A simple solution to meeting your most important goal
Last month I surprised myself by finishing a typeface—from the hand drawings down to the actual True Type font file (TTF), which I tested on Adobe Illustrator in my computer.
(Typeface designer Tobias Frere-Jones was right — it’s such a satisfying feeling to be able to create a typeface, export it, and start using it right away!)
Finishing one typeface was a goal I had since last year.
How did I finally get around to it?
The simple decision to do one thing at a time.
In today’s world, finishing one thing at a time is a forgotten skill, a lost art. But once you master it, you can do anything. At least that’s what it felt like when I (finally!) finished that typeface.
I always had the typeface in my mind, at the back of my head, but I could never get around to it because, knowing it would take me a while to finish it (much longer than most graphic design projects), I always tried to do it on the side or together with some other main task. I would have other programmes open, start drawing a letter, then get distracted. Or have to finish some work, eat, cook, whatever.
But one Saturday, I decided to sit down and spend 4 hours doing nothing but the typeface.
That experience shifted my mindset from “I’ll never find the time” to “I can do anything I make time for”.
I’ve always marveled at how someone can create a whole typeface — that’s 26 uppercase characters, 26 lowercase characters, plus characters with accents, plus symbols and punctuations. Regular, italics, bold, bold italic, black, black italic, condensed, condensed black italic, and other variations. In a standard typeface, that’s usually around 206 characters (per variation)!
And so that’s why I always procrastinated on typeface design, thinking I would need months of uninterrupted work. A full typeface can take a type designer anything from 5 weeks to 5 months to develop for a client.
Adrian Frutiger, designer of the typeface Frutiger, during the peak of his career, would release — at the most — one typeface each year.
Back then, without the digital tools we have now, type design took longer, and I used the notion of “it will take so long” as an excuse to put off my typeface design plans.
So, I finished digitizing my geometric paper-cut-inspired alphabet on Glyphs Mini in the weekend. It was an easy design compared to other font types. (I’ve experienced drawing and trying to perfect a humanist sans serif font, and it’s still in progress). Throughout the week I spent a total of 5 hours doing the punctuations.
I finished the typeface for testing in less than a week (part time)! I was amazed at the power of allowing myself to do just one thing.
It wasn’t about willpower or determination. I simply sat down and worked on something without switching to something else.
And it’s not about being away from distractions. It’s just having the ability to shut them out. My ipad and devices were within reach; messages were popping up here and there. I had access to Netflix. But I made the decision to jump into furious focus and ignore everything else.
So, that’s it.
Just make the decision to do that one thing, for the next 2 or three hours.
Getting into it is usually the hardest part. Staying in the zone is easier than trying to dive in.
For some, it takes a looooong time to accept that we can only do one thing well (at one time). Especially for those who are so used to juggling different tasks.
Reject the lie that you need perfect conditions to get started.
I thought I would need a ton of free time for my type projects. I started with a timeblock of 4 hours, and once I got into the project, I was able to squeeze in time where I didn’t think I had any. And I realized how much more fun it actually is to just dive into what you’re doing and ignore everything else. It’s not fun to work on something while simultaneously worrying about another thing, like a deadline or urgent requirement.
To close, here’s a favorite quote from The Rule of Four, which I always refer to when I’m working toward a goal that is incredibly time-consuming.
“To count a hundred million stars, he told me once, at the rate of one per second, sounds like a job that no one could possibly complete in a lifetime. In reality, it would only take three years. The key is focus, a willingness not to be distracted. And that is Paul’s gift: an intuition of just how much a person can do slowly.”
- Ian Caldwell, The Rule of Four
Just keep your eye on that one thing. By enabling fun and focused work, you are setting yourself up to succeed in that task you committed to, no matter how big or how small.