I dive deep into my own content creation process, leveraging key ideas and principles set out by notable knowledge workers.
Not too long ago, I was asked to produce a detailed piece on the Zettelkasten system and how a German sociologist, Niklas Luhmann, leveraged it to produce over 60 books, 400 academic papers, and thousands of pieces of unpublished work. You can read this here if you’re interested.
Prior to this task, I was struggling with my own content creation journey. Like many artists, I developed a perfectionist trait, which led to a form of subtle creative procrastination. Nothing was ever good enough to publish. This was reinforced by a crippling sense of imposter syndrome, despite having my talent and experience regularly validated by clients throughout the years. Having gone through Luhmann’s work in detail, picking up Tiago Forte’s Building A Second Brain, and spending copious amounts of time on self-reflection, I slowly came to terms with the flaws present in the workflows I had created. I realised that I was relying too much on inspiration in the moment, as opposed to building clear processes that encouraged consistency and quality creative thinking. I was pulled to produce this piece purely because I understand firsthand the added pressure we creatives put on ourselves to deliver for our audiences. I hope this short piece can help you think of your own process and guide you on developing an effective content creation process that suits you.
Content creation is a marathon, not a sprint, which means that there will be bouts of peaks and troughs throughout your journey. In order to stay on the right course, you have to not only make the process as easy as possible, but you must keep the long-term vision in the corner of your eye. Without structure, it is easy to lose sight of this vision. Deciding on content categories, tone-of-voice, as well as design guidelines, can help eliminate the need to make tedious day-to-day decisions which pull from your creativity and prevent you from producing quality work. I tend to keep things simple. I spend a great deal of time defining the vision clearly. What is it that I want to achieve from my content? Who is it for? What art style do I want to take this in? How can I produce quality work at scale? Once this is done, I create an environment that keeps me true to this vision. I select a few apps that make it easier for me to capture raw ideas and information around the world, make adequate pockets of time to think and plan my work and set sustainable goals that help reinforce the work that I do. I will return to these points throughout this article.
Tiago Forte stated that we all have a tendency towards recency bias. This is where we
"tend to favor the ideas, solutions, and influences that occurred to us most recently, regardless of whether they are the best ones."
I found that in moments where I was under extreme pressure or tight deadlines, that I would often exercise this trait. I would pull ideas from what I had recently consumed only to begin creating content that lacked depth and any real insight. Taking media notes is one thing, but making it so that this information is easily accessible is another. Niklas Luhmann, Tiago Forte, and Dr. Sönke Ahrens all touch upon the need for an organised system of notes that you can access to assist you on your creative journey. I, like most creatives, struggled with the organisation process. I’m the kind of person who naturally enjoys getting stuck into a piece of work and likes to think about connecting the dots as the picture unravels. It took me several years to understand that this very habit was the cause of my creative procrastination and even distorted the way in which I communicated my ideas. I decided to take actionable steps to improve this. I did this by:
I decided to take my note review process to another level. Rather than just translating quotes into my own words, I would try to think of diagrams, graphs, and illustrations that these pieces could be transformed into. Admittedly, it is not something that I always achieved in my evening review process, but it would be something that I would try to set time aside for, at least once a week. These sketches of diagrams and designs are not complete by any means. They are often loose and were designed to prevent me from wasting too much time on structural decisions when I entered into my production sessions. I often use tools like Notion, Obsidian, and Monday.com to store these ideas to further streamline my content process.
As Luhmann did in his Zettelkasten system, I would often think of how these visual and newly transcribed ideas would link with the existing notes that I had stored. I normally categorise each of my notes into top-level categories while linking them with other references and pieces that I had collected. Obsidian, in particular, was really helpful with this as it allowed me to visually see the ideas that I had in a graph view.
As you can see, the bulk of the research, thinking, and creativity stems from my personal planning process. Before any content production piece, as a designer, you must know what you are producing and why. The clearer the picture in your head, the quicker time it will take for you to produce, not to mention that the quality of your work will dramatically improve. You will have more time to think about the details of a piece rather than stressing over the fundamentals and structure, which again is a core reason why creatives struggle with procrastination. I usually analyse all the quotes and pieces of work that I have accumulated and carefully filter them into the brands that I am currently developing. As I have multiple brands, I have to be careful with this to avoid any confusion or overlap. I also deal with multiple clients, which means that this process can take up to an hour, depending on how busy my schedule is.
I often organise the content into my Monday.com board, focusing on the information I want each piece to represent, the post description, and what platforms I will be sharing this across. For articles and single quote pieces, this is relatively easy for me, but when it comes to animations with multiple scenes, you often have to leverage some form of storyboard sheet into your process. I also set deadlines no matter if it is a client or personal project to maintain my productivity, which I will explain in more detail towards the conclusion of this piece.
In order to produce your very best work, you need to keep this part of your production process distraction-free. I would usually pull only my content draft material in view and the software I would use to produce it. I treat this process as something therapeutic, somewhat like a reward for piecing all the little nuggets of information together into something of value. As I mentioned before, depending on the piece, I focus more on the details and the intricacies of the piece during this process. This ultimately led to great pieces of work that had a clear message, which is great for your audience.
Setting deadlines, especially for personal content, is incredibly important. I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen into the trap of pushing my personal brands to the side whenever things got hectic. It is important to set time aside for your own content development but is equally important to set concrete deadlines that you hold yourself accountable to. Having reasonable deadlines allows you to create a sense of managed urgency, which can often inspire you to elevate your work to new heights.
Content creation is not easy, but it is a necessary task if you truly want to establish yourself in your field. Creating a systematic process ultimately alleviates some of the pressure you place on yourself and gives you an opportunity to present your ideas in the best way possible. I advise any new creative to leverage such a system not only to build an audience but also to feed their passion for creativity. Incorporating such systems is a tapestry for inspiration and really helps you stand out in a day and age where attention is scarce. If you're a creative struggling with your own process or you have some neat tips and tricks that you wish to share, then definitely get in touch with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.