10. Talk, not digital

In today’s world you often work in cascading explosions of micro-urgencies.

You look up, you see the time, the afternoon has passed in quick bursts as you move from project to project, email to email, text to text — and you realize, Hot damn, I haven’t spoken to a soul all afternoon.

I work in a relationship-driven world — the art world. We cease to exist as an enterprise if we’re not minding three relationships very carefully:

— With our clients

— With our artists

— And with our creative ecosystem

The clients and the artists are self-explanatory. High-quality relationships with clients beget sales.

We only represent living artists — this means we support these hungry rent-paying necessities-needing art-supply-devouring special organisms only if we sell their work!

With artists, we get the best work for our clientele from deep relationship building. A bad relationship and we get no work at all. A mediocre one and the artist might send inferior work, or old work that hasn’t sold elsewhere — those wretched orphans who’ve traveled tiredly from gallery to gallery to gallery pleading for someone to take them home.

It’s the creative ecosystem that’s easy to ignore.

This ecosystem is comprised of your team, your vendors, your landlord, your neighboring tenants, the crew who cleans the grounds — who wants to step across a yucky half-eaten burger tossed on the sidewalk the night before just for the honor of viewing your high-priced artwork?

Not many, I can assure you. Not the ones who buy.

Recently I read a study stating that for most better-paying jobs it’s still the soft skills that edge you into the higher pay brackets. Writing, communication, negotiation — and most especially — relationship building.

Master those and you better control your destiny.

Toward the end of a voiceless, talk-free afternoon of silent conversational interneting that went on too long and caused an eye twitch, that study rose up in my mind and confronted me.

I was thinking of our team — of exhorting them to call more frequently and not just rely on texts and email — when my mind pointed out my hypocrisy.

I needed to call more often. I needed to speak to others in person more often, even on our own team!

With our artists too.

You’ve had this frustration, right?

Where you text back and forth, back and forth, you discuss the when, the where, you go back for the details that are missing — Was that Wed or Thurs? — Did you mean the Starbucks on Blankety Blank Boulevard or the one on Streetly Street — the cryptic messaging that leads to misunderstanding, opening new lines of inquiry and clarifications–

And then you think, A phone call of a minute and a half would have solved that.

Twelve minutes of texts flying back and forth furrily provides good thumb exercise, little else. It detracts from your day and your momentum.

A week ago we had a client text, Can’t wait.

Hmmmm, was that, I’m excited, I can’t wait to see you even though you’re running late??

Or was that, Can’t wait, I have tickets to view airy proto-fairies on ice and must scoot off or I’ll miss the first number.

Digital communications can be notoriously imprecise.

So my mini-challenge for Week 9 was to talk to someone at least once a day that I would normally email or text.

Guess what? There are far more real out-loud laughs when conversing over the phone than LOLs ever loosed from mildly clever texting.

Making these phone calls — to artists primarily, but also to individuals in our ecosystem — reminded me how much extra can be gleaned from conversation versus digital communication.

Artists would clue me in on goings on in other parts of the art world. Personal tidbits would spill out — same with laughter and camaraderie. Successes elsewhere would finagle their way into the conversation, which would prompt a, Hey! We should try that at Studio E Gallery too!

For vendors and freelancers it was the same thing — suggestions welled up easily.

But more than the business plusses, oh the humanity! To communicate with people voice to voice is to establish a real connection.

I write about these weekly micro experiments long after they’ve taken place. Which allows me some elevation to gauge if there was an effect beyond that particular week.

This micro challenge has lingered with me. To the point where a little niggling crops up in the back of my mind whenever I go too long without a person-to-person conversation.

So — a good challenge it was. One to continue.

You might wish to give it a whirl too.

Share

9. How to play BlitzDesk

Ohhhhhhh, I’ve concocted a quick fun game if you find yourself overwhelmed with too much paperwork piling up in your workspace. I’ve just got to pass it on to you.

As I’m getting better at doing the important work first — The Work! — I’ve been getting worse at keeping up with the detritus of the day — all the notes and skiffle skaffle that comes across my desk.

There it sits, mocking me. Like mold it starts off in a corner and you hardly notice it. Until it evolves into a sprawling organism that cannot be contained.

