Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

meg-cabot
A favorite quote of mine and probably also Dexter Morgan.

 

I noticed something yesterday, which might seem obvious but I constantly find myself turned away from the recurring observation, and having to readdress and relearn its lesson — so I thought I would share it here.

I took good care of myself. All day.

I prioritized what I knew instinctually I needed to do to feel content, and the result was that I felt good, had some fun, and got quite a bit done.

It often happens this way, when I remember the importance of prioritizing my own needs.

I got up early to write, not only because I have made the commitment to publish here every day this month, but also because I have noticed that doing so has been making me happy. I could have snoozed. The desire to write was greater than the desire to snooze.

I made and ate a healthy breakfast. I walked the dog and enjoyed the cool morning air. I showered and dressed and got out the door on time.

All basic, simple stuff. Some might call it boring. I don’t. I’m no longer so tempted. I look at these things as foundations of easiness, from which I can dive into the abyss when I’m writing, safe in the knowledge that when I resurface, I’ll be back in the calm of a stable day.

I listened to a very funny podcast on the way to my job, one that brings me joy and doesn’t feel like work. I got into the office and checked email and took care of business and then spent most of my lunch hour making fan art for the podcast. Then more business and another fun commute thanks to your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who I am catching up with on Marvel Unlimited after years away from him.

I spoke with a friend. I sent a script out to a studio. I went home and did dishes and listened to music and made dinner. I watched some TV, talked with my wife about her day and about all of the above.

And then I didn’t sleep well. I’m a little cranky about it but it couldn’t be helped.

So the danger is that today will be less productive. But I’m starting to learn the signs of the trap. I’m tired, so I may have to take things slower. I have to continue to prioritize a baseline of inner tranquility, this morning, to offset the fact that my mood might get choppy later today.

It’s possible I’ll have to accept a less productive day overall, in order to regain some momentum tomorrow.

That’s the trick of it, though, isn’t it? I almost turned away from the truth again, right here as I was writing.

It doesn’t help to think too much about tomorrow, in these terms. I can’t do much, if anything, to influence tomorrow. That’s how the trap is sprung. Anything I do to make tomorrow easier exists only in the today.

So, today, nice and easy. I plan to listen to my body, and the needs of my mind and spirit. And to act accordingly.

Thanks for reading. It’s been cool, checking in like this daily. As always, comments welcome.

This is part thirteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Moments of Presence: Writer Laura Goode

laurag
Laura Goode and I studied Creative Writing together ten years ago, and have several mutual friends, but had never really met or talked shop — until now!

Check out the latest episode of Coffee with Creatives to hear Laura’s take on such topics as:

  • How to juggle multiple projects, of varying genre or medium
  • How to find ways to get credit for stuff you’re going to do anyway
  • Why it can be a blessing to fail early — or a curse to succeed early
  • Why she took two years to develop the script for her indie feature film, Farah Goes Bang, along with the film’s director and co-writer Meera Menon
  • The process of raising over $80,000 in production funds for Farah Goes Bang, in the earlier days of Kickstarter
  • The fallacy of the lottery ticket mentality in film, literature and elsewhere
  • Respecting political conservatism within a liberal-friendly narrative, and
  • How a five year fight with a friend led to the publication of Become A Name, her first book of poetry

If you enjoy this episode, read Become a Name, watch Farah Goes Bang, and follow Laura on Twitter.


As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum (Day 6 of 30)

This is part six of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

This script in the process of being razed and re-built upon the holy site of its death.
This script is in the process of being razed and re-built upon the holy site of its own prior destruction.

I’m trying to employ an appreciation for difficulty.

It’s been coming up often, lately, as I go about discovering and pursuing “next steps”, following completion of The Videoblogs.

I’m still gathering energy, still resting, after the insanity of the last few years spent producing the film. I think I mentioned that on Day 1 of this project.

I need to do this. But I can’t burn out. I don’t want to burn out. It will prevent me from doing this.

Such have been my thoughts, in summary.

But I also don’t want to remain static. So, I’ve been working, slowly, on The Next Thing.

The idea behind The Next Thing is big. Unwieldy. Complex. Every time I think I have the core of it figured out — I think again, and realize that I’m just not there yet. The puzzle pieces continue to fall into place.

