• Mark J. Keenan

A Few Loose Screws

Updated: Oct 8


As you can see, I have a few loose screws. Or a few screws loose. Maybe both.


This year has been different, and challenging, for everyone. For me though it has also been a year of growth and healing. I have been fortunate to have the time to work on myself, my relationships, and on my alignment to my values.


Often it is the gap between what your values are and what you are doing which causes issues. If it’s only a small difference, or only one of your core values is being challenged, you may not notice. When it’s wide enough though, the pain and suffering can be intense; manifesting itself in physical and mental ways.


A few weeks ago, I received an email from The Creative Independent. They are an organisation which supports creatives. They publish interviews, tips and essays from writers, musicians, and artists. The resources they provide always make sense and inspire me. This email was an article by Ryan Mather, a game and interaction designer.


For a week or so before receiving the email I had been working on - by which I mean thinking, scribbling, pacing, then repeating - determining which of my creative ideas I should focus on. With the help of some fantastic writer friends I’d recognised I needed to better define what it was I was creating. And to stop spreading my time and energy across so many ideas. I’d made some great progress, I’d had a major breakthrough, and was homing in on what it was I needed to do. But although I was pacing in smaller circles, they were still circles and I was still doubting myself.


Then the email arrives.


“How to prioritise your project ideas: tips on how to get organised and decide what to spend your time on.”


I couldn’t believe my luck.


I gave the email a quick read through. It made sense. It looked good. Real good. It turned out even better.


At the centre of Ryan Mather’s method is articulating and understanding your values. Then using those values to help you choose what you should spend your energy and time on.


I won’t try to describe Ryan’s process - it’s here. You should try it (and send him a thank you note afterwards). I will include a gallery of photos and captions showing how I applied it. And I will share my two favourite insights from his process.


When Ryan asks you to articulate your values, he includes a worksheet to help refine them. It's designed to help 'go really deep down the rabbit hole.’ The gold is down the rabbit hole and you want to go there.


As an example, here’s some of the work I did on one of my values.


Ryan suggests writing down your value in one word. I started with the word learning. I enjoy finding out things, I’m a curious person. Learning sounded like a value of mine.


Ryan then suggests taking that idea and finishing the sentence “In order to appear this way to others, I’ve been…’


I wrote:


In order to appear this way to others, I’ve been open about the things I don’t know, my learning journey, my interest in asking why, and in questioning things I hear about.


Ryan then asks for you to finish the sentence “However if I lived on a planet with only me on it being this way means…”


I wrote:


If I lived on a planet with only me this means seeking knowledge, being curious, trying new things, thinking deeply about connections and the world.


This is the kicker, right? Exploring what this value really means to you and not what you want it to project to others.


At the end of the worksheet, I’d come up with a value statement for each of the five core values I felt were important to me.

Being curious and learning, where it feels like I am growing into a better human and a more inspired person.


Health (physical, mental, spiritual), where it allows me to function in a calm, confident and purposeful way.


Creativity, where it allows me to understand myself and the world better.


Kindness and understanding, where I can make a difference to others and be a role model.


Embracing uniqueness, where I can sense and feel my differences connecting deeply to me and my values.

The next step involved mapping your values across the project ideas. This showed the ideas which best fitted with my values.


Of course, after all this the hard part comes. You need to choose the projects you are going to focus on, and also the ones which you aren’t. This is where I found Ryan’s approach particularly effective, not only for the selected projects but also for the ones which I shelved or binned.


Ryan suggests writing a few sentences about each project. About why it satisfies the particular values it does. And how that makes you feel. This summary is something you can go back to when the going gets tough and you start doubting your choices.


The whole process was engaging and enlightening. At the start it was like walking into a messy workshop. Nothing is where it should be. The workbench strewn with random tools, drawings of your ideas, notes and scribblings, unfinished and half started projects. By the finish the room is tidy, all the tools and projects put away (or thrown away). And you can start work with a clear space and a clear head, on the things that matter to you.


This week, I’ve “started” work on my main project. I’ve done quite a bit this year on it, but it's been unfocused and sporadic. I started with the electronic version of clearing my workbench. I shifted all the scenes, vignettes, musings, and other bits and pieces into a folder. And started with a fresh, blank screen. It’s been a productive week and I am feeling motivated and inspired by the work.


But what this got to do with the loose screws?


Okay, they’ve nothing to do with Ryan's article. Except, I guess, that Ryan’s approach was visual and tactile. And that appealed to me. So, I’ve decided to use this glass skull full of screws as a way of recording my progress. For every two hundred and fifty words I write on the main project, I will remove a random fastener. Clearing my head of all the loose screws.


All my original ideas on one sheet of paper. Colour-coded for overlaps and connections. No wonder I was unable to focus.

My values list after I'd gone down the "rabbit-hole" and the icons I created for each of them.

My daily playing cards. I choose three each day. Sometimes playing the cards will change my focus for the day from my original plan. Deciding this way makes it clear that I am making a choice.




© Mark J. Keenan