As a creativity coach, I have an obligation to walk the talk. It’s important to me that my coaching strategies come not just from training and books, but from real-life experience and an active personal practice. If I were to champion the virtues of an early morning creative practice, for example, while I was secretly sleeping until noon and hadn’t flexed a creative muscle in years, I’m pretty sure that most of you would call me a fraud. And I’d have to agree.
In this vein, I recently came to an important decision.
I often work with clients who struggle with extreme shortages of time but are seemingly unable to edit anything out of their schedules. Looking in as an outsider, it’s not hard for me to identify items that might merit the chopping block in order to free up time for creative work. While I can make gentle suggestions, ultimately, those decisions can’t come from me; they have to come from the client’s own shifting perspective. That shift requires looking at everything with openness and a willingness to see beyond “I can’t.”
This year, like many of my clients, I found myself in the position of having too much to do — way too much to do — and being unable to see how I might do less. “But it’s all good, important, relevant stuff!” I told myself. “I’ve already gotten rid of the obvious things!” (Volunteering for the PTA, for example. Duh.)
Many of you know that in January of this year, I opened Open Studio Groton, a brick-and-mortar studio here in Massachusetts, with my dear friend and business partner Ellen Olson-Brown. Open Studio was launched as a place where people in our community could connect, create, and grow. Looking back over the year, we have an amazing collection of successes to celebrate. Connections have been made over ideas, projects, and conversations. Artwork, manuscripts, businesses, friendships — all were created in our cozy little space. Individuals connected and grew in their own ways: some developed into stronger writers through our writers’ workshops and writers’ groups, some became more flexible yogis through Buddha Nest Yoga, some enjoyed our other diverse offerings, from blacksmithing to writing a personal creed. Four talented artists had shows in our space. Personal friendships were formed; our community grew stronger.
To our surprise, our little experiment turned out to be sustainable. We hit the black in late spring, even while we were still refining our elevator speech. (“What *is* Open Studio, anyway?”) But over the months, we often scrambled to keep all of our many studio balls in the air. The marketing alone, as with any business, was a considerable undertaking. (“Crap! I need to write that press release within the hour!”) Other areas of my life were neglected this year. One of you dear readers even wrote to me to inquire about what happened to my formerly monthly newsletter — which was just one of several sacrifices (my garden, my sanity, and the folding of clean laundry were a few others) that I didn’t want to make.
Ellen and I both have other businesses to take care of (in addition to coaching I own an editorial services business — and Ellen is a children’s book author and children’s yoga instructor). Open Studio made so much sense, bringing together so many of our passions — and it still makes sense. But in the space of a week this fall, we went from planning 2013 to acknowledging that if the two of us wanted to stay sane, we needed to pull back, take stock, and reaffirm our primary commitments.
It isn’t easy to let go of something when it’s relevant to your life work, the community supports your efforts, and you’ve already launched on your planned trajectory. But the inescapable truth is that there are only 168 hours in the week. When there are too many things to fit in your box, you have to take something out. In this instance, you can’t actually get a bigger box. It’s really that simple.
And so it became clear that while the studio as a business is sustainable, the time that it requires on both of our parts is not. As I sometimes remind clients, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” My threshold for investing personal energy — and time — has to have a finer filter. Because energy, like time, is finite. I am committed to my personal writing practice. I am committed to my coaching work. I am committed to my editorial business. I am committed to my family. I am committed to myself: reading, yoga, breathing. I am committed to moving slowly enough that I can savor where I’m at. Because if I’m not savoring, what’s the point?
The studio will close on December 31 and Ellen and I will turn with renewed focus to all the other things requiring our attention. But we’ll have a few more ounces of focus at our disposal, and a few more minutes at hand. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job with everything that remains. Most importantly, we’ll celebrate the success of 2012, and affirm the value of doing a little less — and doing it well.
Oh, and by the way. Stay tuned for my next newsletter. ;-)
(Ellen Olson-Brown contributed more than a few words to this post. Thanks, E.)
Here is my situation:
I am a morning person. My energy begins to wane around lunch time, and by dinner time it has completely disappeared. In a perfect world, I would get up at the crack of dawn, write on my laptop until I could no longer ignore my hunger pangs, eat breakfast, and then head to the gym for an hour. But even as I write these words, I know it is a complete and utter impossibility.
I wish I was the sort of person who could sit down in front of a blinking cursor and write, but I need a warm up period first to get my brain in gear. My brain refuses to engage when I have toddlers climbing all over me, demanding waffles and oatmeal and YouTube train videos. And as inspiring as I find The Wiggles, they don’t exactly transport me to 1916 Appalachia when they’re blaring from the TV in the background. So even though I’d like to work on my novel first thing in the morning, motherhood has forced me to readjust my writing schedule. If I get any writing in at all, most mornings I work on my blog because it just doesn’t require the same degree of concentration as a book.
This summer, I’ve made a point of going to the gym three mornings a week, to the bright and early 8:15 am deep water aerobics class. The YMCA offers childcare during this time, and I love getting my workout in first thing and having the rest of the day to devote to other things. In a perfect world, I would like to continue taking this class three mornings a week ad infinitum. But again, the fates of motherhood are conspiring against me.
