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How to Think Less and Do More

The Canadian painter Robert Genn writes a terrific, twice-weekly newsletter. While Genn writes primarily about painting, his thoughts apply to any creative pursuit, including writing. The gem below, which looks at ways to stop wasting time in the abyss of decision-making, is reprinted by permission.

Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit describes her morning routine of rising early and going through the same morning rituals; same coffee, same bun. She puts on the same leotards, goes down the same elevator to the same street corner, puts her same arm up in the air and gets into the first cab that comes along.

By the time she gets to the studio she has made no significant decisions. Stepping out onto the dance floor, her dancers await. It’s eight in the morning and her first decision is yet to come. It will be a creative one.

We painters also need to save our decision-making for things of importance. “Don’t,” as they say, “sweat the small stuff.” I figure an average 11″ x 14″ uses up several hundred thousand decisions. Compound that over a day of painting and it’s in the millions. Even the small decisions in a painting, some of them so micro and seemingly insignificant, are the building blocks of what we are to become.

Fact is, some lives are so filled with impedimentary drama and ancillary decision-making that there is little time left over for work.

While I sympathize with those who find it difficult to eliminate some workaday decisions, the idea is to step ASAP into the happy hunting ground. Here are a few ideas:

  • Simplify morning rituals.
  • Keep regular habits by day and week.
  • Have your workplace nearby and handy.
  • Work in a space unsullied by impedimenta.
  • Use a day-timer — plan your work; work your plan.
  • Always ask — “Is this action necessary?”
  • Be businesslike — discourage time-wasters and interlopers.
  • Be efficient and mindful of wasted motion in your space.
  • Drive your car mainly for pleasure.
  • As far as possible, get stuff delivered and taken away.
  • Be modern — pay bills, bank, book flights, etc., online.
  • Keep your dress code practical and simple. You don’t need to look good in a studio.
  • Quit your day and move to a relatively decision-free mode: Play well, laugh much, love much, sleep well.
  • Finally, and most important, with every non work-related decision, you need to decide: “Is the decision I’m making truly needed, or is it just another excuse?”

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “We cannot directly choose our circumstances, but we can choose our thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, we shape our circumstances.” (self-help pioneer James Allen)

Esoterica: The cosmetics tycoon and women’s advocate Mary Kay Ash said, “There are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened… You can decide which type of person you want to be.” We artists, in particular, need to be among those who make things happen. Self-starting, self-motivating and self-critical, we focus our energy on thought, planning, observation, quality control and production. Difficult decisions–lots of them–are both the joy and the burden of creative folks. “Those who avoid the tough choices of life,” said author Robert Brault, “live a life they never chose.”

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Don’t miss the treasure trove of Genn’s letters here.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I do have a habit of overthinking and overanalyzing things, and it frequently does impede me from moving forward and taking action. Guilty as charged. 🙂

    Conversely, though, there are also times when I get so caught up in my “to do” list that I don’t allow myself time to sit and think at all. There has to be a happy medium I’m sure — but finding it ain’t always easy!

    September 25, 2013
    • monman6letters #

      I totally agree. I am constantly overthinking things until I write them down. Then, I often don’t think about them at all. I need to work on this!

      October 8, 2013
  2. K. Woll #

    This is so brilliant. Such an excellent case for not overcrowding your life — with things, with activities. There is more possibility in simplicity. I will reread this many, many times.

    October 1, 2013
  3. monman6letters #

    As a dancer, I can totally relate to this. Thanks for posting!

    October 8, 2013

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  1. Painter Robert Genn on Art and Happiness | The Creative Mind
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