Tending your dream

Easter weekend included a visit with my sisters, K and S, for lunch. Figured it would be the usual kind of visit, where we chat a little bit about what we’re doing, laugh a little about the past, talk a little about what’s coming up. An ordinary long weekend lunch.

I’d planned on asking K for advice or ideas about how to write a book proposal. Before I could even get to that topic, she informed us that she’d had a book proposal accepted by a publisher and was now supposed to be writing the book. After many congratulations, she confessed she was having some difficulty keeping to a regular writing schedule, and she was concerned she was getting behind with the project.

I talked about how I’d set myself up a writing schedule a couple of weeks ago but, when that appointment-with-myself time came up, there was always something else – a trip to the dentist, laundry, groceries, etc.

It’s so much easier to talk about our dreams and goals, than to do the actual work of achieving them. I think that’s a pretty normal state of affairs. But the problem with it is that one day we’ll wake up and be a year older, and realize we didn’t do much, and have little to show for the time. Perhaps the publishing deal disappears, or perhaps our goal of writing and pitching a book went on to the back burner and stayed there. Perhaps we never took the art classes, or called the guitar teacher, or saved the money for the trip to Italy.

The only resolution I can see for this is to set goals, and work towards them in bite-sized chunks.

Yet the other issue is overwhelm. There are so many things we have to do, it seems. There are so many calls on our time. We feel stretched thin, tired, scattered, even anxious about all we have to do. When we are in this frame of mind, adding more stuff to do just feels oppressive. We know we can’t possibly do it all. It feels impossible. We may give in to hopelessness and crash in front of the tv instead.

That’s a real problem. It’s not just managing time, it’s managing the complex tasks and responsibilities we shoulder while still getting some quality of life. And it’s managing the day to day unexpected happenings that require energy and attention as well.

Enter the to-do lists and schedules, lol. I’m looking up to the left of my computer screen, where I have my to-do lists, separated into projects, pinned to a bulletin board. Right beside my keyboard on the left is my monthly schedule. I make it up in Word. I update it weekly, and I’ve got sessions, rehearsals and gigs set up on it for about the next 6 weeks. I estimate I probably spend about 2 to 3 hours a week just scheduling everything. Like planning my budget, it’s become a necessary part of managing my life.

Sometimes, when I look at the 6 or 8 weeks I have blocked out with all the things on it… I feel the weight of all that ‘to-doing’.

In March I made a list of all the things that I typically have to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, and figured out when I would do them. I tried to budget my time the way I budget my money.

I had decided at the beginning of the year that I would no longer work Saturdays in the studio. I’d worked 6 days a week most of last year, and only having one day off didn’t make me happy. As much as I love what I do, the time between the last session on Saturday and the first session on Monday seemed terribly short. If I had a meeting or a family get together on the Sunday… I hit Monday morning feeling like I never got a break. My spirits rose at the thought of having two days off in a row. Yet, at the same time, I knew my budget and debt repayment plan would suffer.

I figured, that would okay – if I used that time effectively, either to get caught up on the things that always seem to be on the back burner; and/or used that time to be creative. I planned long walks & photo-taking expeditions on some Saturday mornings, perhaps alternating with a bi-weekly morning of painting.

But here we were, my sisters and I, on a weekend in April. And I had done exactly '0' paintings, and had only done one photo-taking walk since the beginning of the year.

We came up with a plan. What if we set aside Wednesday mornings and Saturday mornings to write or to paint (S holds down a full-time job and is also a painter). If K, who runs her own business, could take 2 hours off Wednesday morning to write… and add 30 minutes to the other days of the week, she’d work the same amount of hours. I’d already set aside some time on Wednesdays to write, but other things had intruded.

In addition, we decided we would report to each other. So every Wednesday and every Saturday, we would send an email to our sisters, saying what we’d accomplished that morning.

I left K’s feeling inspired. The lunch with my sisters helped me to refine my approach. Simply put, I reorganized my organization.

The important thing now is to keep those appointments with myself. No dilly dallying, wasting time fiddling with other things. My appointment with myself has to be just as important as an appointment with a student or client.

So far, S finished one painting and started another; K did some research; and I wrote my blogs and worked on the draft of my book proposal.

It does seem like the height of rigidity to set aside time to be creative. But if I don’t get that time, I don’t feel lifted. If I don’t face the blank page and challenge myself to think of some words to put on it… I won’t accomplish anything at all.


emily said...

We should be rigid about getting our creative time in. Kudos to you and your sisters; I should be so disciplined.

Helen said...

What a helpful post! I just found your blog because of this post - and it was perfect timing. It is so hard to find time for our creative processes and to do what we truly love. Getting caught up in the minutae of life makes things so difficult.