Tag: productivity

building the focus muscle

fortuny velvet

I’m working on a large project for Fortuny – I can’t show it to you for a couple more weeks but I can show you some of the fabrics I’m working with – their new cashmere velvets – I wish you could feel them – and the colors are glorious.

fortuny velvet

It’s a project I love and one that makes me wish for more hours in the day which of course I can’t have. But maybe I can increase the depth of my focus and attention to make the absolute most of the time I do have. I know the sensation of deep focus but it’s a place that has become increasingly difficult to get to.

I think of my creativity, my imagination, as a muscle – something to be cared for, fed nurtured and exercised.

I think of time as a precious and finite commodity and I manage and protect it thoughtfully and carefully.

I am realizing that my ability to focus needs to be cared for, exercised, managed and protected too. I know it has been diminished by constant connectedness, the myriad of small grabs for my attention that were not there 20 years ago. So I work at it, plan for it and block out chunks of time away from distractions – internet and phone free time to sink into deep focus. I thought that was enough until I listened to this episode of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast :

Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World with Cal Newport

It’s a great episode and I hope you’ll listen. What struck me most was the idea that some habits and behaviors outside of those chunks of protected time have undermining, damaging effects on my ability to focus deeply, to manage my attention.

Newport offered the example of waiting in line at a grocery store – I pull out my phone – and so does almost everybody else. I notice the same on the subway – the train comes out of a tunnel and everybody pulls out their phone. It’s a habit and such a small thing – what harm could it do? Why not fill that little bubble of grocery line time with instagram or email etc.?

“Both our personal and professional lives are increasingly built around these sources of distraction. From a cognitive perspective, that’s like being an athlete who smokes.”

Cal Newport

It’s teaching my mind to run away from boredom – to fill gaps with novel stimulation from a never ending source, It weakens the muscle that resists distraction, the muscle that helps me stay truly present in the moment, the stitch.

songbird work

Since I first listened a couple weeks ago I stopped pulling out my phone in little downtime moments like waiting in the grocery or post office line and it’s uncomfortable – alarmingly uncomfortable. In fact it’s easier not to bring it. I think it’s good practice for pulling my attention back to the present or an opportunity to daydream – that little device steals so much daydreaming time. I am far more likely to have an idea while day dreaming than I am while looking at twitter.

I’m not giving up my phone or the internet – but I am working harder to put them in their place. And I do feel a strong nostalgia for the pre- connected life.

* Further – If you’re interested in this sort of thing you might enjoy another Unmistakable Creative episode on focus and productivity too.

advanced beginner : ten years of blogging

paper birds 2006

songbirds 20016

Ten Years!

This February marks the ten year anniversary of my blog. 10 years of trying stuff and sharing it.

Posting my efforts and experiments has made me braver and continues to help me push myself to keep moving, take chances, and get over myself. And I love having a record – evidence of small consistent effort over a long period of time, evidence of growth, a catalog of moments and sensations I would have forgotten. It is also a catalog of missteps. I looked through the entire blog over the last couple days – I never have before – and a lot of it makes me cringe. Not even just the really old stuff. There is a shocking amount of things I felt good about at the time that I see now as terribly flawed or awkward. Part of me wants to edit that all out but that is not the spirit of this effort – the spirit of this effort is reaching and sometimes reaching is flawed and awkward. In all of it that is what means the most to me – I tried stuff and I will continue to try stuff and share it. I’m deeply motivated by the idea that my best work is always ahead of me – I feel like I’ve barely gotten started.

To mark the occasion I chose a photo from each year to share in this post – some are images I loved, or times when I felt like I got somewhere new and some are just little moments I’m glad were preserved. Some of the images remind me of collaborators I was lucky to have and people who have been showing up here for the entire ten years – I am truly touched and grateful for that.

Beginning with 2006 – paper birds.

paper birds 2006

2007  –  the ginger rose

the ginger rose 2007

2008 – snapshots from Camp Wapameo for Birds

camp wapameo (for birds) 2008

2009 – diorama/illustration – theater

diorama 2009

Read More

the beacon, the compass, the driving force – my list

flamingo kit work

Are you a list maker? I work best and most happily when I am diligent about creating thoughtful, daily to do lists. I’m moving multiple, large-ish projects forward at the same time and I would be lost without my list. My list gets me to do things I don’t want to do, things I’m uncomfortable with or intimidated by. One of my current projects is putting together my first kit- paper flamingos. I love creating the instructions but there are tons of other details to work out, details I don’t love dealing with – wholesale suppliers, packaging, printing, assembling and distributing. It is on my list and I chip away at it every day.

flamingo kit work

The difference in what I accomplish and how much happier the work is when I take the time to carefully and thoughtfully make my list is so remarkable, such a dramatic shift, I’ve spent some time thinking about why. Why beyond the obvious benefits of being more organized, not forgetting things etc. I came up with some reasons and I saved the one I think is most important for last:

* I tailor my lists to my own personal brand of nuttiness – the anxiety and procrastination, indecision and overwhelm I’m so prone to. Tasks I REALLY don’t want to do get assigned small chunks of time – 15 minutes – 30 minutes etc. So much easier to start and to focus when an end is in sight. A surprising amount can be accomplished in 15 truly focused minutes. I use a timer for these sorts of tasks. I mix those short bursts with longer,  more open ended work. My day feels designed.