While they do, life goes on. I remain, overall, still feeling a bit low on creative energy. I find myself having to spend wisely.

The sheer amount of energy it takes to both buttress The Next Thing against feelings of fear of failure and despair — such that it might grow and thrive, away from such poison — and yet also allow the ideas behind it the mobility and mutability they need to develop organically…is great.

Under ideal circumstances, this project would be my only focus right now, other than matters of general living. But not only aren’t circumstances ever ideal (and to be fair, in actuality they could be far more difficult) — I’m not even sure that space is what the idea needs.

And so, we return to the role of difficulty in all this.

I use the term loosely, to be clear. When I say “difficulty” I mostly mean anything that it might be easy to decry as being “in the way” of whatever The Next Thing might be.

Daily responsibilities. Commitments of livelihood. Fears and insecurities, or the historical traumas or inherited circumstances that feel always out of our power (because they are) but also firmly in the way of pursuing or addressing what we know or believe we need to pursue or address.

As I have gotten a little older, however, I’ve grown more able to appreciate these challenges for what they are — steps on the journey. Small victories or failures for re-feeding life what it needs in order to access and process the mysterious part of me, or of us, that engenders creativity or otherworldly exploration.

More than space, for me at least, ideas need time, and life-stuff to chew on.

Yesterday, I focused on presence. On not only practicalities (What Needed to Get Done) but relaxation, and needs of the body and spirit. At one point, an important piece, of the puzzle that is The Next Thing, seemed to fall into place.

Later, I questioned whether that piece was the right fit.

This is common. What excites us as a real breakthrough in a project, creative or otherwise, can sometimes fail us later on in its lifecycle (as soon as a couple of hours or minutes). This can be disappointing, but with practice I have learned that it’s all simply part of the process of ideation and iteration.

Whereas in the past, I would have brooded on such a “failure”, now I am able, usually, to mourn the excitement of the idea and to leave the rest to tomorrow, when perhaps I’ll have the proper perspective to identify the new strand of the idea as neither the one piece of the puzzle that brings it all into focus, or a completely false match.

It’s rarely one or the other, despite what we might want, or how we might have been led to believe it at works, in mine of any other profession.

I have a different measure, now, of progress. When that moment arrived yesterday, I went deep into the idea. I explored it fully. The process lasted minutes, but afterwards I felt changed. I felt tired. As if I had traveled a great distance.

When I later began to question the actual usefulness of the new idea, to the story of The Next Thing — I paused. The judgment felt premature. I forced myself to, once again, let go.

This was difficult. My compulsion was to seize the idea, to poke and prod it, to turn it constantly over in search of an answer, once and for all, as to whether the entire endeavor — of which it was only a part — was worthy and excellent.

It hurt, to know that I couldn’t get such an answer from one mere piece of the whole, and to realize that it was going to take many more such days to arrive at an acceptable answer to this crucial question, that had nothing to do with this small piece of the thing but which nonetheless plagues me daily, co-opting and yet spurring on all progress — is this truly The Next Thing?

But, as I said, I let it go. As best I could.

Later, the small piece of the idea came back to me, of its own accord. When this happened, because I had been patient, had ridden out the difficult feelings…it engendered some clarity.

This particular piece of the puzzle might, in fact, become a permanent, fundamental fixture of this story. But it is too soon to tell.

Still, handling the natural process of creativity in this way did allow the practical side of my brain had the freedom to take over when its turns came up in the rotation.

Let’s try it. See what happens. If it works, great. We’ll be on our way. If it doesn’t, great. We’ll know that this way isn’t the right one, and perhaps we’ll gain more clues as to where to go next.

I don’t know that we can win such clarity, harness such momentum, if we don’t ride out the difficulty. It takes courage and patience, perhaps, but at least as each small journey is ended along the way, we’re left certain that we’ve done what we could — for the right reasons.

Day 1: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 2: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 3: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 4: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 5: On The Future of Labor

Struggles and Wonders, and Dying in a Chair (Day 1 of 30)

This is part one of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds.

Thirty posts in thirty days. I can do this.
Thirty posts in thirty days. I can do this. YOU can do this.

Yesterday, I floated the idea of running an experiment here, wherein I would post to the site for thirty straight days. Just to see what happens. So, here we are.