In the spirit of experimentation that I’m engaged in this year — micro changes that feel fun and easy and implementable — I started playing with ways to attack this organism — this pile of notes, mail, requests, half-heartedly begun side projects.

Once you name it you can game it.

I could have gone for weak forays into sports (Field Drive — I don’t know enough about sports to get creative here) or evolutionary biology (Punctuated Deskolution — derived from punctuated evolution, the proposition that evolution can happen in quick bursts given the right conditions, rather than gradually over eons as proposed by Darwin.)

But I settled on BlitzDesk because it’s short and sharp and defines itself.

Here’s how the BlitzDesk game works:

You play in back-to-back 5-minute lightning rounds. 

In my version, you can opt to play one round (5 minutes total), three rounds (15-minutes total), or five rounds (for a total of 25 minutes).

Never more than this! You are done once you’ve finished the final round.

If you want to calve an item off your desk pile and work on it separately with focus, well, now, that’s a project. And like every other project, you schedule it. Projects deserve their own timeframe, just as certain types of workflow do.

Example: Email. The best of us schedule in one to several time periods a day for when we read and respond and tickle others with our email.

(Note: I’m not among the best of us — yet! Though I aim to be by the time I’m a 103. I skitter in and out of email a little too often for any productivity guru’s ideal. )

So — to start!

Set an alarm for 5 minutes and go to town on your paperwork.

When it rings, do it again Automatically hit reset for the next 5 minutes.

Do this 5 times. (Or 3 or 1.) Back to back to back to back to back. No stopping in between.

— And then you are done for the day!

The only losers at BlitzDesk are those who don’t play BlitzDesk….

Why only an odd number of times? I come from the art world, where odd numbers oddly make for compelling compositions. Not always, but as a rule. Three mangoes are better than four. If a Picasso, three breasts are better than two.

You of course can mangle the BlitzDesk rules all you want and make them your own.

Why 5-minute rounds if you’re playing for 25 minutes? Why can’t the timer just be set for 25 minutes?

No no no no no non!

The reason it became a pile of papers to begin with is because we’re not good at diving in when it gets too cumbersome. We — you and I — because those well-organized souls who don’t need BlitzDesk stopped reading in the first paragraph — you and I need to keep our focus short and sharp to be effective.

To move mountains requires blasts of time dynamite. Focused and fierce, that’s our credo.

Five minutes is just the right porthole of time to keep us from flagging. We have only 5 minutes afterall, to whittle away at this pile.

Each timer ding brings us back to that reality. No dawdling, just doing.

Can BlitzDesk be played longer than 25 minutes?

Only if you want to call it EternityDesk — and leave my name out of it.

Share

8. Daily kaizen: Your next step calls to you

Have you been stymied by too muchness? 

Recent pressing issues knocked me off my stride. Our business suffered a slowdown in sales for a couple of months during our selling season — enough to provoke fear and remembrance, of the desperate crash years a decade ago.

Simultaneously my creative side career — writing bookitos — reared its own ugly challenge. The Work flowed — the writing itself — it was my inability to squeeze in marketing outreach that plagued me.

There’s a weird kind of paralysis that stems from hyperactivity. Too many threads tendriling off in different directions, not twisting together into a unified whole, makes for a breathless but unsatisfactory pace.

 It’s like you’re running through stretch wrap.

Worse, it’s anxiety inducing. You swing for the fences, you throw effort in multiple directions, but ultimately you feel like a chimpanzee flinging feces at imaginary enemies.

Each day felt maddeningly ineffective.

I remember reading about a man who went to his rabbi when work projects overwhelmed him, seeking advice. The workload jacked up and the man was falling behind.

 The rabbi listened carefully, and said:

 “Work harder.”

That is decidedly not my answer.

It used to be. Working harder used to be my primary directive and my fallback option.

Then I noticed the ones I admired, the most effective ones, seemed to work less than other people!

Many call this working smarter. And it is, I guess. In my own application I’ve found a more apt phrase would be working in harmony.

Working in harmony with my keenest aims.

Working in harmony with my most heartfelt desires.

