Category Archives: Productivity

Willing to Make Bad Art

Someone who practices diligently, is consistently applying herself, and sticks with things long enough to get good, really good, at it.  This is not a description of me.  Yet.

It would be exceedingly ridiculous to complain about being the type of person for whom many things came easily.  But I’m finding, as I endeavor to learn things that I am not naturally good at, there is a downside to that history.  I never learned any stick-with-it-ness.  Here I am, 55 years old, and still haven’t learned good study habits.  Making good grades in school came easily for me.  Excelling in sports came easily for me.  I only practiced the various sports I participated in as much as I did because it was fun.  It certainly wasn’t because of my stellar discipline.

Creating art, up to a certain level, came easily.  Photography, up to a certain level, came easily.  Progressing beyond “advanced beginner”, however, apparently does not come easily for me.  The problem is, though, that I am now no longer satisfied with being an advanced beginner, or even sorta skilled.  I want to be good at it.  Really good at it.  But [heavy sigh] I am still a novice.  The real bummer part is that the only reason I am still a novice is because I have not been willing to put in the time and the effort to do the work of getting good, particularly when I deemed the product I was creating as sorta crappy.

I heard an impactful quote about achieving creative excellence:  “You have to be willing to make bad art.”WillingtoMakeBadArtSmallwish I knew who to credit, but I do not.  I have not, thus far, been willing to make bad art.  I had great intentions, envisioned something beautiful, gave it a try, and when the thing did not turn out anywhere near my vision – as it so seldom does – I weenied out and walked away.  I gave up and moved on to the next thing.  I justified it, of course, by telling myself things like, “Well, that must not be my thing.  That obviously wasn’t my passion,” or other B.S. things that made it okay for me to give up.

There’s a problem, though.  I just really don’t want to give up and move on this time.  I really like making art.  I’m stuck between not loving my current ability to create and being unwilling to give up.

So – and this is a little scary — I guess I will just have to learn discipline, and develop the willingness to make bad art.  I’ve heard it said that it takes 10,000 hours before you get really, really good at something.  100 down, 9,900 to go.

It helps to have a clear understanding of the creative process.  I need to understand that Steps 3 and 4 (below) have great potential to derail my process – and commitment.  But since I now know this, and know that Steps 5 and 6 will make up for Steps 3 and 4, then I can muster the necessary motivation to stick with it.  I just didn’t fully realize that making crappy art was just part of the deal.  Really great artists have made their share of such art.  They just didn’t necessarily publish it.  I have not been able to find the original author to give credit, but here it is:

The Creative Process:

  1. This is awesome.
  2. This is tricky.
  3. This is sh*t.
  4. I am sh*t.
  5. This might be ok.
  6. This is awesome.

Since I now understand this crazy process a wee bit better, and get it that I must make art and lots of it, I am now more motivated and well-equipped to continue the journey of 10,000 hours.  I feel as though I have been picked up, brushed off and set back on my creative path.  I just hope I can remember this as I create my next crappy piece of art.  Hopefully, I will also make some brilliant pieces of art along the way and some mediocre ones, too.

Good thing you can just paint over most of them and keep going…

What I Need to Know is My Next Step, Not All 47 Steps


…and needing to know all of the steps keeps me from taking the next step.  Isn’t that silly?

What I’m Doing

No matter what the project or goal is, procrastination, wasting time, pretending to be busy or pretending to be confused, and getting caught up in absurd analysis are all incredibly effective ways to keep from moving forward.  Or moving any direction.  Not getting anywhere, just growing mold right where I’m at.  It would be great to create some movement – any movement– even if it’s wrong, bad or counter-productive.  But, alas, I keep myself stuck.

I have been unintentionally refusing to take action of any kind because I don’t know exactly how to get all of the way to the end target.  The concept that evades me is quite simple:  I just need to know the next step, not every step.  I don’t take the next step because I am too busy throwing a tantrum about not knowing all of the steps.  Okay, this might be a bit melodramatic, because it’s not like I haven’t accomplished anything.  I just haven’t accomplished anywhere near what I think I should have been able to accomplish by now.  Sound familiar?

