One of the most memorable lessons learned while studying design had nothing to do with layout, typography, color or any other facet of the syllabus. It had absolutely nothing to do with design, but effected how to go about doing it. It was how to work furiously and complete a conceivably impossible task.

After expressing an interest in using ink for illustration but not feeling confident enough in my abilities, my teacher of the time set me to task on something that caused many a cursed word to spill. Before I had ever illustrated a single image using ink, he told me I was to deliver to him a book full of illustrations by the following class. A full book in a week. How I was meant to achieve this man-walking-on-the-moon goal was beyond me. But there wasn’t enough time to sit around and think about how I couldn’t do it—
I had work to do and I was shitting myself.


After a week of working furiously and completely changing my routine,
I proudly, and a little arrogantly, presented my book of illustrations,
which was greeted with a somber flicking-through, then closed and commented on.
With a sadistic smile, he uttered ‘… good on you, now double it by next week –
two more books
.’ More words of the cursed spilled.


When the day to present came, something remarkable happened. He gingerly went through this new duo of books, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.
A few minutes passed and we started talking.

‘Look at this one … then this one – what do you notice?’

Well, you evil son-of-a-bitch, I notice hours upon hours of my life sucked into over 300 pages of shitty illustrations.
‘That one.. is a little better than the first.’
Maybe I was being a little too harsh.

‘You obviously put a lot of time into this … what would you have been doing otherwise?’ he asked as he went through the books for a second time, not looking up at me.

‘… I don’t know really.. I probably would have watched much more TV … surfed the net or play some games, maybe?’ I said, realising how pathetic my answer was as I was giving it.

‘Did you have fun doing this? Feel like you accomplished something?’ Again, not looking at me as he asks.

I paused because I could feel the stereotypical,
after-school-special response begging to push past my lips

I paused. I paused because I realised how blindingly obvious this was all getting. I paused because I could feel the stereotypical, after-school-special response begging to push past my lips.

‘I did… I really did, I was … no.. I am so overwhelmed at how happy it made me. It made my day, every day. I have three books filed with awful illustrations, but I…’

He starts to rip pages out.

‘… um… I developed and enjoyed it… I experimented and played and, and—‘

‘take these sheets and keep them—frame them, please—you’ll see more in these in a few years.’

A glance exchanged and a moment passed. He asks with a slight grin. ‘So, what now?’

I almost want to call him a pompous-twit for enjoying how easy it was to throw me through all this and know the outcome. I don’t. ‘… I think I’ll keep drawing.’

His smirk grows into an oddly heart-warming smile. ‘Haha! Yes – great answer, man!’ he says loud enough to embarrass me in front of 20 of my alumni.

‘Take your time with the next book though.’ As right as he might have been, I still couldn’t help but think of him as pompous.

The moral of the story? If you want to achieve anything special in an impressive amount of time, cut out the uselessness in your life like television, games and so forth and focus on your own task.

Read on for deeper thoughts and reasonings than that, or go and work your ass off, I won’t mind, really.

How to Achieve the Impossible

‘Impossible’ is a word that costs little but holds a lot of power. It’s a word thrown around for almost anything difficult, which most of us use as an excuse when we expect failure. The thing is, most of that which we brand as impossible is very much the opposite with a little dedication.

The Goal

Start by figuring out a big goal. Not something crazy like writing a novel in a fortnight or redesigning your site from scratch in an evening. Think of something that you could get done if you had pure clarity and limitless energy from the time you get home in the afternoon till you fall asleep in the evening. Let’s take my current goal of writing as an example.

I’ve set myself the goal of writing, editing and illustrating seven extra articles in nine days. For some of you, this is a laughable proposition, but as you’d notice, my articles are lengthy buggers. Seven articles, nine days. All on-top of my normal goal of two articles a week. Meaning at least ten articles need to be written in the next nine days.