* Breaking things down into time chunks changes my relationship with time – I am conscious of, and accountable for my minutes – less time slips mysteriously away – I push harder and squeeze things in.

* It’s effective even when I screw up. If I’ve over-scheduled myself – it’s easy to see and fix going forward.

* I’m less anxious about what I’m not doing at any given moment – I know it’s planned for – has it’s own focused chunk of time instead of floating around in a vague and oppressive cloud of things that need to be done.

And the biggest benefit:

It can be hard to feel momentum and progress on large or longterm projects and goals. Checking things off on a list is undeniable evidence of progress and a chance to congratulate yourself a little and build momentum. I save my lists and when I’m feeling frustrated or stuck I can look back and see how far I’ve come.

Lists are a way of celebrating and recording little successes – and that is terribly important in accomplishing big things.

flamingos in love

P. S. If you would like an email notification when the flamingo kit is ready to go you can sign up here.

my big creative year : youness

paper mache ships

“No one is youer than you.” – Dr. Seuss

So lovely and simple and true. A perfect message for a child or grownup. And the idea that is at the heart of all that is creative.

I think the youness is worth exploring deeply and sharing as fully as possible. The world only has one chance at what’s in there – one chance at you. I think it’s worth time, energy, embarrassment, failure and disappointment to work your way through to the deepest, most truly creative work you can do – the youest – the work of your utterly unique, snowflake of an imagination.

My Big Creative Year  moved me closer to that work, closer to my youness. Some of the things that helped:

Showing up – whether I wanted to or not.

Failing and starting again, and again and again….

Intention – making experimenting a priority – making  room for it.

Learning more about how I work (one of the benefits of working) – following my energy.

Listening carefully for the magic – I do believe it is there- waiting to be noticed….  Listening is part of the work and that kind of listening takes practice and patience and the afore mentioned showing up.

I got more tuned in to recognizing where I stumble – I see more clearly what is in the way, what trips me – again and again – this continues to be my biggest sticking point.

paper mache ships

And what’s ahead for 2016:

Blog-wise nothing programmed – except the sketchbook – I need to freestyle for a while- post as the spirit moves me. And work-wise – I have a lot of ideas for the coming year – new patterns and for the first time kits! are on the horizon. Also, Some projects came to me at the end of 2015 that hit me right in my youness – work I’ve been enjoying immensely – I’ll share some of that soon.

And for you, for 2016, I hope you’ll continue to visit here – I am grateful that you do. I wish you a happy, healthy and creative year. I wish you a year of magnificent youness.

my big creative year : can does not equal should

time

time
This has always been a sticky spot for me. I make myself very busy with work I CAN do without carefully considering if it is work I SHOULD do, work only I can do, work I am meant to do. A yes to one thing is a stealthy no to something else. A lot of my efforts this year have been around making those choices more carefully or at least more consciously and treating time like the precious resource it is.

I first came across Elizabeth Gilbert through her Ted Talk on Creativity and just lately put her new book Big Magic on my list (have your read it? I’d love to hear what you thought). And there is a companion podcast series to the book – Magic Lessons. You know I love a good podcast and I listened to all 12 episodes during a marathon sewing session. I love the way she talks about ideas, inspiration:

“Inspiration is looking for you, it’s waiting for you patiently while you’re making your mistakes, making the things that must be made on the way to what it has for you, it is a collaboration and a synergy…”

The podcast is a series of interviews with other authors and artists and conversations with women trying to move past fear,  procrastination, guilt and busyness into their most truly creative work – their big magic.

Find the podcast – Magic Lessons – here:

http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/magic-lessons/

my big creative year : good ideas

Sometimes ideas are like mosquitos – a relentless whisper.  Sometimes they are slippery and hard to grasp. Sometimes they flow, tumbling over each other. Sometimes they are lurking in the shadows, maddeningly half revealed and sometimes they are frightening – too big to hold.

Whether they are big or little, scary, silly, sad, strange, embarrassing or brilliant they are in unlimited supply. You can’t run out.

And this is also true:

“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

Linus Pauling

Lots.

And I would add this – have lots of ideas and write them down, record them.

Volume matters not because you’re bound to get lucky eventually but because asking your brain to generate lots of ideas keeps the wheels turning and the machinery well oiled.  It makes you ask the second question and the third and the fourth etc. etc. that will lead you to new places, lead you deeper into your imagination and your magic.

