Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Maggie on Time Management, Part I

Commission, in progress
Colored pencil on board
Copyright 2008 Maggie Stiefvater.

As promised, today is the first of my posts on time management and motivation. This is a topic I feel very strongly about, nearly as strongly as I do about sweet tea and cookie dough.

Why, Maggie, do you feel thus? you may be asking. Because this is a typical conversation with a would-be artist/ novelist/ musician.

PERSON: Maggie, I admire your work immensely.
MAGGIE: (preens)
PERSON: I have always wanted to draw/ become a professional artist/ write a novel/ play the harp/ have two children that possess the ability to scream like harpies, but I don't have any time.
MAGGIE: There's always time.
PERSON: But I have work/ husband/ children/ cooking/ cleaning/ love slave/ iguana fostering.
MAGGIE (dangerously): There's always time.

Because here's the truth of it. I also have a husband, two toddlers not yet in school, cooking (all from scratch as I can't eat preservatives), cleaning, a full-time job as an artist, and two novel contracts. No iguana fostering, yet. For me, the secret is time management, motivation, and goals. Today I want to talk about the things that keep me from being productive and on Thursday I'll talk about things that help me be productive.

So -- if I you thought the list of things that keep me from being productive would include my kids and the laundry, you're wrong. Here it is:

1) Excuses
This one is going first for a reason. It is the number one thing separating people from their dreams. Remember conversation with unnamed Person above? Those things she listed: husband, cooking, cleaning, job -- those are excuses. Some might be more valid than others, but the truth is, the only thing keeping you from doing what you want to do and accomplishing what you want to accomplish is you.

This is the hardest truth out there, and it's worth repeating: the only thing keeping you from doing what you want to do and accomplishing what you want to accomplish is you.

When it comes down to it, there is always something else to be doing. Every second that I'm sitting at the keyboard writing a novel, there are five or ten or three hundred other things I could/ should/ might rather be doing. Could I use them as excuses to keep me from writing? Absolutely. But I'd rather use my writing as an excuse for why the last load of laundry hasn't been folded yet.

Excuses are insidious and sneaky little buggers. I consider myself a very motivated person, and even I fall prey to them. Luckily my husband knows me and knows what I'm capable of. So if I start to whine "I don't have the time," he tells me to look at my schedule and find it. Because it's true that some things are impossible. But it's more true that most things aren't.

2) Funky Priorities
Which leads perfectly into non-productive reason number two: funky priorities. I hear "I wish I had time to finish my novel" all the time. I can sympathize. Writing is one of those things that's infinitely easier if you have a big chunk of time to get into the groove. But then the next thing I hear out of their mouth is the latest American Idol results or the group meeting they went to.

This is about priorities. I'm not saying that art or writing is better than American Idol (okay, maybe I am saying that) or the local anti-littering group meeting or whatever it is that's occupying your time. I am saying that if you really want something, you'll make it a priority. You'll skip that TV show, that meeting, that phone call, that blog-reading time (not mine, of course), etc., in favor of whatever dream you're pursuing.

How badly do you want to create art? How badly do you want to have enough pieces for a gallery exhibition? Now think about the obstacles in your way. In one week, one year, five year, ten years, which activity will be more meaningful? The surfing on the internet? Or the piece of work you did in that time instead?

If you want something make it a priority.

3) Aimlessness
Even if you have your priorities straight and you've cleared the books, I still might not get anything done, if I don't kick my natural aimlessness. I have a tendency to sit down at my desk, having cleared the calendar, and even though I know I have one thousand things to do, I don't do any of them. Why not? I have no clue how to even start. I'm completely aimless.

The solution to aimlessness is aimfullness, obviously (I made that word up. It's nice). I set daily goals. I write them down. If I write them down, I can check them off.

If you want to be productive, you have to know what you're trying to accomplish. Otherwise, what are you working towards?

4) Self-Doubt
The final killer of productivity is self doubt. Even if you have the time, the priorities, and the goals, self-doubt can stop you in your tracks. Even me. I can still look at a project and say "Is this ever going to pay off? Maybe I should just drop it." "Maybe I can't pull this one off." "Maybe I'm over my head."

I'm not going to rewrite my post on smacking self-doubt with a wet noodle here (though I humbly recommend you read it), but I will say again that self-doubt isn't something anyone else can cure you of. No amount of awards or praise will keep it from your door. Confidence has to come from within, and it's something you can have regardless of skill-level. You don't have to be confident in your ability to weld a pencil or a paintbrush -- you have to be confident of your ability to solve problems and push forward despite adversary. Everything else is secondary.

So what keeps you from being productive?


Becca said...

After reading some of your other posts on time management I decided to write down daily goals like you suggested, but how do you keep yourself motivated to keep those up? After awhile I got lazy and said "oh, I don't need to write them down I have a mental list!" And now I don't get anything done. Is it just something to keep forcing upon yourself until it becomes a habit?

Rafi said...

There's nothing like a straight talking to from Maggie :).

This is all just as relevant for you art as it is for your day job or for any other job or task you may have. It can also be the obstacle to any change that you need to make but there are always excuses, doubt or false priorities.

Hey, what am I doing reading this blog when I should be working? Get back to work Rafi!

Debbie Goode said...

What keeps me from being productive? All of the above! Except, for self doubt. I finally feel capable of producing art. I've proven to myself over and over again that if I just "stick to it" I can make it through the project with pleasing results. My favorite--the excuses. I can come of with at least 50 at any given moment. I, however, made a promise to myself to make changes in my life this year. I turned 50 this year and I'm determined to be more productive and accomplish my goals. I feel the clock ticking! Speaking of goals, I finally set some this year and actually wrote them down. I review them weekly and I'm happy to say for the most part I'm on track. I do, each morning, set my goals for the day. Sometimes I'm successful and sometimes not, but at least I make the effort and by the end of the day I clearly see what I have or have not accomplished. I feel good about my life these days. I don't sit and say I wish I would'of.....and you, my dear Maggie, have helped me enormously in these life changing endeavors. Thank you

Rose Welty said...

