From time to time, everyone hits a creativity dry patch. Everyone procrastinates. Whatever the reason, it is hard to get started. It is hard to stay motivated at all times. And indeed, sometimes, this is a good thing: we need time to mature ideas before we can seriously consider applying for a grant. But often procrastination is just that, a rut.
So let me walk you through a simple technique I use when I feel stuck; when I cannot get the grant building process started.
Napkin sketches, back of the envelope calculations, little doodles can do miracles to get your creative juices flowing. These are all “low-fidelity” prototypes of your grant. In an earlier post, I described the “three-sized stickies” that allows you to start the creative design process of a grant without requiring a large time commitment. The Napkin sketches process shares the same property with three-sized stickies, you can quickly get something useful and pragmatic going.
I resort to napkin sketches quite a lot. They are, literally, rough diagrams and pictures that I used to draw in the University cafeteria when such a thing as “going to the office” was in vogue. Now that I work from home, I do not use paper napkins but still, use little pieces of scrap paper to draw on them.
What you do is simple: you pick a small piece of paper and a pen and you draw a diagram that explains the core idea that you are entertaining for your grant. Now, the important thing is to understand that you are not looking for artistic perfection, what you are after is a bare-bones picture you could use to:
1- toy with the ideas in your head and which you could
2- share with a couple of colleagues over zoom to quickly motivate a discussion around your ideas.
Because these are low-fidelity prototypes, super minimal viable products, if your ideas are no good or you get negative feedback from colleagues, you can discard them without resentment; after all, you have not spent too much effort on them.
And here is a real example of napkin sketches in all their full glory:
The details in these napkin sketches are, of course, irrelevant. What is important is that it took me only 2 minutes to put version 1 in place, another 10 to discuss it with two colleagues. Then I went back to my desk and did version 2, discussed it with two different colleagues and then converged in V3. The main change from version 1 to version 2 is that by version 2 I had a candidate title. In version 3 the title for the grant was settled. Also, note how between the first and second version more information was crammed into the napkin sketch to then be removed and simplified in version 3.
The whole process took less than 25 minutes. By the end of it, I knew exactly what I wanted my grant to be about and I knew what title I would use. Moreover, I also knew the “arch of the grant’s story”, namely, where we stood with the technology on that day and where I wanted to be when the project eventually completes several years down the line.
These crude napkin sketches became the seeds of my Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technology award.
Ultimately, how you get started is not important, what is important is that you get going. I am very curious to know what techniques do you use to beat procrastination? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment…