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Posts tagged ‘play’

My New Rule: The Power of One (wherein I attempt to be slightly less manic)

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

The Power of One

For many months now — or is it years? — I’ve been on a quest. A quest to slow things down. A quest to stop running around like a maniac from calendar item to calendar item. A quest to breathe more and do less. And I’m pretty sure you know what I’m talking about.

After being over-booked and over-worked for way too long, with too many days like this one, I finally realized that I have to stop overestimating the bandwidth of any given day. I have a bad habit of continually anticipating more time than I actually have, not leaving room for the significant amount of unexpected and last-minute requests and events that force me to shoe-horn my “regular” work into the margins. I decided to take drastic action with my schedule.

At the beginning of this month, I enacted a One Thing Only rule. This means that I only schedule one thing on any given day. There are still all of the regular activities — kids, domestic life, errands, hours of laptop-based work — but any kind of one-off that gets written in my calendar has to stand alone. This means that if I have a client meeting in the afternoon, I don’t schedule anything else for that day. If I decide to schedule morning coffee with a friend, I leave the afternoon unbooked. If I have a dentist appointment just after lunch, the rest of the day is locked down. Crazy, huh?

It hasn’t been easy. I still look at my planner and say “Well, on Thursday I only have a 30-minute coaching call at 11:00. I can fit an hour-long editorial conference call in at 2:00, right?” I mean, who wouldn’t do that? But the truth is, that with two or more events scheduled in any given day, reality eats up the rest of my schedule. I end up losing the hours of actual work time that I’d planned on. By the time I crawl into bed, I’ve been busy all day but I haven’t crossed off even half of the action items on my list. As a freelancer and a coach, I don’t get paid without billable time — and I don’t get billable time unless I’m at my desk, uninterrupted, doing my work.

Working for yourself means that you have the luxury — and the potential curse — of managing your time in the way that works best for you. If you’re a fulltime employee at an office, your time isn’t entirely within your control. There are days when you sit in endless meetings and feel like you didn’t get a moment of actual work done. Is there any way you can creatively apply the One Thing Only rule to parts of your workday, or at least your time away from the office?

In time, as the anxiety about being less scheduled recedes, what takes its place is a greater sense of calmness, focus, and satisfaction. You really can do more with less.

I’ll be writing more about the power of one in next month’s issue of the Creative Times. If you’re motivated to try this, or have already enacted a different plan for reducing your busy-ness, please share.


The One-Thing Sketching Practice

The piece below, which appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter, was written by my friend and former business partner Ellen Olson-Brown. Enjoy!


One Thing Sketching Practice

On the first of the month, I choose one familiar household object — a toy, a necklace, a clock on the wall — to sketch every morning of that month. I draw every day because I want to draw well, and I believe in the power of consistent practice, for two minutes or an hour, or an entire morning. I draw because I find the nonverbal work of visual observation and moving the pencil on the page to be meditative and centering. I draw because anchoring myself in wordless observation and movement ultimately helps me access my writing (the word-soaked centerpiece of the creative work that I do) from a more honest and flexible place.

Drawing the same object every morning means that I eliminate “but I don’t know what to draw!” as a barrier to getting started. It allows me to zoom in, sometimes drawing a tiny portion of an object, or to zoom out and include context and surroundings. It allows me to try and fail and try again to capture curves and shadows and relationships, to be playful, with the knowledge that I can give it another go the next day.

At the end of the month, I flip back through my journal and review the drawings I’ve done. I literally stack up evidence that I have met my commitment to myself, and this deepens my belief (and the self-fulfilling prophecy) that I’ll be able to show up again in the future, for drawing and other projects. I’m often surprised by the quality of what I’ve drawn, especially on the mornings where I recall feeling frustrated or stuck. And I’m never able to look at the objects I’ve drawn for 28 or 20 or 31 days without feeling that they’re not just props in my life, but friends I know intimately.

Would this practice work for you? Give it a try and let us know!


