Sound advice from the master! Happy Fourth of July.
The piece below originally appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter.
I strive for One Thing Only. But I was not doing one thing only last week at my 18-year-old’s ski race. I’m not sure exactly what I was doing when I left the sidelines and accepted my son’s invitation to step onto the back of his skis for a “little ride” down the mountain. He’d just fallen during his ski race — not badly, but a fall that disqualified him. I wanted to be near him, just to make sure he was okay. That was one thing.
The other thing, the idea of a “little ride,” is what gave me a black eye.
That ride on the slick skis of a slalom racer landed me face-first in the icy snow on the downward slope of a small mountain in the frigid evening air, where I never would have ended up if I’d listened to my inner guidance and stayed home to make soup, but I did not heed that thought, no, there I was on the slopes to cheer. (Something of the crowd’s response told me that cheering is just not done at races. Maybe that is why my boy fell?)
Well. I yelled anyway. I believe in my kids knowing they are being seen.
But I did not yell when I fell.
No, headfirst in the snow, then sitting up with my cold hand pressed to my hot cheek, I silently beheld the egg blooming under my skin. Now, doing one simple thing, but holding about 10 other thoughts in my mind. “Is anything broken? Why did I listen to my kid? Argh, he makes me nuts! Oh, but he fell too. How is he? Hurt? Embarrassed? Do I need an EMT? What about dinner now? I hate dinner! Will I be able to teach this weekend?”
This morning, I read: “True genius is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously without losing your mind.” Charles Baudelaire wrote that. I’d say he was describing the genius of mother-thoughts entirely.
Some days, I ace thinking one thing at a time. Quiet prevails, the phone is ignored, the Wi-Fi is off, and the laundry dries peacefully on the line, no one needs me, no one is hollering my name from another part of the house, no meal awaits creation, no ski race demands my yelling, just me. Here. With you, the little black tendrils that I coax into letters that make these words that give form to my thoughts.
It is a simple as that.
One little black thread of a line leads to another.
And of those thoughts, those layers and layers of mother-thoughts, I work around them, never truly shedding them, but today, I can see they are part of my genius.
Merci, Monsieur Baudelaire. Now please pass the ice pack.
Growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan made author, blogger, artist, and fulltime mom Suzi Banks Baum a lover of winter. Not afraid of the blank page, blank canvas, or wide expanse of snow, she makes patterns and trails, worlds and visions with her work. Suzi is about to launch an anthology of writings by women on mothering and creativity entitled An Anthology of Babes: Thirty-six Women Give Motherhood a Voice. The book will be sold at her March 1, 2013 event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. You can find Suzi at Laundry Line Divine or at the 10X10on10 Arts Festival in Pittsfield, MA, this month or better yet, out ice-skating.
The piece below originally appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter.
But we know from research that multitasking is actually unnatural and inefficient. “Do two or more things simultaneously, and you’ll do none at full capacity.”
Multitasking is the antithesis of the concept of “flow” or “being in the zone,” as identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. We want flow. It’s an essential part of creativity. Can you be creative when you’re unfocused and distracted? Sure. But the output probably won’t be as great — or feel as good — as what you get when you experience flow.
While it may be a lot to expect to enter flow on a daily basis, it’s not too much to develop work habits that support doing one thing at a time. I recently realized that my own habits had reached new depths of multitasking frenzy. The ugly truth looked something like this:
I’m in the middle of a client project and reflexively check my e-mail. A new action item comes in — something that will only take a couple of minutes to take care of. So I do that quick thing, and in the process remember that I’ve forgotten to order more paper towels. So I go to amazon to order paper towels and realize that I need to order a few other things too. I try to remember what those things are while going to the kitchen to make a fresh cup of tea. I unload the dishwasher while waiting for the kettle to boil. Back at my desk, finishing the amazon order, I get a text from one of my sons asking for a ride home from the train station later. I look at my schedule and realize that I have to make an ATM deposit, which I can do on the way to the train station. I take a few minutes to put together my deposit, which requires me to open my bookkeeping application and make a few entries. I glance at my to-do list and realize that I’m overdue for posting an update to a client’s facebook account. I go to facebook to make the update, but inevitably see my personal notifications at the same time. I get sucked into the feed. I click through to external pages. When a page is slow to load, I open another browser window and read news headlines or take a turn in Words With Friends. I realize it’s getting late and I really need to finish the client project I started with. I work on that for a a short burst before reflexively checking my e-mail again and the whole cycle repeats in some variation.
A pathetic spin on If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Can you relate?
At the end of the day, I’d have the unpleasant feeling of having been busy for hours without having made much measurable progress — and without having done anything to the best of my ability. That doesn’t work well, and doesn’t feel good.