Working in harmony with the actual environment I’m in. Taking note of the rhythms, the intrusions, the personalities, the capabilities — and then figuring out the glide path between them all.

So I took a bath — an hour-long bath — the type where you’re shivering at the end because the water’s gone cold. I’d like to say I cleaved straight to the heart of the matter, pithily dissecting the issues and cutting through all the gristle to arrive at the solution.

Instead I sunk into a stupor. My befogged brain ruminated on the mess. It was dispiriting.

Until it wasn’t.

Maybe you’ve felt this too. An impending answer. You don’t yet know the answer but you feel its imminent arrival.

That’s what I felt by the end of the bath. As I examined the issues — lower sales at the gallery + lack of marketing and outreach for my creative projects — I felt something pop.

Again, not an answer, but a clarity. I could feel exactly what the problems entailed.

Later in meditation an answer came — surprisingly, it was something I was already doing! —  but in other areas.

If you’ve read the numbered posts from the last few months you’ve seen that I’ve embarked on a Year of Micro Experiments.

This was my solution!

Big dreams, the smallest of steps.

Of course! An old mantra, dusted off and reinvigorated through the prism of these weekly micro challenges I was setting for myself.

The Japanese word kaizen immediately came to mind, simultaneous with its meaning: small continuous change.

The meaning was immediately clear — I needed to cast forth a grandiose vision (profitable gallery, successful creative marketing) and then immediately forget them and go small. Into the smallest possible shifts that could be made each day in service to these goals.

Daily kaizen. Nano efforts applied daily, consistently.

For the gallery I broke this down into three areas:

1. Personal client contact (who could we follow up with today)

2. Display (edit the art on display ruthlessly, what was working, what was not)

3. Marketing (quickening the pace of our newsletters during our high sales season, plus a signage issue)

For my creative outreach — I’m still working on that! Looking for the smallest pockets of time to squeeze in effort before the late afternoon when it all goes slack — my system, my mind, my abilities.

A few weeks in, it’s working. Daily kaizen. Looking for the inflection points and applying the smallest possible pressure changes your trajectory.

. . . . . . .

Sanaya Roman:

In everyone’s mind there is a whisper of the next step. It may be simple, such as making a phone call or reading a book. It may be a very concrete, mundane step to take that may not even seem connected with your higher vision. Know that you are always being shown the next step; it is always something that comes to your mind as obvious, simple, and a joyful thing to do.

From Creating Money: Attracting Abundance by Sanaya Roman and Duane Packer

Share

4. The day begins the night before

Does this recur in your life like it does in mine? That you relearn what you learned previously then forgot?

I was first struck by this in my mid to late twenties, going through my journals from several years earlier. I was reading through an intense period before, during and after a semester abroad in Australia. When I really learned to frolic.

After catching up on that wild year, filled with young ardor and couplings and bumblings and much else, I realized that much of what I’d learned then I was having to relearn now five or six years hence.

The too muchness of it.

That simply by living out loud, exuberantly, you were bound to disappoint others.

It pained me then — in my early twenties and again in my mid-twenties — how much living a little too fast and loose pained others.

I was relearning something I should have locked down: To be more careful with the feelings of others.

To be clearer that I was living a kind of vagabond relationship life, setting up camp only briefly here and there.

In a word: Thoughtfulness.

In another word: Empathy.

In a string of words I probably used at that time: Get your shit together and become an adult, man!

Today’s excess has to be paid back with interest tomorrow.

Another thing I had to relearn.

Which leads me obliquely to this week’s micro experiment. Relearning a valuable life tool: Planning for the next day at the end of this one.

When I was living The Creative Morning Challenge this past year, this simple hack resurrected itself and made my days flow so much easier. Thirty days of getting up at an ungodly early hour was smoothed by this process — I’d already planned out my morning, my day, the night before.

I just needed instinct to kick in — and a glass of water.

And to pee.

Then I was off on a tear.

Week 4 of my Year of Micro Experiments went decently. I only missed one day.

Not bad considering my planning is a little elaborate — I draw out a simple grid on the top sheet of an 8.5 by 11 yellow pad in a folio I keep with me at all times. Down the left side of the sheet run the hours of the day, every other line, starting at 6 am — going till 7 pm.

