Recently I listened to an interesting TED talk by Laura Vanderkam about gaining control of your free time. As a renowned expert on time management, Vanderkam is sometimes invited to contribute articles on effective time management to various publications, and she provided some examples given by others on how to save time. This included being guided by the minimum timeframe when heating up meals in the microwave – if the range is 7 to 9 minutes, take it out after 7 minutes and potentially save yourself two whole minutes! Whilst I’ve often felt rushed and time-poor, I’m thankful that I haven’t become quite so literal about it. Yet.
My key takeaway from this talk was something simple but powerful. We all have the same about of time. 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week. It is what we do with this time that matters. There was an example of a successful, extremely busy woman who ran a business and had a family and multiple other commitments. During a time management study to help understand how she managed to cope with all of these demands, a water heater flooded creating chaos and mess. It required hours of liaising with tradespeople and cleaning up and getting things back to normal, time that was already earmarked for other things. Time didn’t stop ticking, but there is an elasticity in time in that it will shift to incorporate what is necessary. The water heater had to be fixed, and life and all of its associated commitments had to be flexible enough to be prioritised and slotted in around it.
Like most people I go through periods of time when work, family and the basic requirements of living (grocery shopping, washing, cleaning, sleeping) seem to take every available moment in the day. I catch myself moaning about not having the time to sit down to finish the last draft of the short story I’ve been working on, or tease out an idea that came to me on the cusp of consciousness. But if I’m honest and realistic, I can find the time to spend on something that brings me so much pleasure.
It might mean being less pedantic about certain things, or even something basic like getting up when I’ve had a meal rather than lingering with a sense of weariness. I know if I do get up and keep moving I feel motivated and far more likely to make use of the extra few minutes snatched here and there.
How do you find time for what matters most in your creative life?
[Photo: detail of red typewriter spotted in an op shop]
X is a useful letter. It can be used to denote a person or thing or place – Mr X, X marks the spot. It is also depicts 10 when used as a Roman numeral.
Of all the letters in this alphabetical quest, X has definitely been the most challenging. I perused the dictionary and thought about the likelihood of a chance encounter with a xylophone or a xerophyte. Not terribly high in the circles in which I move. So I decided to approach it from a less literal angle. By widening the lens, I could spot X’s in all sorts of places. This is what I found.
Exposed tree roots
X Shape in a Tree
This tree was spotted at Nambucca Heads on the mid north coast. The lower roots are aerial and some form the shape of an X.
Would an axe be an axe without an X? I think not. I have used axes occasionally for chopping firewood, but that’s about the sum of it. To see a professional woodchopper in action is a treat. Axe handles are sometimes used as a rough unit of measurement for width.
One of my earliest watches had Roman numerals which helped to reinforce X in the context of time. This clock was spied in a cafe and gift shop.
This cushion summed up my approach to X. After all the eagle-eyed spotting, it was refreshing to take a different viewpoint and, well, relax. One of my favourite words and aspirational pastimes.
Have you spied anything starting – or featuring – an X lately?
With the end of the year approaching at speed, my mind tends to busy itself with thoughts about what I would like to work towards in the new year, as well as what was achieved in the past 12 months. It is too early for New Year resolutions, and I have learnt that having grand plans to change my life significantly as at 1 January tends to end in disappointment. What works better for me is to have a list of goals to work towards, with timeframes if appropriate, that I can refer to as needed. Although it is only early December, one of my friends was telling me recently of a raft of things that she has planned for 2017 which made me feel a bit remiss as I haven’t had or made the time to do so.
But first I wanted to outline a few of the significant changes that I’ve made in my life this year from a creativity perspective. Once changes are made it can be easy to overlook them as they become the norm, but creating change can be difficult and the effort required is worthy of acknowledgement. The top three changes I have made in terms of my creativity are:
Honouring creative time: having rituals has helped this change. I write each morning before I head to work, and this alone reminds me that writing matters to me. I have also put time aside for writing and turned up at my desk. In a world of distractions and other demands, this is harder than it would seem but reminding myself that it is impossible to edit a blank page helps to get me writing.
Making time to write. One of my best ideas this year was to take advantage of flexible working options in my job to book in a dozen days off, scattered throughout the year. These days have saved my sanity and contributed to greater creative output in various ways. I have also used these days to go on adventures which have in turn fed my creative output and my spirit. It has been a critical change and I have booked a stack of days for 2017 as it has been beneficial in so many ways.