Excellent butt-kicking as usual Maggie. (The wet noodle post is never far from my mind!:-)

I'd just thrown in that particularly in the blogosphere, it is easy to forget that other people are human beings too. It's easy to forget that other artists draw things that suck. Other artists drew alot of bad apples before they started drawing good ones. Because we don't see the hard work that they put in, we can become discouraged and forget that they are just people who have and will make mistakes too.

We also forget that the "point at which it all becomes easy" that we all reach for is just a plateau at which point we lose our artistic appeal!

Anonymous said...

As usual, Ms. Future Queen of America, you've nailed it. When I first started painting, I kept waiting for *inspiration* to come, that magical, wonderous, rare element/ingredient that *real* artists have in spades. . . . Yeah, right, like that was ever gonna happen. I now have a quote over my art table from Frank Tibolt:

We should be taught NOT to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action ALWAYS generates inspiration. Inspiration SELDOM generates action.

Excuses, reasons, yourself - they will all keep you from your dreams. But just showing up and taking action, even baby steps, will get you more in a year than all the *inspiration* in the world. It certainly helps to have it, but I'll take action over inspiration any day.

Thanks, Ms. Maggie, for reminding us os what's important and what's not! ~ Laure

Barbara Pask said...

Hi Maggie, Thank you once again for a great article. I also agree if it's important to you it is a priority. When people talk about wanting to do this or that and don't it's because it really isn't that important to them or they would find the time. I'm very driven to paint, I'm still learning and sure not the best artist around by any means but the fact that I'm driven to do it makes me think it's what I'm supposed to do. You sure are inspiring, you accomplish so much. Look forward to your excellent advice. Barb aka Barbie Bud

Delofasht said...

Everything listed! I'm a natural born procrastinator, if I can put off till tomorrow what I'm perfectly capable of doing today then by gods I'm gonna rock that stuff out tomorrow! Seriously though, I've been known to use all of the things listed to totally bring my work to a screeching halt. About 2 years ago I realized what I was doing and have been stopping myself from doing it ever since... mind you, not all at the same time. It has taken me at least these past 2 years to break three quarters of these things.

I am reminded of my parents so often now days, they would say "You can do anything you want, just go and do it.", and this is the truth. The only thing that stops me, is me.

I brought my days per week down at my job at the coffee shop about 2 months ago. I opened up 2 extra days a week to work on art. I finished one of the pieces I had been procrastinating for months but have yet to find where my finished painting of the creek has gone hiding.

Casey Klahn said...

...looking for a new list of excuses, now...

A post so well done, Maggie, that I had to write a (contraband) double ellipse comment for it!

Sue said...

nice post. I enjoyed it.

vivien said...

a great post Maggie - I'm far too good at the excuses :>O I need this pinned on the studio wall ........... I WILL pin it on the studio wall :>D

Belinda Lindhardt said...

Another excellent post Maggie :) your but kicking skills have again done an excellent job. !!!

Mary Rogers said...

Thanks, Maggie. Time management is my biggest problem. It's like a diet or exercise routine. I do very well for a while then let myself get sidetracked or just get lazy. Great peptalk.

Beth said...

I agree, this is a very important topic. I think my biggest time waster is spending time online...but it is spent reading about the business side of art. So all of it is not wasted time...right?

Anima said...

I have to say I'm pretty good with excuses and self-doubt but a stinker for funky priorities and aimlessness. Another one I sometimes struggle with, though less and less, is lazy-mode. It's like quicksand when I get into it! But you're post is further motivation to stay out of it in the first place.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Great comments everyone! There is a tremendous amount of inspiration to be drawn just from the readers of this blog who comment.

Mettaphorica said...

All good stuff, all true. However the one thing I don't see mentioned much in time-management advice is energy.
You can have all the motivation in the world, but if all the above you mention that keeps us busy also causes extreme exhaustion, then it's not always possible to pursue a goal as we would like to. Make time, get up earlier, go to bed later..how much earlier than 5 am, in order to get everything done and hold a full time job (also cook everything from scratch). I just think that sometimes energy needs to be taken into account. On days when I am mentally and emotionally exhausted or angry, my goals become that much harder to achieve (and I"m pretty driven--what frustrates me is I have more drive than physical/mental/emotional stamina).
We are not all created equal.

Still good thoughts and what you say is probably relevant to most people, but not all, not all. I only mention this because sometimes people like me who are pushing as hard as they can can sometimes feel like there's something wrong with them when they don't have excuses(ie, every chance they get their at their goal) and must have more than 6 hours sleep, which also seems to be an attribute of high achievers. That's all.
Enjoyed it, though.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

@Donna, I totally agree about the energy aspect . . . which is why I'm pretty uncompromising about my sleep. I can't really function with less than 8 hours, and because I don't sleep WELL, really it means I do better when I've spent 9 hours in bed. Some people can grab more time by staying up, but I can't. I am more efficient with fewer hours if I am well-rested.

I also know what foods will cause me to be draggy, and I avoid them, no matter how much I like them.

And I also know that I'm easily distracted and prone to jumping from one task to another. So I make sure I put on music that relates to the task at hand, and I make sure that I am only working on one task in a solid chunk of time.

I really, really, really recommend not skipping sleep in order to find time. Studies show the first part of your brain to go dormant when you're sleep deprived is the creative part. So sleep deprived folks are getting more time, but to do what . . . ?