What Might Be Better

I would rather let go of all of the mental gymnastics, let go of trying to figure out things impossible for me to know at this moment, and just joyfully go about doing what I do know to do.  I know some things that I can do, yet I don’t do them because I’m thinking about everything I don’t know.  And maybe there’s another part.  I also don’t do what I know to do because it might be wrong.  Oh, no.  Not that!

How Am I Going to Do It

I could clobber myself over the head and try to beat myself into submission, using the power of the white knuckle and clenched jaw to overcome my resistance.  But not only is that incredibly ineffective, it’s no fun and just downright mean.  There’s a better way.

Rather than staying focused on how I’ve missed the boat and anguish over all the time I’ve wasted, I choose to learn from my mistakes and take a different approach.  I shall employ the tools of Awareness, Attention and Focus and do so with Structure, Discipline and Consistency.  I will intentionally engage in effective practices to get clarity and overcome inertia, get started and then build momentum.  It’s how I’ve been thinking about the project that keeps me from moving forward, and the only way to correct that is to choose a different set of thoughts:  design a structured way of thinking that creates the right internal environment that naturally propels me into actually wanting to move forward, feeling like I can, and having clarity to know what to do, what steps to take.  Working to get into a feeling of “want to do it” is way different than dragging myself by the hair to do it.

In Summary

Here are the steps to shifting my patterns of thought:

  1. Get really clear about what I want to accomplish and why I want to accomplish it. Having a weak, vague notion of what, exactly, the project is and the reasons for doing it has no juice.  It’s limp and will fizzle out long before the final steps.
  2. Determine what stands between me and success, if anything. If there is something, fix it, remove it, reframe it, whatever.  Just remove it as an obstacle.
  3. Make a plan. This plan does not look like this:  Step one, start.  Step two, finish.  Break it down into clear, actionable, I-can-do-that steps.  Put these steps on the calendar.  If the discrete steps are not planned out and scheduled on the calendar, they will not get done.  I have been proving that.
  4. Show up every single day and make progress. Set a timer and do not get out of the chair or chase shiny objects until the timer goes off.  Repeat as necessary.
  5. This is not really Step 5, it is really something to be doing throughout the project, from beginning to end. Really, it is something to be doing through your life, from beginning to end.  Manage your thought life.  Notice when you are thinking thoughts that result in a disempowered, de-energized emotional state.  And then clean that schtuff up.
  6. Complete the project and celebrate like you mean it.

That’s it.  My new approach.  I will have to return to this plan over and over and over, as I develop new habits of thought around this particular project and life in general, and that’s okay.

Themes and Synchronicities

When I notice themes and synchronicities in my world, I sit up a little straighter and pay a little more attention.  Like when you have some random, obscure thing like chicken meatballs with sundried tomatoes for lunch, and then you see a recipe for that very thing in the magazine you’re flipping through at the doctor’s office that afternoon.  What are the chances?

When this happens, I know I am in alignment.  I’ve managed to get out of my own way, which means that things I have been asking for are lining up for me, and not just meatballs.  That is just to get my attention so I don’t miss the awesome thing that is on my doorstep.  This is one way I receive divine guidance.  I like to think of it as little love notes from the Universe.

Lately, I’ve been noticing that a current theme for me is all about getting unstuck and into forward motion.  For a very long time, I have been feeling quite rudderless about figuring out what I want to do when I grow up (I’m in my fifties!), but I knew I wanted it to involve writing.

Recently, I heard about an upcoming week-long writing retreat with a well-known author in Taos, New Mexico.  Taos?  I love Taos!  I wanted to go, thinking that could be a catalyst to jumpstart a writing practice for me.  However, I was hesitant because it would require travel and substantial expense, and the experience sounded scarily touchy-feely for my tastes.  Mostly, though, I really didn’t totally resonate with this particular writer.

But I really wanted to somehow get my writing flowing.  I ping-ponged between going and not going for two or three days, then finally landed on a definite no.  Going just didn’t feel quite right.  So, since I still was kinda worried that I might be missing out on something important, I assured myself, “Not this workshop, but if I get the opportunity to work with an author whose writing I LOVE, then I’ll jump all over that!”