Blogging. I had wanted to blog for a long time before I took the plunge earlier this year. The main impetus was that I thought it would make me write more, and write consistently, and this has definitely been the case. The benefits to blogging are numerous and something that I will explore further in another post. Apart from the output – idea creation, writing, editing – there is also the feedback and interaction with other bloggers and readers which has been an absolute highlight of my year.
So with this creativity behind me, what will I be working towards in 2017? Again I will stick with three main thoughts.
Finishing the novel. I am in the edit phase at the moment and whilst there is work to do I am chipping away at it.
Short stories. I want to continue writing short stories after polishing a few of them this year. There is an online course next year through the NSW Writers’ Centre which includes developing stories and critiquing to the point of submission. I have enrolled and am ready to take my stories to the next level.
Keep having creative adventures. That might sound trite, but by making a conscious effort to pay more attention to what is happening around me, my creative output has significantly increased. This hasn’t just been blog based, although regular posting and the alphabetical adventures of I Spy have helped. I feel more engaged with what is happening, and more alert to creative opportunities.
Have you been reflecting on your creative output as the year end approaches? And do you have any creative plans for 2017?
I identify myself as a writer. When someone asks me what I do, I answer, ‘I’m a writer’. Or at least I always include it.
I give myself affirmations, claiming myself as a writer: notes in my notebook or journal, in my writing space or by saying them out loud.
I have a writing space. Even if I actually write all over the place, I maintain a sacred space for my writing.
I have the tools and materials and support I need for my writing. I buy or borrow books about writing and subscribe to literary journals and writing publications.
I have writing friends with whom I write or talk about writing or do writing things with.
I do writerly things: I’m a member of a writing group, I go to readings. I read interviews with writers and listen to what they say about the craft and life of being a writer.
I write to writers whose work has impacted me, and thank them. In these letters I claim myself as a writer and tell the writer what their work meant to me, writer to writer.
I make time for my writing on a regular basis.
When I can’t keep my writing date, I acknowledge why and reschedule.
When I see that I’m consistently breaking my appointments, I review what might be the cause – chosen time isn’t right, life is too busy right now, goals too high, ___ – and make changes where necessary.
I put my writing time high up on my priorities list. Not some vague ‘when I can’ or ‘if I have time today’.
I set aside enough time to build consistency; if not daily, at least five times a week.
I also create special times for writing – a long weekend or a retreat (with other writers or by myself) or to participate in a conference or seminar where I’ll actually write.
I write. When I go to my writing space, when I set aside the time, I don’t just think about writing or talk about writing. I write.
When I’m stuck, I find out what’s holding me back. When I procrastinate, I acknowledge that’s what I’m doing. When I’m afraid, I face my fear and write through it. And when all is said and done, I write.
How are you travelling with your creative checklist?
Stray beanies left on the steps of a shopfront. A sign that spring is on its way?
Smiles. Lots of smiles.
Standing quietly and feeling a tangle of languages and moments and experiences wrap around me. ‘When I was in Spain …’ ‘Have you seen …?’
The click-clack of luggage being hauled along by tourists across the paved footpaths.
Hissing buses taking tourists around the sites, their faces smudged against the glass.
Backpackers carrying what seems like their own body weight on their back, foreheads covered with bright scarves.
Phones and cameras wielded with enthusiasm at the many look outs and beauty spots, as well as along the main streets in the villages.
Long term locals identifiable by their easy walking gait up the steep stretches of Katoomba Street.
The elasticity of time. People completely relaxed, with all the available time in the foreseeable future, or in a rush, trying to jam as many experiences as possible into a tight timeframe as if on a manic kind of quest.
Changeable weather. The high clouds sometimes dart across the sun providing shade before moving on and a blinding light follows.
A feeling of acceptance that is difficult to define. An attitude that whoever you are, that’s okay.
Sighting a recorder (the musical woodwind instrument, that is) lying in a display of bright spring blooms. I thought later that I should have taken a photo for #MyISpy but when I went past the next day it was gone as someone else must have spotted the musical potential.
An assortment of tantalising aromas from the wide range of restaurants and cafes.
Murals tucked into the many alleyways, just waiting to be discovered.
What have you spotted, heard, smelt or felt in your neighbourhood lately?