Sam’s preschool starts at 9:00 every morning. Obviously I can’t be in two places at once. But I thought I could easily take a class later on in the morning. Except, the morning exercise classes are scheduled for 9:15 and 10:10. There’s no way I can drop Sam off at his preschool at 9:00 and get to the gym in 15 minutes, even if he leapt from the moving mini-van in the preschool parking lot. I could easily make the 10:10 classes, but my morning would be shot. I’d drop Sam off, have not much more than a half an hour to write/clean/run errands, and then have another 15 minutes to kill after my class before I could pick him up. It’s hardly an ideal situation.
What would be ideal is if there were afternoon classes I could attend at the gym, except there aren’t. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, even if there were, because childcare isn’t available from noon until 5:00 pm. The earliest group classes start up again between 5:30 and 6:00 pm, so in addition to not being morning-person-friendly, it would completely ruin my dinner-cooking-and-eating schedule.
I was complaining about all of this to my husband, Tom, and he told me I was being inflexible. I could write after the boys were asleep (9:00 or 10:00 pm) and I certainly didn’t have to take a group class at the gym. I could hit the cardio machines, or better yet, the weight room.
It was at this point that my brain exploded a little bit.
I can barely construct a coherent sentence at 10:00 at night, much less write novel-worthy prose. And there is no way I’m going to use up 30 minutes of my precious allotment of me-time to drive to a gym to use cardio equipment when I have an elliptical machine in the basement. I like group exercise classes. That is why I joined a gym. If I wanted to exercise alone, I could do it without the monthly membership fee. And spending my morning lifting weights? I do lift weights. A 30-pound 2-year-old and a 45-pound 4-year-old. All day long. Over and over and over again. I’m not going to volunteer to do it some more.
This is the kind of situation I face as a mother all the time. What I want to do should be simple enough, except that it isn’t once I factor in my children’s needs. My needs (quiet writing time and a group exercise class) get put on the back burner, and instead of sympathy, I’m expected to change my wants and needs on the fly so that my wants and needs become compatible with my children’s.
You can do this for a while, but after a while you realize you’ve hit an impasse. Your wants and needs are your wants and needs for a reason, and you get to a point where you can’t be flexible about them anymore. I should be able to write and go to the gym when it best suits my biorhythms, and hopefully if I just wait it out one more year I will. When John is 3 he’ll be eligible for preschool, and I’m strongly considering enrolling him at the preschool at the Y. That way I could drop him off at his class, get a workout in, and then head home to a quiet house to write.
But in the meantime, it’s looking like I’ll be doing a lot of exercising at home.
“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” Lucille Ball
I’ve always loved this quote, but only just this morning discovered that the voice behind it was:
b) a mother; and
c) a woman and mother in COMEDY!
I can practically feel the fairy-dust a-spilling! (Do be careful not to trip, won’t you? I don’t have insurance on this blog.)
But now that I think about it, it seems perfectly natural that Lucille — a mother (unarguably a synonym for “busy person” if ever there was one), striving to carve out a career following her creative passion — would be the one behind it.
I just LOVE it, LOVE it, LOVE it! Namely cos it turns that whole “Boohoo! I just don’t have any tiiiimmmeeee….” thang right where it should be: on its whingey, sad, defeatist little head.
*Disclaimer: author of this post is talking to herself as much as you.
Indeed, having limited time can be our bestest little buddy in the whole wide world when it comes to getting stuff done. Because:
1. MAKE LIKE A BOY SCOUT & BE PREPARED!
Have your to-do list/goals list ready at hand so that when the moment of free time strikes, you are not wasting a moment of it scratching your head, looking heavenward and pondering the secrets of the universe.
Note that I’ve found it works better for me just to have a generic ‘to do’ list to work on as required, rather than a strict time-based schedule. i.e. if I start doing the whole “at 9am I will work on ‘blah blah'” thang, I start pulling my hair out pretty quickly thanks to the ingenius knack of kids to turn all unpredictable on me. Seriously. I have a bald patch. I don’t like talking about it. Could we please change the subject?
2. TREAT YOUR TIME LIKE THE LAST TUBE OF TOOTHPASTE ON EARTH
I’m serious. When it comes to squeezing every last drop out of these fleeting moments of peace, you’ve gotta commit to the battle, people! For instance, in our house, we have those rare — yet treasured — but rare, occasions, when my older kids will arrive home from school while my littlest is still sleeping. It’s around this time that I squeal for joy like a little piggy on steroids. (Silently of course, what are you, crazy? I don’t want to wake the baby!)
I then, in what can only be described as “somebody’s pressed the fast-forward button on Jenny’s new show: So you think you can guarana!” I assemble a line of snacks with a bansheed cry of “I LOVE YOOOOOOUUUUU!!!!!!” as I disappear back into my lair.
Sure, it only buys me an extra 10-15 minutes at best, but in the words of Sarah Connor: “We loved a life time’s worth.”
3. SLOW COOKERS ARE YOUR SOUL-MATES.
That is all.
But enough about ME!
What about you?
*Just for the record, if there really is a Johnny Depp Batman doll — on ebay or anywhere else in this cosmos — please contact me. Not that I need it. Ehem…