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.
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:
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.
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?
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?