Your Best Self: 7 Mantras for Designers & Entrepreneurs
Mantras are not just for meditating. Mantras are simply ideas and philosophies to live by. Some people call them maxims, mottos or catchphrases. They have one purpose: to keep us on track. They prevent us from going a down a rabbit hole. They act as guardrails for our thoughts and actions so we can focus our energy.
Here are seven mantras that I think are valuable for designers and entrepreneurs to keep in mind.
#1 Be human.
When your brand is your business, you can sometimes act more like your brand than yourself. No one wants to work with a brand robot – a brandbot. Strategy is great, processes are great, brand tenets are great, but underneath it all we're people. We're original, quirky, and unpredictable. In other words, we’re human. As a businessperson, you do represent a brand, but don’t hold back on showing your humanity (it’s called the Pratfall Effect). Be personable, because people like to work with people that they like. Be humble, because people like to work with people with compassion. Be flexible, because people like to work with people who are open to new things. Most importantly, be you.
#2 Choose fun.
We got into this line of work because we didn't want to have an uninspiring, humdrum life. We became designers and entrepreneurs because we wanted excitement. We wanted to have fun. We wanted to do creative things. Design and entrepreneurship are tough fields, and you have to work really hard at it to be successful. But remember why you're doing it. You're doing it to create a fun, invigorating, extraordinary life for yourself. So try not to take yourself too seriously. Throughout the day you make thousands of choices. As much as you can, choose fun.
#3 What’s the worst that can happen?
Fear can be really debilitating. Whether it’s fear of trying something new, putting ourselves out there or going against the grain, fear can stop you dead in your tracks. Instead of letting fear guide your action - or inaction, think through the fear to the very end. “What’s the worst thing that can happen if things go wrong?” is a powerful question that can shrink fear dramatically. Think it through; Will you get fired? Lose your apartment? Lose your girlfriend? Most of the time these imaginary disasters never happen, and once you realize that, it frees you up to be more courageous and try new things. And if something does go wrong, simply ask for forgiveness. Making a mistake is never the end of everything. Put fear in its place. Be brave.
#4 Build your resources.
As designers and entrepreneurs, we often like to do everything ourselves. But ultimately, if we want to do bigger and better things, we need additional resources. Be proactive about gathering service providers, companies, printers, coders, any specialists that could help you at some point in time.
Start creating and curating a cache of professionals that allow you to do increasingly ambitious work for your clients. Keep those connections warm so they're there when you need them. Pick a day of the week, say, “Freelancer Friday” to reach out to one or two of your connections. Send a quick text or email, ask them what they’re up to, like some of their social media posts (see more suggestions here). It only takes a few minutes to reach out and if you do it faithfully for a few weeks, you’ll find yourself top-of-mind with them and ready for any project, at any time.
#5 First things first.
Procrastination is a killer for designers and entrepreneurs. Prioritizing tasks and projects can be difficult, but it’s the backbone of success. Tim Ferriss, human guinea pig and lifehacker, has some great advice, “You can spend the whole of the day busy, but fail to tackle the most important items, which in many cases are the hardest things on your plate. So isolate the one or two most important things you need to accomplish today. One or two only.” (Inc.com)
I noticed that Tim was right. Now I move the hardest things to the top of the list and do those first. It pays off. Mark Twain, commenting on doing the dreaded tasks before the easy ones, said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Amen.
#6 Done is better than perfect.
Designers and entrepreneurs, as a group, are perfectionists. This trait serves us well most of the time, but if you lean too heavily on it, it becomes a crutch. Perfectionism is a way of resisting the future. “Perfect lets you stall, ask more questions, do more reviews, dumb it down, safe it up and generally avoid doing anything that might fail (or anything important),” (Seth Godin).
Instead of focusing on getting things done perfectly, focusing on just getting things done.
Get them out the door. Volume trumps perfection any day of the week. Consistency beats infrequency. More is better, and frequency boosts recognition for your brand. So instead of being a perfectionist and trying to massage every fine detail, get it out the door. No one is really going to notice that level of perfection except you. It's better to just get it done, and move on to the next thing.
#7 When in doubt, communicate.
Here’s the biggest complaint I've heard in my career from designers and people I've worked with; "I don't know what's going on. No one's telling me anything."
It's really hard to do your job well if you feel under-informed. Don’t wallow in victimhood about being out of the loop. It’s probably not intentional. Find the person who might know what you feel like you’re missing and ask them to brief you. On the flip-side, you have to make sure clients know what's going on in your head and you know what's going on in theirs. You need to be consistently aligned to deliver your best work. There is no other way to do this than to communicate. Over-communicate, even. Especially when the news that you're trying to communicate is bad. Always recap conversations and meetings in writing. Communication is a conflict killer.
These mantras have helped me keep my thoughts and projects focused and on track. They’ve helped me sidestep many professional potholes. If some of these resonate with you, I hope you incorporate them into your daily life. Make them visible. Put them on a post-it, make a graphic as your home screen, or tack it on your office wall. Make up your own mantras. They will enhance your focus, energy and undoubtedly smooth your pathway to success.
photo credit: Tjook (@xtjook) @flickr.com