Originally, I dawdled while trying to do five extra articles (on top of the weekly two) over a month. These numbers were far too lose. So I cut the time line by 2/3rds and upped the requirements by 1/4. Now I have a challenge. I took my almost too easy to achieve goal and made it a difficult one. That’s how you work out your timeline and workload. Take what you want to do, in the amount of time you think you could get it done; then halve the time and up the requirements.

Halve your deadline, up the requirements

A Map

One thing you should avoid is multitasking. Don’t set your goal as writing ten articles, while redesigning your site and joining and engaging in three new social networks. Pick one, halve your deadline, up the requirements.

A long and hard trip is hard to take without a map. So plan what you’ll write about or what you’ll illustrate or photograph or whatever. If you want to achieve ten tasks as part of your impossible goal, plan twelve, but no more, so you have an option – so you can deviate slightly should you find yourself in a situation where one of those options isn’t so desirable. But stick to only a couple more than your minimum, as too many options will cause you to float from idea to idea, without landing on one. I want to write ten articles, so I have a list of twelve to pick from.

You need to work. Really, really hard


Now comes the hard part. You need to work. Really, really hard.

Turn off the television and stop checking your stats and RSS feeds. In fact, stop reading your feeds altogether. No social networks or games. It’s only for a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things – whatever your timeline is; one, two or three weeks maybe? You wouldn’t want it to be much longer than that. They’ll all be there when you’re done, and you can use them to gloat about what you’ve achieved and give your ego a nice pat.

But for now, work. Work as hard as you can. Work till your eyes are heavy and your fingers numb. Then go to bed, sleep, wake up and do it again for the twenty spare minutes you have in the morning. Then spend 50 minutes of your hour-long lunch break working. Then get home and again, work hard till you sleep.

At the end of the road

It’ll be a rough couple of weeks, but it’ll be worth it, no matter the outcome.

You make the deadline

If you make the deadline and check all the boxes, then a pat on a the back and a rest are in order. That being said, you need to look at how you got there. If it was easy, stress free and you hardly altered your habits, you didn’t really work hard enough. What you want is to struggle and push yourself to do things you didn’t think you could. It isn’t an awful thing to have not stressed, but it means the next time you try this little idea, you need to increase your goal and reduce your timeline.

You fail

If you work your ass off and don’t make it, you’ll either have over-estimated your abilities by a long shot, or not have shut out that which you don’t truly need. Either way, again, re-evaluate your situation, tone down your goal a fraction and figure out what distractions you can eliminate. But it’s better to not quite make it than it is to make it easily, so in reality there is no real failure. You ended up working hard and getting further than you would have otherwise.

There is a middle spot that is just right, aim for that. It shouldn’t be easy, far from it – but it should be doable.

The most important thing is…

Don’t make this a habit. Don’t do it unless you love what you’re doing and want what you’re working towards more than you love and want the distractions in your life. If you don’t love what you’re setting out to do, you’ll have a miserable time and quite possibly burn yourself out. It’s that burning out that should scare you off making this a habit. Don’t put yourself through the stress and strain more than three or four times a year. Remember, it should be FUN and worth-while, not a chore. If you are truly miserable throughout, then consider pulling the shoot.

I worked my ass off for two weeks
and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

If you’re like me, you’ll get three fantastic things out of doing this sort of thing.

  1. You’ll have achieved an improbable task and have something to show for it. You’ll have something you didn’t before.
  2. Your skills will develop very quickly. Practice makes perfect, and you’ll be getting a lot of that.
  3. Your priorities will become clearer. Going from working furiously one night to watching three hours of CSI the next night will come as a shock to your system. You’ll feel lazy. Your eyes with glaze over and your fingers will dance.

Any major, unimaginable goal that has been achieved in history has come from someone, or a group of people, saying to themselves, or perhaps more convincingly, screaming at themselves, ‘Make it happen! Work harder, longer!’ Their friends and colleagues called them mad and said their goals were crazy. It didn’t stop them. They didn’t have the time to think about how crazy they were. And what’s the worst that could happen? You passionately work towards a goal, or maybe a dream, have some fun, accomplish something and develop your skills. And hopefully you’ll go to bed each night knowing you have grown a little as a creative.