Perhaps it’s not mad science but, then again, I’m writing this at 5:30AM — which if you know me is in fact a minor miracle.

Which thus leads me to an interesting topic of discussion. Let’s talk about time, and sacrifice.

Clearly, I am proceeding with the experiment. We’ll see how it goes. But the decision wasn’t completely uncomplicated.

I couldn’t see where to fit it in, between the every day responsibilities of keeping up with my screenwriting, of working to pay the rent, of running the podcast, and of taking care of myself and of being a social human being and a good husband.

On the other hand, it wasn’t that complicated. I simply decided I was going to do it. I decided to make it work, and to keep it manageable — because it felt like a good idea.

There’s a part of me that’s surprised I got out of bed this morning, to write this. But there’s another part that isn’t. If anything is going to get me out of bed, it’s the prospect of not only writing, but of writing and being read.

I’ve been working on an essay lately, about the deeper motivations behind the decision to make The Videoblogs. I’ve also been asked about these same motivations in interviews. To sum them up — it’s always about feeling less alone, or more together in my loneliness. More connected to others (like you) who are also going about life, trying to make sense of its struggles and wonders.

So, here we are. Me, a writer, writing. You, a reader, maybe reading. I don’t know how this is going to go. I’m sure I’ll want to quit along the way. Don’t let me. Because this is what it’s all about, I think.

This is not an impossible task. By the end of it, perhaps we’ll both be glad we tried it out. I wasn’t sure I was going to find the spiritual capital to start in on this. It sounds relatively simple and doable, in theory, but already it’s requiring a bit more from me. I believe, in today’s increasingly busy and noisy environment, we really need to think about when and whether to make that extra investment in time and money.

Or, rather, perhaps, we need to not think. Perhaps it’s more useful to feel an idea out. And that’s why I’m here, writing early, and trading some snooze for the opportunity to commiserate with you. It took me a full minute to remember the word “commiserate”. Still on my first cup of tea.

The truth is that I’ve been feeling a bit…depleted…since wrapping up the majority of the work on the film. I think that’s normal. But I’m less sure that it’s a good idea to continue to hang back from public work while I continue to work on some “next level” projects. I did need a break. I’ve taken one. I’ll continue to take my time in terms of taking on a new film production — maybe.

But I want to keep up the connection.

So, this morning, I woke up to my alarm. I remembered why it was set so early. Despite this, I immediately decided to “do it later”. I reset the alarm.

But I was already awake. I peed and drank some water and got back into bed and tried to snooze but it was already over.

The mind was already turning. I had a vision of an old man, dying peacefully in his sleep, seated in a chair. Probably it was a lingering vision from my dreams.

It wasn’t a scary vision. For me, who has feared worse, it was actually quite nice. I thought it would be perfect, to go that way. Perhaps not surrounded, but in the midst of loved ones. To go quietly, with a smile — because I had done justice to the privilege of being alive, for the duration of my heres and nows.

See you tomorrow. Let’s make the time for it. It doesn’t cost so much.

Convergence and Grit: Screenwriter, Strategist, and Festival Programmer Brad Wilke

Brad Headshot (New)

Brad Wilke freely admits that his life path has been non-linear. After attending West Point and making short films while in the Army, and with stopovers in graduate school (where he earned two Master degrees) and tech — he’s now the Co-Founder of Smarthouse Creative, a PR and marketing strategy firm in Seattle. And that’s just one of his jobs.

Though we’ve yet to meet in person, Brad and I have chatted about filmmaking and screenwriting over the course of many “micro-conversations” on Twitter. It was great to have him on the podcast for a longer form talk about such topics as:

  • His opinion that many problems actually could be solved by money
  • Contrary to this last point — the fundamental importance of happiness and lived experience, as separate metrics that can and do eventually converge to create (sometimes surprising) opportunities
  • Resilience and grit, as virtues necessary for long-term growth
  • How he approaches programming for film festivals, and what problems sink most films (HINT: It’s almost always a story/script issue)
  • The concept of Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and how this start-up term can be applied to creative pursuits

Smart, nice, thoughtful guy. Check out our conversation below, or on iTunes, Stitcher or Google Play. You can find Brad on Twitter and elsewhere on the web.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.