I bisect the page with a line running down the middle — not the middle really, the hours of the day are a one-third column on the left. The right column is two-thirds of the page.

The right side is where I break down what I intend to tackle for the day.

In segments I separate out — for Body, for Spirit, for Gallery, for The Work, for Home, for Vision, for Connection — you get the idea.

Overly elaborate, I know!

But that’s me. I like the versatility of this format. After a couple years of going pure digital I had to go back to a handwritten system.

Like an artisan, a pizza maker, a masseuse, I need to do it by hand.

There’s something so righteous about crossing out what you’ve written down.

Picked up Zane? 

Cross that sucker out.

Engaged in The Work for at least an hour? (My creative practice . . . )

Victory. Cross it out.

That’s what Week 4 was about — re-establishing a habit I’ve had before, planning out my next day at the end of the day prior.

It takes 15 minutes, even my draw-grids-on-paper version. Not a lot. But what punch it packs the next morning.

You get up, glance at your Day Page — that’s what I call it — and ease right into it. No need to figure anything out. It’s there, revving my engine.

I relearned this in Week 4: The day begins the night before.

I first realized this way back in my twenties. The phrase was solely about sleep back then.

Now it’s gathered mystical force in my life, that phrase speaks a druid-level truth to me — that if I envision my day the night before, some kind of good juju gets infused into my waking hours.

I’ve mostly continued with this practice since Week 4. (I’m writing this more than a week since Week 4 ended.)

Don’t you love it when good things become addicting? 

 

Share

1. How to create your own DIY Creative Retreat from your home

When my wonder woman wife Ann booked an art workshop for a week the hamster wheel in my brain started spinning. Squeaky and lopsided as it is, it still rotates. With a wobble.

Three years back a friend and I improvised a creative retreat across the state in a rental home in Anna Maria Island. My creative compadre for that retreat was improv comedian-speaker-writer-coach-transformational artist Travis Thomas — damn, what doesn’t this guy do?!

He’s beautiful too, so unfair.

It proved fun — and successful — so much so we vowed on our ancestors’ graves to do it annually.

We wiffled on that vow — ancestors are spinning in their underground cubicles — not managing to get another creative retreat off the ground . . . till now.

When Ann set the wheels in motion for her Big Sur art workshop week, I pounced on the idea for another DIY Creative Retreat, this time from our home.

Our son is in high school, so technically this wouldn’t be a round-the-clock creative mania like the one Travis and I did for several days on the barrier island.

It would mean about 6 hours a day including our lunch break. It was the best I could muster between delivering Zane to school and picking him up at the furthest point I could get him to disembark from the bus each day (to gain an extra half an hour).

(Devious, I know.)

Travis was on board immediately — love his spontaneity. He lives up to his improv roots. He yes anded immediately.

For those who might want to make their own intensely productive focus time happen, here are my loosey goosey Rules for How to Create a Successful Do-It-Yourself Creative Retreat:

 

1. Do it with a like-minded friend

This is my number one creative retreat suggestion if you can swing it . . . because is it really a retreat if you do it solo?

You can argue philosophically that it is — I’ve managed to ferret out time for creative bursts by myself. But there’s something about the presence of other people that spurs me to greater heights, greater commitment.

A great example is this very week:

Monday I was on my own yet still managed a fair amount of work despite a school holiday and the beginning of an exhaust fan installation into Ann’s studio that would take several days.

Cutting through exterior walls is not whisper work. There’s grinding and high-pitched whining, even if mostly from me.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday Travis joined me. He couldn’t make Thursday because of other commitments. Slacker.

Thursday, oh Thursday.

Thursday was the only day my creative retreat efforts collapsed. I spent too much time with Harley who was installing the exhaust fan in the morning.

After he left, seeing I had approximately an hour till lunch time I made the mistake of glancing at my phone. Responding to an email led to God only knows what else.

For the next hour and a half!

It’s like coming out of a digital bender when you look up sheepishly, myopic because you haven’t once glanced away from the phone, afraid to admit even to yourself you squandered 90 precious minutes on advice columnists.

Surely what I gleaned from humanity’s angstyness could have waited till later that evening while Zane was studying.

Which brings me to . . .