How had I gone so awry? How could doing just one thing at a time possibly be so complicated? I knew it had something to do with electronic life — and the real-time availability and demands that come with it. I realized that I needed some training wheels. More than training wheels, I needed some duct tape and a hammer. I had to start doing one thing at a time, doing each task until a) it was completed or b) for external or predetermined reasons I had to stop. Duh. But for some reason, I couldn’t get myself to stick to this simple framework.
Enter the time log, which has — literally — transformed my life. We know that dieters who write down everything they eat lose more weight than those who don’t. There’s something about having to fess up — even if just to yourself — that encourages you to stick with your intentions. Here’s what I started doing.
In the “notes” side of my two-page per day planner (although you could use anything — including a sheet of paper) I write down the time and what task I’m starting. When the moment comes that I need/want to do something else, I write down the time and what I’m about to do. I can do anything I want, but I can only do the one thing I last wrote down. If I’m going to change tasks, I have to write it down first.
It’s that simple. Write down the time and what you’re about to do. Then do that one thing, and only that thing, until you need/want to do something else. Then write that thing down. Repeat. If something unexpected comes up and you need to deal with it, write it down. That’s now your one “thing.”
Here’s an excerpt from my log for Friday, February 1, 2013:
10:00 work on Coaching Circle planner
11:31 Client coaching call
12:05 work on Coaching Circle planner
12:26 e-mail Coaching Circle planner to recipients
12:35 check facebook
12:38 check e-mail/respond client messages
12:40 lunch and playtime with Liam
2:27 help Emma with online project
2:57 check e-mail/respond client messages
3:10 draft blog post
3:50 write e-mail to EB
3:55 send messages to coaching clients
4:20 writing practice
5:15 depart for Matthew pickup
You get the idea. The thing is, if I hadn’t been keeping this log, I wouldn’t have stuck with that 90-minute focused work block at 10:00, and I wouldn’t have refrained from checking e-mail during my playtime with Liam. Keeping this log continually reminds me of my commitment to doing just one thing at a time, and to doing it as well as I can. For larger projects, I decide ahead of time that I’m going to spend 60 or 90 minutes on that project. Then, if necessary, I stop and move on to the other things that have to get taken care of.
Want to try it? I encourage you to use paper for your time log, rather than an electronic device. Paper is immediate — and unplugged. It isn’t full of distractions like your phone and computer. And I think there’s something about having a log in your own handwriting that keeps it all “real.”
Do yourself a big favor and close your e-mail client and all social media when you’re not actually “doing” those things. Sticking to your time log is easier without those added temptations.
It also helps to spend some time in the morning outlining what you need and want to get done that day, so that as you finish one thing, you don’t get lost trying to decide on the next. Assign time estimates to each task on your list beforehand. And if you like to take a lot of breaks, by all means, take them! Just write down what you’re doing. Then you don’t run the risk of kidding yourself when your 20-minute break turns into a 2-hour social media binge.
The only downside to the log is that now I feel lost without it. I’ve started using it from the moment I get up in the morning. It helps me avoid OD’ing on Words With Friends when I really want to be doing my Morning Pages.
If you’re motivated to try this, or have another plan for reducing your busy-ness, please share it below!
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The new year has begun. At the two-week mark I’m ready to get specific about how I want to approach the months ahead. At about this time last year, I posted my personal review of 2011, and then my intentions for 2012. Instead of goals, l preferred the word intentions, because so many of my priorities comprised an ongoing practice, rather than end points. If you follow our Monday Post you know that my weekly intentions rarely vary. My frame for the coming year is similar. But first, a brief review of 2012, because I like to appreciate where I’ve been before moving forward. Don’t you?
When I think through the highlights, I see that this year was very much about connecting with other people and becoming increasingly comfortable in front of a crowd, large or small. It’s no accident that our tagline for Open Studio was Connect, Create, Grow. (I used the past tense when referring to the studio. More here.)
When I look at the list of intentions I created for last year, I calculate about at 50% “success” rate. I’m okay with that.
For this year, instead of another folio of intentions, I’m doing something different. I still have the same priorities, but one concrete goal tops the list: finish my fiction manuscript. I don’t know if this is within my reach, but I’m going to try. On top of that, I’ve identified three words that are my mantra for the year:
Focus is for working on one thing until it’s done. Working with the wifi shut off and/or with my e-mail turned off. Not jumping from thing to thing in a ridiculous circle. Focus is for planning my day and following the plan. Focus is for my writing practice.
Kindness is for kindness to self. Being kind to others is not a struggle, but I tend to push myself too hard. I’m working on ways to be gentler, which means adjusting my personal expectations. Treating others and myself with empathy.
Delight is for doing less and enjoying it more. Delight is for slowing down and reconnecting with the natural childhood awe that used to be natural. Delight is for not running around like a maniac. Delight is for being here now, and not wanting to be anywhere else.
How about you? What are your intentions for 2013? If you have a word — or three — will you share?