Ellen Olson-Brown, M.Ed., is a teacher, author of four children’s books, yoga teacher, and enthusiastic consumer of art and office supplies. Positive psychology, mindfulness, and the science of human flourishing are her current fascinations, and she loves supportively daring people to amaze themselves. Ellen lives in Groton, Mass., with her husband and twin sons.

Ellen: Play

The piece below, which originally appeared at the Open Studio Groton blog, was written by my brilliantly creative business partner, Ellen Olson-Brown. Enjoy!


music noteIt’s Monday evening, and I’m writing this post from Indian Hill Music in Littleton, Mass., where my sons take music lessons. I love it here.

I’ve settled into a deep leather couch in the lobby, a bright, wood-beamed room ringed by practice rooms. From one room on my right, I can faintly hear the piano pieces my son has been working on all week. On my left, someone plucks the low strings of a standing bass, and from other rooms piano scales and the reedy hum of a saxophone stream out, slightly muffled. I’m so happy in this space, soaking in a sound soup that’s a lot like the pleasant cacophony of an orchestra tuning up.

The woman in the voice lesson directly behind me is working on a short passage, and after 12, 13, 14 tries, she hits the high note. It’s no longer a strained squeak, but a warm brilliant color arcing through the air and into my heart. I want to applaud. Or cry. Or something.

Actually, I know exactly what that something is. I want to go home and play the piano.

Every time I go to Indian Hill, I feel the itch to make music. I want to take cello lessons and bang on a drumset and sing really loud.

I was a band dork as an adolescent. I played in the concert band, the stage band, the pit orchestra, and, yes, the marching band. I had neither the natural talent nor the discipline for excellence, but I loved making music, on my own in a tiny little practice room or within a wall of sound high-stepping across a football field. Music was a joyful part of my daily life.

And then it wasn’t. Grad school and work and raising a family and adult responsibilities took up time and space. The love of making music never went away. Just the making part.

There’s a piano at home, a piano I walk by many times each day, a piano I sit at 5 days a week with my son while he practices.

A piano I dust more often than play.

But when I go home tonight, before I fire up the grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner, before I open my laptop, maybe even before I take off my coat, I’m making a beeline for that piano. I’ve been chiseling away at Mozart’s Sonata in C major for 3 years now, and while I’m not quite at the point that Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philarmonic calls “one buttock playing” (oh, that video is a goody, embedded below, I think you should watch it!), playing the first, nearly mastered page of that piece gives me such joy.

Whenever I play, I walk away from the piano calmer, happier, more energized, thinking, “Why don’t I do that every single day?”

Is there a source of potential joy that you’re walking by every day? A set of paints? A box of yarn? Woodworking tools? Notebooks and pens? Clay? A cookbook and exotic spices? That guitar you haven’t touched in years? Your sewing machine? The Garage Band app on your new iPad?

Maybe tonight, before you start chopping onions, before you open the mail, you could play a little. Or play a lot.

But don’t forget to play.

Robin: Play IS Fun

[Editor’s note: Please join me in “officially” welcoming Robin to our About page. This means that we can now bug Robin any time we feel like it! 😉 ]

“Play is fun, but it is also meaningful and complex.  The more intelligent the animal, the more it plays.” –Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., Playful Parenting

Josey woke up the other morning to a note left by Daddy on the kitchen table. I of course went into swoon mode for my hubby. Josey looked at the pad of paper and said, “can I take that paper off so I can draw.” Josey wanted the notepad — it was hers, after all!

Parenting allows us to give a lovely type of nurturing drawn from that “outside of yourself” place. My hubby is not normally a “hugger” but he knows that Josey LOVES it.  She has no idea what an effort it is for him.

I got to thinking about this for myself. I am not one who really likes playing with toddler toys and only do it when Josey asks me to join in. However, I really enjoy reading children’s books and I really enjoy improvising crafts based on the stories we are reading. Maybe sometimes parents do not “play” as much as they would like because they feel restricted by the type of play that only taps into their kid’s place of whimsy. I submit that these could be opportunities to offer other playful options to our children which come in different and WONDERFUL packages.

I have found a few blogs that are incredibly helpful to get someone started:


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