Form Follows Function

In Essays, Self Improvement

I’ve noticed that I am far more prolific in terms of writing output that I ever was, and I am regularly hitting four to five thousand words with some of my essays. Now it’s not my aim to make essays long, but often some length is required to go into depth about a particular subject matter.

While an essay of that size used to be a large endeavour that would take me several weeks, I am now able to complete something like within a few writing sessions, totalling around four hours of writing. This doesn’t include reading and researching around the subject, just the writing part.

I think there are two reasons for this.

Firstly, I am gaining experience writing. As of right now, my essays total around 170,000 words on it, and I am quite sure that this time next year it will have more than double, perhaps closer to half a million. I am finding writing easier because I have been doing it for longer, and so it has become an ingrained habit.

Secondly, I have consciously made a decision to give myself the best possible setup to write. I have a tidy desk in a room with no distractions, and a simple set up that removes anything but the essentials.

Additionally, I’ve also taken steps to make my website as simple for me to use. So I simply just write, and then copy and paste the completed essay when I am done, and the rest is taken care of. This means I can spend more time writing, which adds real value to myself and anyone who reads my website, and less time messing around with settings and testing things out. This may not seem like a big issue, but it is such a relief not to have to deal with various technical issues regarding a content management system, that it makes owning a website a true pleasure.

This is a typical case of form following function. I decided early on what the priorities of the website were going to be, namely:

  1. Readability
  2. Simplicity
  3. Speed

Every decision, like having comments, share buttons, some type of analytics, and a newsletter sign up form, were made because I am always keeping my three founding principles in mind whenever I need to make a decision about how this website should work.

I think that simplicity in underrated. I think it is one of the best tools we have to keep our lives meaningful. We need to remember that while the journey is important, extremely important, it’s the results that make our life meaningful. Spending hours messing around with website settings would not make what I am doing here have any meaning, while spending more time reading, researching, and then writing thoughtful essays that hopefully someone will find of some use, is meaningful. I know that I’ve helped at least a few people, because I received emails from a small minority of readers thanking me for my insights, and that’s already good enough for me.

So how can we take this concept and run with it, and apply it to the rest of our lives? Well, I think there are almost endless opportunities to think careful about the function of something that we often do, and then change the form accordingly.

I’ll give you an example of something that I have been trying out for a few days that I find extremely beneficial. I’ve been thinking about the way I work. Obviously, the end result is what adds value to the design company I work for, and so that is what is important, the value of my ideas and creative work, not the amount of time or effort that I put into it.

With that in mind, I’ve started time boxing my work into twenty-five minute sessions, just like the Pomodoro Technique. This has been incredibly useful, because the focus is on the focus. I know this sounds strange, but bear with me. As I can’t actually fully control (see my definition of full control) my output, the best next thing is to focus on the process. By allowing myself twenty-five minutes of undisturbed, highly focused time, I have changed the form of how I work to match the function I want: which is creating high quality output, by working in what we often refer to the zone, that difficult to attain working state where things just come together.

I’ve actually been doing this even just to write. It doesn’t mean that all my essays take twenty-five minutes to write, but that I break up the sessions into twenty-five minute blocks, and I don’t worry about how much I write, but just on staying focussed on the essay for the entire time period, the writing just comes naturally, as I’ve set up the correct environment for that to happen.

In fact, this very essay has been written and completed in just one of these time blocks, and it’s the first thing that I’ve done today, bar making some Japanese green tea.

So to reiterate, remember that form follows function.

So make sure you write down exactly what you want to achieve, and why. This is the function part. Then, think very careful and constantly examine the way you do things, the form part, and adjust to prioritise the functions.