Shop Talk: Only pack what you need when working remotely if you want to get shit done.


Only bring exactly what you need, not what you might want.

I like to work away from the studio as much as possible. It gets me out of any creative rut and in New York, there are countless places to plonk yourself down and get stuck into a job without distraction.

The only problem is, to work remotely, you need to pack a bag with not just things you’ll need for the job that needs doing, but things you MIGHT need just in case. You know, like that book you’ve been meaning to read, and that magazine you saw the article in, and your iPad, Oh, and the legal documents you’ve been meaning to read through. Yes, maybe now will be the time you get the time and focus to read those. OH! And make sure you bring a whole range of pens, pencils, brushes and watercolours just in case you need all of them. You never know. OH! And make sure you pack that digital drawing tablet. And the charging cable. And the cables for the laptop to connect to the tablet. Oh, and the different kinds of stylus. Just in case.

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Packing everything for every possible contingency of what your brain might feel like doing is not recommended. In fact, even having a bag/tote/backpack can interfere with completing your task.


The Tyranny of Choice.

By having everything in your backpack, it means you could do an infinite number of different things you’ve been meaning to get to, just in case you feel in the mood. With endless choice comes crippling uncertainty, and inevitably, you, hanging out in Starbucks, scrolling through your Instagram feed, liking photos of pugs holding bottles of wine… I mean… procrastinating.

Simplicity breeds productivity.

If the job really only requires you to bring a sketchbook, a pen and a phone (to scan it in.) then just bring a sketchbook, a pen and a phone. That’s it. Don’t even bring a bag. Carry the things so they’re the only thing you’ll be doing while you’re out. It helps you focus, and it stops you from potentially returning home frustrated that you wasted another day and got nothing done.

Back in 2010, there was a trend in the minimalism community of photographing the contents of your bag from above, all perfectly knolled to show how efficient you were at packing. I’m not going to lie, I had a Pinterest board of them… they were organisation porn. But many of them had way too much stuff — plus, they never showed an aerial photo of the owner of the backpack crippled with anxiety over what item they should take out next to get shit done.

Mmmm… knolling.

Mmmm… knolling.

Try it at home, too.

The same principle applies when you’re not working remotely. If you work from home and do all your work from the one spot, try switching it up.

Maybe if you have laptop work to do, get it done while sitting on the bed with no other distractions around you. If you have drawing work to do, do it at a drawing desk with nothing but drawing equipment around you. If you really want to read that book, find a chair and sit with just the book. No phone, no tablet, no laptop. Just the book. Preferably in a room separate from the one where you usually do your work.

We live in a time where the attention economy saps all our focus. The least we can try and do is limit the amount of willpower we spend making decisions on what we’re going to do where, and when.

Bathe yourself in boredom.

Why filling every moment of your attention is sapping your creativity, your ability to concentrate and your enjoyment of life.

Originally published on Medium

Something I realised I was doing wrong in 2018, aside from peeling bananas, was filling every moment of time with doing something. Whether it was listening to a podcast when walking back from the gym, playing Angry Birds while on the subway, or having Netflix on in the background while I colour my comic strip, I never had a single moment of silence, much less boredom.

In an interview with Tim Herrera in The New York Times this morning, Cal Newport revealed a small tidbit from his upcoming book Digital Minimalismin which he teases:

The second rule is to “embrace boredom.” The broader point here is that the ability to concentrate is a skill that you have to train if you expect to do it well. A simple way to get started training this ability is to frequently expose yourself to boredom. If you instead always whip out your phone and bathe yourself in novel stimuli at the slightest hint of boredom, your brain will build a Pavlovian connection between boredom and stimuli, which means that when it comes time to think deeply about something (a boring task, at least in the sense that it lacks moment-to-moment novelty), your brain won’t tolerate it.

Late in the year, I realised that 90% of my waking hours were spent with Bluetooth earbuds in, listening to podcasts, Instapaper articles or music and 10% was allowed for my brain to catch up on all of that information. The only time allowed to process it and make any sense of that enormous amount of input was during sleep — which, as you can imagine, was pretty restless.

I reinstated my daily practice of meditation which made a massive difference. It made me more mindful of my tendency to reach for my phone or fill some dead time with something.

The reality is: boredom is important. It allows your mind to wander and make connections it mightn’t have had the opportunity to while you were listening to another episode of the Tim Ferris podcast.

Creativity requires quiet. Part of the reason you get your best ideas in the shower is that you don’t have any other input — and your subconscious is on autopilot with something you’ve done routinely for decades — leaving you with the ability to make creative connections and come up with great ideas you might have missed out on having if you plugged up that time with further input.

Taking a walk?
Take out your earbuds. Just walk.

Taking a bath? (a #ScotchBath, I hope)
Don’t take a book. Just sit.

Taking a baby?
Put it back. Don’t take babies.

I now carve out entire blocks of time with nothing in them on purpose. It was an experiment I tried in 2018 and the results were astounding. The space I carved out yielded more creativity than anything I could have activelyscheduled in those blocks of time.

I would implore any creatives to try it and see what comes of making time for nothing.

Remember to Draw for Fun.

The best advice I received when I started freelancing ten years ago was "When you're cartooning full time, remember to draw for fun." Well, that, and "Remember to put on pants BEFORE you get in the car." I don't even remember who it was who told it to me but it was at the 2003 Stanley Awards weekend. The point was that no matter how busy you get, no matter how many deadlines you have on the drawing board, always make time every week to draw for yourself. It makes a world of difference to your enjoyment of the work you do- and you see the results in your work.

It's so easy to just bury yourself in your studio-hole and work away on all your deadlines to get them done, but if that's the only time you draw, it'll very quickly become a chore. It'll become work, and you'll start finding excuses not to do it.

Some cartoonists switch gears to paints, some do sculpture, others simply switch from digital to traditional inks for a breath of fresh air.

My weapon of choice is life drawing; it's a great way to remind your eye to draw what it sees, not what it knows.

Warm-up sketching is important for good work too. Think of it like warming up for a sport or a workout. You need to get your head in the game before you start work. It's about as close to being athletic as I get.

Here's a video of a studio sketch from this week:

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More freelancing and pants-wearing tips, click here.