I’m returning to this space after a bit of a break. I’m not entirely sure I feel ready, but I think it’s right to come back and start again when there are new buds on the trees and flowers starting to bloom in gardens. Writing regularly, and sharing my ideas on creativity with a wider audience, is important to me and I’ve missed it during the winter months. But, adding something back into my schedule feels like hard work. I’ve gotten used to having the extra time each week for other things (and there are so many other things!) that trying to earmark a short space for this has me questioning whether it’s time I can afford. This activity needs to move from the category ‘things I rarely do’ to ‘things I always do’ – a space that is much easier to deal with.
The issue seems to be how I view the work I currently need to do. I’m at the beginning of a long project that will last until the end of June. It’s challenging work and I feel like I am always on the verge of being overwhelmed, there are so many things to hold in my head. I’ve been keeping a reflective journal of the process, to learn as I go, and I’ve already realised that managing a project - that involves six other artists, two venues, five partner organisations, an ambitious events programme and is publicly funded - by one’s self may not have been such a sensible plan. It’s all do-able, but it would be lovely to have someone to share things with, an extra pair of eyes on the details and the overview. When I start to struggle it’s all on me. I’m sure you know exactly how I feel. Most creative work, for freelancers or self-employed artists/makers/designers, lives in the mind of only one person, and no one else has the full picture. Sharing that, explaining that, not feeling guilty by it is often hard to do.
So right now I’m interested in ways to manage my work load and time so that I don’t have too many days of feeling twisty in my tummy or evenings spent feeling like I should be doing more. My goal is to spend the best hours of my day working on the most demanding elements of the project, the problem-solving, the creative endeavour, and to leave the mundane admin tasks to the hours of low energy in the afternoons. This would be fine in a world where I control everything and I don’t have any commitments to other human beings. But, that is not the world we live in, and I do. And it’s precisely those other things that cause me worry; they are the things in my diary that make me start to feel like there’s not going to be enough time. They are things that, perhaps, I shouldn’t have said yes to, are things that I don’t have the energy for, or are things that I’m not 100% excited by. But the guilt of saying No, of feeling that it’s not ok to say ‘I’m sorry but I can’t do that’ means I’m committed to doing them.
I’ve been doing an online course created by the amazing Jocelyn K Glei (I’m sure I’ve mentioned her podcast Hurry Slowly before) called Reset. She calls it a ‘cosmic tune-up for your workday’ where she shares the ‘knowledge and tools to work in a way that is intentional, energising and inspiring’. I’m working my way slowly through the videos, mindful that I don’t have a lot of extra time, and aware that that is exactly why I need to do it now, when it can be most useful. There are so many things that I’ve found helpful, but the one I wanted to share with you is the ‘Stop Doing’ list.
I live for lists. A daily list, a week list, a month-by-month list, the giant wall planner of the year… I acknowledge my addiction. The problem with most ‘to do’ lists is that they are endless. The quick thrill of checking things off vanishes as new things are scribbled over the top and squeezed in. Now, I don’t think I’m going to change the habit of a lifetime and throw out my lists, but something that I’m growing to love is a new kind of list, a more static list, one that doesn’t get updated too much, but which is more of a set of guidelines for how I would like to work and manage my time. The ‘Stop Doing’ list is there to remind me of the things that I know, that I have observed about myself, that I have learnt the hard way - the things that I would like to do less of, the things that if I could reduce would free me up emotionally and temporally.
My ‘Stop Doing’ list has 5 items and they are all to do with scheduling or timings of activities: I travel quite a bit for work but I have noticed that if I do a lot of travelling on back-to-back days I get tired quickly and lose my focus. So one of my ‘Stop Doing’ items is to stop scheduling travel days back-to-back. I also find it stressful dealing with emails in the evenings and weekends. I often find it hard to resist checking, and then can’t deal with the issues until the morning/Monday anyway, but I still worry about it. So, another ‘Stop Doing’ item is to stop checking/responding to emails after 6pm.
If I’m honest my ‘Stop Doing’ list fills me with excitement and also a bit of dread. I feel empowered to take control and prioritise myself, but I also feel slightly naughty, like I’m doing something I shouldn’t. It feels wrong to say I won’t take meetings in the mornings, but if that’s the time of day I do my best work, why should I not ring-fence that for my important tasks? I know I won’t be able to stick to my ‘Stop Doing’ list all the time, that life will happen and I need to be flexible. But having a reminder, on a bright pink post it on my diary, of the things that I need to say No to, or stop doing, reminds me that it’s ok to put my work and wellbeing first.
What things would be on your Stop Doing list? Have you noticed the things that drain your energy or that regularly fail to give you pleasure in your work? Is there a way to stop doing them altogether, or to minimise their effect? What small steps could you take right now to free up some headspace and a bit of time for your best work?