That very afternoon I received an email from an author whose work I adore announcing just such an opportunity.  Synchronicity!  She was offering a virtual workshop designed to help the participants reach the “one big goal” they are hell-bent on achieving within the next eight weeks (mine being to actually write something!).  The program is a combination of private coaching and group mentoring with loads of teaching, inspiration, butt-kicking, a little profanity and lots of accountability.

It did not sound touchy-feely in the least, and would cost much less, too.

The divine guidance was spot on.  I am already making incredible progress, and the significance of this fact cannot be overstated.  Seriously, up until this recent overpowering of inertia, I had been stuck and stagnant for years with regard to my writing life.  I was making myself crazy because I felt I had not found my “right work” — you know, the opposite of soul-sucking work – and I just couldn’t get warm and fuzzy with that void in my life.  Between refusing to give up and exploring new ways of approaching the dilemma, I am finally getting some real traction.

A very key element in my victorious emergence from the quagmire is the assistance I got from the Universe as I followed those success clues.  They were easily identifiable because they fit the theme.

Awareness of themes makes it is easy to spot the abundant resources swirling all around that support me in keeping the momentum going.  Right now the specific repetitive topic that most has my attention is a handy little concept called “strategies for GETTING THINGS DONE”, and tons of resources and ideas that address that issue are showing up synchronistically for me.

Here are some brilliant productivity books I have found to be ridiculously useful:

“Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” by David Allen:

David Allen presents methods based on two key objectives:  (1) capturing all the things that need to get done, or might need to get done, now or in the future, into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind; and (2) disciplining yourself to make front-end decisions about all of the “inputs” to your life so you will always have a plan for the very next actionable step.  Without this, there will be “incompletes” or “open loops” and that is what creates the stress.

Once the “open loops” are more effectively controlled, there will be greater relaxation, better focus, and increased productive energy.  You will know exactly what needs to be done, when, and you will have the focus and energy to move forward with it.

“Get it Done:  From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day” by Samantha Bennett:

An interesting idea in this book is that procrastination is genius in disguise and is reminding you that the project is important to you or you wouldn’t be feeling pain about not getting it done.  There is also advice about how to choose which of your 37 projects to tackle first, but the meat of the book is about how to keep making progress in spite of all of the obstacles that will invariably show up.  Here are her top three “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habits”:  1)  Allot 15 minutes a day to your project, NO MATTER WHAT, preferably the very first thing you do; 2) find an idea catcher, a system for making sure all those great ideas you are having all day long are not lost; and 3) allot 15 minutes a day for deliberate daydreaming.

If all you do is faithfully implement the first “Nearly Miraculous Daily Habit”, you will be pleasantly shocked at how powerful that is.

“Juicy Pens Thirsty Paper” by SARK:

This book is written to encourage writers to gift the world with their words and stories, and about creating the time and energy to actually do it.  There are just so many wise and encouraging concepts in this book, but the one that stands out to me with reference to getting things done is her recommended practice of micromovements.  This is a method she has used to write numerous books, as well as being more productive in all areas of her life.  Micromovements are tiny movements that lead to huge results, five minutes in length or less.  It is a way to develop of habit of completion rather than the more common habit of procrastination.  She says that most people commonly think of their projects as HUGE and this just will not fit in most people’s lives.  However, if you think of it in terms of a string of tiny steps that take only seconds to just a few minutes to accomplish, that fits in in all kinds of places and spaces around and between all kinds of other things.  Of course, many, many times, once you just get started, you end up working much longer and get much more done.

When I do this, I stay productive.  When I do not, well, my level of accomplishment tanks.

Of course, these are just examples that work for me.  The resources are endless.  Once you latch onto a system of productivity or make up your own, just do it.  Looking for the perfect scenario and then analyzing the thing to a slow and gruesome death is just counterproductive and is probably really just un-examined fear.  Just ask me how I know.  So pay attention, follow your divinely highlighted path, and GET THINGS DONE!