 

2. Set a schedule

. . . and stick to it.

In our case Travis arrived at 9, we kibbitzed for just a few minutes, then went to our spaces and revved our mighty engines.

We clocked out for lunch around 11:45 — scooted off to a Mediterranean meal spot in a neighboring town — and then came back for a couple more hours afterward.

 

3. Create space to work

Notice how I said we calved off from one another and went to work?

Workspaces matter. Not terribly much to two guys who are working primarily off their laptops, but they do.

I need space for my notes, my laptop, some water, my notepad for scribbling half-formed thoughts. Travis needed quiet, to create short videos, blast through his considerable email contacts and to handle the occasional phone call.

My makeshift workspace is pictured above. We lugged my son’s desk from his room to our living room. Voila, instant additional home office.

 

4. Vary your rhythm

Here’s an example:

I start out at the desk, tappata tappata typing away on the laptop keyboard. As soon as I feel myself flagging, I ooze on over to one of the bean bags — or to a recliner — and grab my notepad.

Settled in I let my drowsy brain drum up ideas, which I capture with the diligence of an 18th-century Lepidopterologist. (Butterfly enthusiast-collector-expert — I won’t make you look that up!)

I let my slow-moving neural network fire ideas languidly down my arm onto the page . . .

Then, when I’ve had enough of that, feeling revived, I slide into the upright position at the desk again.

Tappata tappata tappata.

Away I go.

 

5. Work from a different workspace than normal

. . . if you can.

Travis worked from my home office (a glorious term for my L-shaped desk in the master bedroom adjacent to the room I worked in).

I insisted on this to throw me out of my comfort zone. It may have seemed a generous gesture for Travis — who I hope is not reading this and discovering the naked ambition beneath my largesse — for me it was a surge of electricity.

To sit and work in a not quite familiar space put my imagination on high alert.

 

6. Take freaking breaks!

Our daily lunch was the best reboot tool of the day. We drove off, sauntered into a fast casual joint for a healthy meal, talked with the pent-up emotion of solitary confinement inmates let loose in The Yard for one hour, then jumped back into the work for the afternoon.

 

7. Bonus rule: Start off the day with someone who sparks you

Each morning between lobbing Zane onto the school grounds and starting at 9 am with Travis, I squeezed in a breakfast. Not just any kind, the inspirational kind.

A different friend from my creative universe was scheduled for each day of the week. This amped me up. More than you can imagine.

Minx Boren — whose Balance Points emails you have to sign up for because they are wisdom and poetry and verve all in one. Minx was excited to talk about her own bookitos in progress, which revved me all the more.

Another friend could meet only briefly because he was finishing up a bookito for his bioneurofeedback center. (Biofeedback for the brain.)

Each morning a different personality would energize my creative hemisphere into a higher state. An excited state, as they call it in physics and lap dancing.

On the drive between the diner and home the creative retreat, ideas would be gushing — spilling onto note pads at stop lights.

 

That was Week 1 for my Year of Micro Experiments. Though this week was not micro at all, it set the tone and birthed the idea:

To engage in one small life experiment each week.

In case you want to follow along, I’m focusing on these areas:

— Creative work

— Enhancing relationships

— Body betterment

— Mental/spiritual hygiene

— Time optimization (in a relaxed way; I aspire to luxuriously unhurried chill focus)

— Outreach and marketing

Please email me suggestions at Evan (at) NotesForCreators (dot) com

 

#TweakOfTheWeek

Share

I suck at shutdown

 

God I suck at shutdown.

And because I suck at shutdown I’m flailing at containment — containing work and creative into already generously allotted timeframes.

In Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport writes about the importance of a definitive shutdown routine at the end of each workday. I think for him it’s around 5 pm. The process is simple but thorough.

He starts with a review of where he’s at in the work. What he accomplished, what he didn’t.

Next he looks at deadlines, due dates, what’s looming ahead.

After this review and look ahead, he schedules for the next day and the days following.

Then — get this — he’s done.

He’s done!

By 5:30.

He’s done for the day. He goes home. He walks the dog. He engages with his family.

Are there household chores? Sure. Does he zone out at times when he should be more entranced by his wife and child? Of course. But his workload is not allowed to wedge its ugly way into family/home time.