 

 

my big creative year : doll – part 1

doll experiment

Historically,  I’ve gotten hugely annoyed when described as a doll maker. Nothing against dolls – I love them so much – in all their forms – and there are so many incredible doll makers I admire. But still, I have felt resistance about creating anything that could very officially be called a doll.  I told myself – it just isn’t what I do.  Except it keeps coming up….   So I decided to make a doll.  And ran right into a bunch of nuttiness and resistance – all the usual suspects:

  •  I had a million ideas – I wanted to make LOTS of dolls – it felt impossible to choose where to begin – I was overwhelmed.
  •  I got all weird about what people might think.
  •  I wanted to make the best and most perfect doll ever – right out of the gate.

I stayed stuck and thinking for quite a while and then got past that the only way there is –  by starting. By taking a small action – gathering supplies.  Sorting through boxes and boxes of old garments and fabric with doll in mind made me see all sorts of new possibilities and qualities in things I’ve looked at a hundred times before. I got a lot of momentum from that exercise and started drawing, drafting and experimenting – in that good place of letting something evolve. You can see the very beginnings  of  the thinking, experimenting, drafting and refining process – my wonky first steps – below.

doll drafting

Stay tuned for doll #1.

 

my big creative year : perspective

shed skin

When I need to shift my perspective the best thing for me is to wander outside. So I did this weekend, for a little bit in the Adirondacks. I really didn’t think about things or try to figure anything out but while I was smelling moss and tree sap and collecting treasures my head cleared, a lot of franticness lifted.

shed skin

I’m in my usual spot of too much to do, not enough time etc. etc. etc. and I’ve got to let go of something so I’m going to put My Big Creative Year on vacation for the remainder of August. Or, more clearly, I’m going to put posting about it on vacation – I’ll still be having a big creative year and I hope you will too. The timing feels perfect and it takes some pressure off, gives some much needed breathing room. I’ll still be posting about other stuff – what I’m working on etc. and – hopefully later this week- I’ll tell you what I learned in my holiday survey – it was full of surprises. Thanks if you participated – I learned a ton.

my big creative year : the importance of no and what I love about collage

no collage

the importance of no

“A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.”
Gandhi

I say yes when I should say no. I think it’s most often to please or to avoid immediate discomfort, sometimes to avoid taking the time to make a truly thoughtful decision or sometimes for fear of lack. Firm, thoughtful, timely NO and carefully considered YES are things I need to work on.

What I do with my time is defined by what I say yes to – say yes to too much of the wrong stuff and the right stuff – the things I really love doing get squeezed out. Halfway through MY Big Creative Year there is still so much, so many ideas and things I want to experiment with waiting on the back burner for me to be less busy with my busyness.

I came across two great articles about creativity, time and NO I hope you’ll check out:

Creative People Say No
by Kevin Ashton

If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will
by Greg McKeown

A note on the collage:

It was a good thing to say yes to. Collage is something I love playing with but hardly ever make time for. Time experimenting with mood and pallet, accepting and rejecting ideas,  trying things on,  it lends itself to “what if” thinking and can draw me out of my worn in grooves. My reason for starting was because I needed an illustration for this post and I intended to be efficient about it. As soon as I began it became clear that somebody just really wanted to make a collage. I got lost in it, spent too much time and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

no quote

my big creative year : the magic of tidying up

cleaning and organizing

cleaning and organizing

I recently read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.  The book isn’t about cleaning, it’s about decluttering (the photo is from a house I visit upstate -I chose the photo because I love it, everything about it, and it expresses the beauty of essential things – just the essential things – the joy of simplicity and the elegance of the space around things).

It’s about having less stuff, having only things that bring you joy.

I approached this book with probably more than healthy skepticism. I always run into trouble with the word clutter. I get defensive and protective – that’s my important stuff, my important special stuff- and I need it, I need all of it, I need choices.

But do I? Do I need all of it? Do I even know? Have I truly looked closely enough or listened to myself and my things enough to know? Do I really understand what having it is costing? Because there is a cost – things have weight and shifting that weight around requires time and energy. And that’s what I do – I shift it around.

“Putting things away creates the illusion that the problem has been solved.”

I have all sorts of organizing schemes, I love the container store and ikea. I love them. I put it all away, make it lovely and it feels so good. For a while. Until everything I squirreled away starts to creep back out and I need to do it all again. It doesn’t really work or last because there is just too much. Too much that isn’t meaningful, too much I don’t truly love, more than what is essential. Slowly, it reemerges and I feel the weight of it.

At the center of Marie Kondo’s system for decluttering, for relieving yourself of “the burden of owning more than one needs” is this question:

Does this spark joy?

