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Posts tagged ‘log’

Ingrid: When Sugar and Creativity Collide

Editor’s note: Ingrid Kirkegaard is a writer and independent consultant specializing in education. The mother of two, she lives in North London and blogs at Dutch Courage. Try not to be intimidated by the fact that Ingrid studied French and Dutch literature at Cambridge University, graduating with a First, and then wrote her doctorate at Oxford University, among other academic accomplishments. Some weeks ago, Ingrid shared a few interesting tidbits on a Monday Post, and I asked her to expand on her ideas. Don’t miss the free template of Ingrid’s log that you can download and adapt to your own needs at the end of this post!


Ingrid Kirkegaard“I will get up at 6:00 am and do one task towards my book.” This sounds like detention, but in fact it’s setting an intention.

I am a writer. Here’s the record. There’s stuff I published as an academic. Then there’s an abandoned academic book; an abandoned novel; and now the attempt to finish another nonfiction book. I have been working on it for four and a half years.

I can give all the usual reasons for my failure to complete — mortgage, children, day job(s), international relocation. They’re pretty big, and there’s no question they soak up my time — but they are not the real reasons I have struggled for so long with writing.

Unfortunately for me, I am a perfectionist and a procrastinator. There is little to be proud of in these qualities. The public manifestation of them is that, unless there is a deadline, I cannot produce. The private hell is that I believe that what I produce is worthless.

It’s like standing up in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, confessing that out loud. So I might as well go the whole hog.

For me, there is a third dimension. The amount of sugar I consume is a direct index of my perfectionism and procrastination. I eat sugar, even though I know it’s bad for me, because I know it’s bad for me, when I do not know what to do next. Giving up sugar would mean… having to be honest with myself, facing the pain, and doing something about it.

Work space

Work area #1: My desk belonged to my mother and father, and was one of the first items they bought when they got together in Holland in the 1960s. It doesn’t fit into our small house, but I cannot bear to part with it!

But this feels impossible, so I have found another, kinder, way. Enter — The Sugar Log.

When I went on holiday this summer, I decided to aim for three things: to go cold turkey on sugar for that week; to write for an hour early every morning; and to maintain a log.

To my absolute amazement, I managed to do the writing and stay off the sugar — even though the family wafted ice cream and biscuits under my nose. Keeping that log really helped me. It had several columns: I set out a writing task; the date; what went well/what didn’t and why; next steps; writing notes; and a sugar confessional. When I’d finished writing for the day, I set the task for the next day.

The idea of keeping a reflections log wasn’t new to me, but what made me try it for myself was seeing someone elses. It was the amazing intimacy of reading another person’s very rough thoughts about her own work, all neatly compartmentalized in spreadsheet columns, that I found inspiring. I could see at a glance the way her thinking had progressed over time; it really helped me to see that she kept her daily goals very small; and it really, really helped me to see that her doubts and confusions were the same as mine — but contained.

Since coming back from holiday, I’ve kept the log and the cold turkey going. I can see now that it’s possible to stay (mainly) off the sweet stuff, and not to panic, even if I can’t work for that crucial hour first thing. If I fall off the wagon and munch on chocolate, it is also not the end of the world. Because I can still set my intention and try again.

Work space

Work space #2: Our lovely dining table, with its very sensible oilcloth covering. I love that tablecloth!

The log is different from my to do list and my online calendar, which sustain the grind of domestic life. The log is about my working process, and holding myself to account.

And even taking a little pleasure in the process.

I’ve noticed I am calmer, even though I’m hugely busy at the moment. Spelling out what’s going on defuses all the pressure. Keeping it to myself means I deal with that pressure without leaning on others. The log is like a daily postcard to myself — not too detailed, but a little bit of kindly attention being paid to my mental processes.

This is a little turning point on the long road I’ve been on since becoming a mother and stopping being a professional academic. It is a road that has involved working to excess, falling into depression, learning how to dance, falling in love with yoga, and gradually, gradually understanding Marcel Proust’s crucial insight, that we are embodied creatures caught in time. What we get done is what we get done in time. Perfection has nothing to do with it.

A screen shot of Ingrid’s Work Log appears below (click on the image for a more readable view). For a free Excel template of her log that you can adapt to your own preferences download this file: The Sugar Log. Many thanks, Ingrid!

How about you? Do you find a connection between your consumption of sugar and your creative output? Share with us in the comments!

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How to Do One Thing at a Time

The piece below originally appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter.

How to Do One Thing at a TimeIn our do-it-all-now culture, multitasking is considered a skill. Just look at a few help wanted ads online — most job descriptions call for candidates who are able to “multitask.”

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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