Newport credits his shutdown routine and his focus on distraction-free deep work for his uncommon productivity: A young associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University — who’s also written a handful of study and productivity books. On the side.

(!)

Because I suck at shutdown I think my work is suffering. Here’s why. Maybe you relate.

My mind knows that I’ll let gallery work and/or creative work seep into the evening. Knowing this . . . gives it leverage to entice me into longer breaks than needed for optimal renewal during the day.

Why?

Because I was working last night! 

And I’ll probably be working tonight, poor baby. Better take that lonnnng reading break. Better jump on the phone with Mom (MomJo!) now — why wait till later when you can spend the 45 minutes now?

(She’ll be talking for 40 minutes of that time; I’ll squeak in 5. Do you know a Mom like this? They seem to abound.)

It turns into an unholy cycle of working when I’m least productive — late in the day and into the evening — and then rewarding my overworked self with distractions during the day when I’m at the height of my powers.

It used to be Quora. Now it’s advice columnists. I know their pen names and their real names.

Stop me.

. . . . . . . . . .

All this is to say I’m cranking up my shutdown ritual again. At 6 pm it’s over (says the guy typing this to you at 8 pm).

But seriously. I’m setting an alarm.

And if I have to set several as ratchet points to wind me down, so be it.

Try this for yourself: A definitive work shutdown.

I did it before and it worked wonders. Counterintuitively I crushed it creatively and at the gallery. For weeks on end. Was it months?

Then I forgot. I slipped out of my glorious orbit.

Now is the time of remembering. And recalculating. And renewing my commitment to shutdown.

Not just because I’m living the Creative Morning Challenge these days. Not just because I want more focus for our art gallery. It’s because family and home time has been compromised by my lack of boundaries.

Good fences make good neighbors, says Robert Frost in a poem. Strong boundaries make for strong relationships — and a happy Evan.

So much of the good life is remembering what worked — and then recommitting to it till it sticks.

I’m shutting down a couple hours late here . . . but not tomorrow. Ohhhh, not tomorrow!

I have an alarm set.

 

Share

The note she has on her easel

The note she has on her easel reads:

Is this the best you can do?

If it isn’t, then it’s not done.

Artist Barrett Edwards lives this credo. Her studio is across the state of Florida from our gallery. A few days ago we drove to meet in the middle for an art exchange. Imagine how anticlimactic it was to discover we were only getting two paintings.

I’d driven for days! Well, an hour plus.

I’d be forced to dine at a tony restaurant nearby! On the gallery expense account.

The indignities were piling up. I might even be forced to take a nap to get over the ennui setting in.

Turns out Barrett had been working till late the night before on canvases she simply couldn’t release to me. When she asked herself if it was the best she could do, she knew it wasn’t.  So those will come another day.

My disappointment flipped into admiration in a nano moment. If only we all held back our lesser work!

(Those are her shoes by the way. Holding yourself to a higher standard doesn’t mean you can’t be impishly spirited too.)

 

Share

Show them that you mean it

Are you a yogini? A yogi? The type of person who does yoga most days a week? Everywhere you go?

When this image was snapped I lived on the road more than I lived at home. The yoga mat went with me everywhere. More importantly, I used it every day. Even in tiny hotel spaces flanked by an open closet and the bathroom door.

Now I don’t. I’m no longer yoga active. I’m a sometime yoga-er. My daily physical exertion choices have morphed. I pool walk. I swim. I pole walk. (With limbs cut from trees.) I sometimes bike. I sometimes do spurts on a pilates machine. Yoga, not so much anymore. It’s a sometimes thing.

If your dream is to become an attorney, a coder, an indie biz owner, a chef, an accountant, a doctor, a plumber, a wood worker — good — people will support you.

A writer? A cartoonist? An artist?

Not so much.

Why?

Because they love you.

Because they believe it’s a freakish odds lottery of talent, persistence and connections — that also requires a mega blast of good fortune.

In short, it’s far fetched.

Most people who don’t live in a city dominated by the creative class don’t know successful creatives. They don’t know people making a decent living from their art or writing or cartooning or humor or music.

