First, someone finds out I’m a writer. Then, the questions start.
Most are innocent enough. There are a lot of questions about my process, my “muse,” my time management strategies. And then the conversation usually leads to this:
“I wish I had the time to write a book.”
It’s hard to tell these people what they want to hear, which is that I’m so lucky I have the time and maybe one day they will, too. They want to hear that I’m just less busy than they are, so I fill up my time with books and articles and essays like the one you’re reading right now. They want me to tell them it’s okay to binge “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” on the weekend instead of cracking open their laptop. After all, they’re a lot busier than most.
The people who ask me about my career as a creative usually think they need a lot of time to make it happen. What they really need—possibly the only thing—is self-observation.
Author and business leader Michael Ventura notes that the act of self-observation is critical for anyone who wants to do “deep thinking work” (cue: writers, artists, designers, etc.). He says, “The future isn’t slowing down. Information is going to continue to bombard us from all angles. It’s only going to get more difficult to parse, digest, and respond to all of the newsfeeds, emails, pings, alerts and push notifications. Self-observation is an opportunity to stop the noise so you can gather yourself and act more productively, presently, and ultimately, be more in command.”
Here, Ventura is talking about an age-old secret of leaders, and likely those people who authored the phrase “life hack.” By carefully observing yourself, you learn to read your mind and body’s natural rhythms so that you can leverage them to your advantage.
Basically, you can create more time (and books!) when you know how to self-observe.
Here’s what I know about me, as a human and working creative, based on my own observations: I really suck in the evenings. My brain almost always feels foggy after dinner, and if I’ve spent too much time hustling without a break, I usually have a dull headache blooming between my temples. I know that I’ve done too much work for the day when I start getting that sharp pinch in my left shoulder, and I know, from experience, that I’m almost clearer after low-impact exercise, when I’m emotionally calm and when I’ve stayed away from too many sweets (so sad).
I’ve built my schedule around what I’ve managed to observe about how my mind and body work, both together and in conjunction. I get up super early and work on the densest writing first. I take walking or exercise breaks often, I stay away from all news and newsfeeds while I’m working and I get my candy fix only after I’ve finished my work for the day.
The reality? Self-observation isn’t as straightforward as clearing your calendar to finally work on that book. The process is messy, and it constantly changes as I change. I’m always listening to my body, asking myself how I’m feeling and checking in with my mental and emotional health. I fine tune my creativity schedule based on what I discover.
The next time you find yourself stressed and strapped for time, take a few minutes to observe your body. Watch your breath, pay attention to where you hold pain and muscle tension. Ask yourself how you got here. What can you do differently tomorrow to build space in your life for your art?
Use what you know about yourself to be true to build a daily flow that works for you. Listen to your body and mind to build a life you love.
It won’t take that much time.
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