Getting Things Started With a Bite
The Not So Peaceful Garden
16" x 20"
Painted paper collage on matboard
Many moons ago, when I first started college, I felt I needed a way to keep track of assignments, tests, and studying time. (This was before the personal computer really took hold and before I Phones took over. People actually wrote things down...) I bought a little lined notebook, and kept track of the days, noting what homework I had to do and when and what days I needed to study for a test. This system suited me well as I am a list maker and am task oriented. To this day, thirty plus years later, I still have a physical notebook that I write in and use to keep track of things I want to do for the day or the week.
When the Pandemic was first hitting and people were beginning to go into lockdown mode, all of my social media feeds were filled with productivity. People were cleaning out closets, baking up a storm, inventing clever family games and doing all sorts of nifty stuff. The novelty of being at home was on full display. I then waited for the shoe dropping to begin. After several weeks, the reality of the situation sank in and some of those busy folks were a little quiet. How come you wonder? I am going to tell you. IT'S HARD BEING AT HOME ALL DAY! There. I said it. And yes, I am yelling.
Why is it so hard? My own experience tells me that part of the difficulty lies in having unstructured free time. Many of us, myself included, have been very used to a structured work/school environment. Do this thing at 9AM, do that thing at 11AM, eat lunch at 1PM, do something else at 2PM and go home at _______ (insert appropriate time). When you don't have that sort of schedule, things can fall apart. This is particularly true for us creative types who may have a loose schedule to begin with. When you are already stressed about the Pandemic, going into the studio to "create" can seem overwhelming. Where do you start?
You start right here. Make a list! But, you might ask, what if I am stuck? What if I am depressed and can't get started on anything? What if, what if, what if? I will say it again. Make a list!
Full disclosure here. I am not a Life Coach, nor a psychologist nor any other kind of therapist. I am, however, a depressed and anxious person who is at home all day by herself. I know well about which I speak. Getting going is not easy. It isn't impossible though. There is a way to begin and I will share that now. This is what I do to get going. I get out my notebook and start with the date and day. I write that down. Next, what small and finite tasks do I want to do today, particularly as they relate to creativity? Here is a sample: I want to write a blog post, for starters. I have my topic picked out. I want to add four items to my shop that are for sale. I need to prep one board for painting and cut out two sheets of shapes. This may be enough for the day. I also include a few backup items just in case there is more time or something falls through. The tasks aren't really in an order of importance but if I wanted, I could number them or label them as "A,B,C, etc." I give myself permission to do as many tasks as I can reasonably handle in addition to my other household responsibilities (someone has to make dinner and feed the cats). I also give myself permission to lay down and take a nap with the guiltless understanding that some things may not get done. Or, maybe the nap is the incentive to get everything done!
In any case, having a list of items (tasks) to do has been immeasurably helpful these last couple of weeks. I have gone from flailing around, feeling unmotivated, to enjoying a reasonable degree of steadiness and a genuine uptick in productivity. I think the reason is that the tasks are finite and specific and small. (This is something I learned in my former career: goals must be measurable, specific, and achievable.) They have a start and end time. I can also roll them to the next day (without guilt) if necessary. At the end of the week, I can look back and see what I accomplished. And, as I mentioned, there has been some increase in creative productivity. Imagine if your artist's list included "do five quick sketches" and "gesso four canvases" and "watch one instructional video." That would be a fun morning (and a full one at that!).
Two Things: First, list making (tasks) will help you to see that you needn't be in your studio 24/7 (unless that is what you want). You may want to select a certain number of days (I selected 5 days a week) to be in your studio/creative space. I pick my tasks accordingly, knowing that I have the morning and some of the afternoon in which to work. If you have ten tasks picked out and only 2 hours, don't make those tasks complicated. Second, no list will help you if you abhor list making! (Never say never!) If you feel creativity is stifled by having to do tasks, well, I can't help you there. (It isn't true but it may feel true to you.) I can only say that if you feel you aren't in your studio enough or you don't know where the time went or you aren't sure why you haven't completed any new work and the Covid Virus is getting you down, you may want to consider this list idea. At the very least, the concept is an extension of the idea that "idle hands are the devil's workshop." Or maybe it's more like "priming the pump" or "paying into a savings account." Or maybe it's like my late cat Toby who used to get things started with a bite. He would nip you to get you to pay attention to him. It worked every time. Just turn your stalled creativity and list making efforts into a series of small bites and you should be good to go! You are welcome!
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