My own Dad was dismissive of the creative life:

“The sooner you quit this writing/creativity crap the sooner you’ll be successful.”

That’s love.

I’m only being partly sarcastic. The non-sarcastic part took decades to acquire.

Because it’s also truth for most people. We all default to what is known. The easy paths are the well-trod paths. Banker, baker . . . (but no longer candlestick maker).

If you’re going to pursue your creative dream you need to push past the resistance of well-meaning people — those who care for you most. They want you to be successful in the most effective ways possible. The known ways.

How do you do this? How do you push past cultural resistance?

You show them that you mean it.

If you’re going to make yoga your living, you do it everyday. Unapologetically.

If you’re going to make tattoing your thing, you do it. In every small way you can.

You push past the love and care and mental constraints of others by doing it every day.

Show yourself you mean it.

And do it so consistently that you show others you mean it too.

Over time you become the town oddity, the one always sketching. Or the one always jotting ideas in a notebook that you carry with you all the time.

Show them that you mean it.

It’s how it works for life too. You know, the universe. You do it until life relents and opens the way for you.

Decades later people who care for you will say, “Yeah, she was always doodling.”

They will tell fond stories of you doing your creative thing when others were on the playground or at the mall or hanging out.

You will be the one people point to when some young spud speaks up, wanting a different kind of life.

They’ll say, “Why not?”

They’ll point to you and say, “Why don’t you ask him how he did it?”

 

 

Share

Workplay

Paul Tamanian, an artist we represent whose open-air studio spills onto his dirt driveway, has left messages like this on my voicemail:

Read more

Share

1.5 to 2 hours: The short sharp upward arc of focused time

Restaurant on the Savannah GA waterfront

I’m a writer, so my metrics are not only about creative practice time but also about production. An artist might be looking at work created. A musician at tracks laid down, or segments of a composition completed. A coder might be tracking lines of (elegant) code. Whatever your creative project, you have a sense of forward motion — or not.

When I’m creating something new, I average 250 words a day. That’s a decent result for the 45-minutes to an hour a day I was able to squeeze in. 

Then I began a 30-Day Challenge of waking up 2 hours early each day for creative work. I’m three weeks into that. I’m doing The Work for an hour and a half each day with another half an hour at the end that’s optional.

It’s not optional whether I work those final 30 minutes — I must. It’s optional whether I continue with writing on a book project or if I slide on over to a post for this website or working on my email newsletter.

Want to hear something that will galvanize you?

Doubling from 45-minutes/1 hour a day creative time to 1.5 hours/2 hours quadruples your result.

I wrote over 1,100 words each day in the first few days. To have my work soar to this new level was nothing short of a transformational leap.

I was doubling my average daily creative time. Some days it was more than that. If I went the full 2 hours focusing solely on The Work, that was more than 2.5 times what I normally managed. (45 minutes a day was my average before, when I was fitting it in after my time at the art gallery.)

Still, do the math. Two times 250 words would be 500 words a day. Another half again is 625 words. Instead my output increased by over 4 times!

One and a half to two hours is a magical chunk of focus time.

It allows you to go deep. Even if you never attempt 2-hour early morning sessions, if you wish to create meaningfully and productively, aim for 1.5 to 2 hours wherever you can lock it into your day.

To paraphrase Mark Twain in another context, it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

Here’s the thing. Going from 45 minutes or so a day to an hour and a half or two is going from not quite enough to perfect. From years of reading about peak creativity, it appears most creative individuals can sustain a high level of concentration somewhere between 2 to 4 hours.

Even creatives who make their sole income from creative work often find themselves maxing out after 4 or 5 hours.

California artist Nicholas Wilton noticed that his average creative day involved 3 to 4 hours of strong work. When he collapsed that to 2 hours a day he found the process invigorated him — and the work. He even installed a large digital countdown timer on his studio wall to serve notice: Time is evaporating! Keep at it!

Recently I read someone suggest that there’s no such thing as creative block — only too much time. When you constrain your focus to a duration allowing for real immersion, you get results.

It’s all about immersion — 1.5 to 2 hours draws forth your best work. It allows you to sink deeply into the process — and stay there long enough to be effective.

 

Share