For most of us, hacking is a hobby, something to pass a few idle hours and satisfy our need to create. Precious few of us get to live the dream of being paid to tinker; most of us need some kind of day job to pay the bills and support our hacking habits. This necessarily creates an essential conflict, rooted in the fact that we all only have 24 hours to spread around every day: I need to spend my time working so I can afford to hack, but the time I spend working to earn money eats away at my hacking time. That’s some catch, that Catch-22.
From that primary conflict emerges another one. Hacking is a hugely creative process, and while the artist or the author might not see it that way, it’s true nonetheless. Unless we’re straight-up copying someone else’s work, either because they’ve already solved the same problem we’re working on and we just need to get it done, or perhaps we’re just learning a new skill and want to stick to the script, chances are pretty good that we’re hitting the creative juices hard when we build something new. And that requires something perhaps even more limiting than time: inspiration. How you manage inspiration in large part dictates how productive you are in your creative pursuits.
Creative inspiration is often described in terms like, “A bolt out of the blue,” or as a “spark” or “flame.” There’s good reason for that: that’s exactly what it feels like when it hits you. In an instant, you see the solution to something you’ve been puzzling over, or the idea for something that could change the world hits you. If you’re anything like me, there are two times when this is most likely to occur: in the shower, and while driving. Perhaps it’s the soothing white noise, or maybe the monotony of a daily routine is the blame. But if I’m going to have an idea, chances are good it’ll be when I’m either soaking wet or trying to stay alive on the highway.
The point is, inspiration generally strikes when we’re least prepared to do anything about it. It’s tough to scribble a short note when you’re in the shower or in traffic, or even when you let your mind wander in yet another pointless meeting at work. There are tools to help with that, of course, ranging from simple mnemonic devices to help you remember to write your idea down later to a shouted, “OK, Google,” or “Hey Siri,” if you care to share your big idea with the interwebz. But assuming you get your idea written down somehow, how many times will you actually be in a position to do anything about it right then and there?
For most of us, the answer to that is: approximately never. If we’re lucky, we’ll get the idea written down before it evaporates, and it’ll become yet another entry in our notebook or journal to be dealt with later. If we’re really lucky, inspiration and free time will sync up with that other limiting factor — materials — and we’ll get a few components plugged into a breadboard or some stock cut up and tack welded together before we get tugged away to address some other needful thing. That’s what makes your bench look like mine — a sort of limbo for projects started but never finished. But very few of us ever seem to have that confluence of factors that allows us to go from idea to completed project seamlessly.
This was not intended to be a catalog of my unfinished projects, or even a litany of our community’s collective failures with time management. It’s to hear from you on this matter. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned during the time I’ve been privileged enough to write for Hackaday, it’s that our community has a lot to say about virtually everything. And I also know we have people who have been doing this kind of stuff forever. Someone out there is winning the race between time and inspiration, and we’d love for them to share a few tips that might help the rest of us.
But we don’t want to just hear from the rock stars, of course. Everyone has tips and tricks for managing their time, and we’d love to hear from them too. What are your experiences with syncing up time and inspiration? Do you have some organizational tips for the rest of us? Perhaps a unique and clever way to take notes? Or maybe you’ve found a way to actually schedule inspiration. We’d love to hear about that. Or maybe your secret is being retired and having a really well-stocked parts bin. Whatever it is, let us know how you achieve balance — or not — between time and inspiration in you hacking life in the comments below.
Thanks to [Jon] for the inspiration for this article. See what I did there?