Look at everything (and she means everything) and ask yourself if it sparks joy. Her system for evaluating and what to do with the things you decide to keep gets detailed, really detailed (she almost lost me at sock folding) and there is an undeniable wisdom in the system, even the order she directs you to tackle things in makes perfect sense and sets you up to succeed. The goal is to create a lasting change, not a chore or exercise to be repeated at intervals – a system for assessing and dealing with possessions, keeping what you love, disposing of the rest and ultimately being surrounded by only what you love, what you choose.

I have begun, as directed, with clothes.

Some sparked joy, that was the smallest pile, some did not. A lot sparked a desire to lose weight. The pile of “doesn’t fit but I love it” was depressing and motivating – lots of “goal pants”…….  And she talks about the pitfalls of “downgrading to loungewear” – it was like she was speaking directly to me – vast, VAST and cumbersome sections of my wardrobe were “paint clothes” and “things to wear around the house” – enough for a couple life times.

The book continues through each category of possessions – tackling them head on, anticipating where one might fail or waiver with remarkable insight.

There is art, science and spirit in her system – you need to be able to embrace or at least have some tolerance for the idea of having a spiritual relationship with your things and the idea that things have energy. I’m so glad I read it, there were revelations in this book for me and it has made me think differently about things and how to take care of them.

I’m going to continue to work my way through each category (they get progressively more difficult) and I’ll let you know how it goes.  What’s your relationship with your stuff like?

my big creative year : mind maps

chillingworth

Mind mapping and I go way back….. I first used it during the couple of years or so I spent trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, pre – this blog, pre – ann wood handmade. It helped me feel my way through, sort and evaluate ideas and then figure out steps to begin, to make stuff happen.

My brain is not a good place to keep things – ideas chase and distract me, things get lost, when my head feels cluttered I get overwhelmed and unhappy.

chillingworth

Getting stuff out helps me keep moving forward. My notebooks remain my most important tool for capturing ideas but for looking at the whole picture, making complex plans or experimenting with possibilities I find mind mapping incredibly useful. And I enjoy it – which matters – it’s fun, fun is good, fun gets me to do stuff. I use software or sometimes just pencil and paper – each have their advantages, the premise is the same for both:

Organize thoughts around a central idea.

Topics, sub topics and related ideas radiate out from the central idea and then branch off into increasing detail. That’s one of the big benefits for me – details go where they belong and I’m less inclined to become mired in, or overly focused on them. I use shapes and colors and lines and size to define or highlight ideas. I see connections and intersections, relationships and priorities that I might not otherwise have seen if I was working something out in my head or making a strictly linear list.

I started a new mind map this weekend. I’ve got a wicked summer cold, laryngitis, zero energy and large sections of me are covered in calamine lotion (unprotected walk in a swampy forest) – I’m wretched and itchy and generally poorly so I took to my bed on Sunday and played with Xmind all day – it’s free unless you want to get super fancy and I love it. It looks snazzy and you can add hyper links, images, reminders – all sorts of useful stuff. The image below is the beginning of my map (it has gotten much bigger) and I blurred some stuff out so as not to spoil any surprises.

mind map
My central topic is broad – my plans for the second half of 2015 – products, artwork, marketing, workshops, blog stuff – all of it. I’m just getting started and it’s already helping me generate new ideas and have a sense of direction and priorities for the rest of the year. I start messy and inclusive, brain dump style – and then refine – wether I’m working on paper or a program. As my focus gets clearer I start to add action steps. I love the structure around my ongoing projects and it makes space for new ideas. It’s not a to do list but it helps me build meaningful to do lists. Excellent and entertaining use I think, of an entire Sunday in bed.

P.S. When I mention or link to or recommend something here – books, websites, products etc. it’s because I think they’re interesting or awesome or I’m curious what you think about them – I don’t get paid for it, there are no affiliate links here. Just so you know.

my big creative year : for introverts

On a scale of 1-10 for introversion, 1 being an actual hermit and 10 being the super extroverted end, I would place myself at 3, or maybe 2 and 1/2. I don’t mind it, don’t want to change it and couldn’t if I did. It’s not a condition, it’s not better or worse than the other end of the spectrum, I do like people, I’m not sad or lonesome in any general sense, I’m just wired in such a way that solitude, and lots of it, is where my energy comes from.

for introverts

I would like to be a BETTER introvert though in three ways I’m clear about:

Figuring out how not to feel bad about it or at least feel bad about it less often. I waste so much time and energy on that.

Being a more diligent and intrepid explorer of myself.  I want to reach past the comfortable territory I’ve already navigated and develop more skill at sharing that world.

And by challenging the edge of my natural inclination more often, not in an effort to be someone else but to expand to my full capacity,  to explore and experiment outside myself and collaborate more – in ways that respect what I need but push me past what’s entirely comfortable and familiar.

P.S. If this is something you relate to check out Jonathan Field’s conversation with Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.