. Should I watch? I'm a little afraid to, it seems super sad and stressful.
I don't have much time for games these days but I picked up Deathloop a while back and I've been digging the weird 60's aesthetic of Arkane's recursive time loop shooter. I think some of the breathless hype surrounding it during launch was a bit overblown but I'm still having a fantastic time. I doubt I'll finish the game though, I very rarely do.
Francis's Youtube Channel.
My studio mate, writer/artist Francis Manapul (you might know him from such indie hits like... Superman, Batman, Justice League, and the Flash), has a pretty swell Youtube channel where he shares some great tips about making comics and the creative life in general. It's kind of the slick, high-end version of this newsletter. I highly recommend a watch!
That's it for this week. See you next time!