I’ve made some changes to my process lately, and it’s been measurably successful for me. Three weeks ago I was in a rough place, with the quarantine and work. It’s nice to be meaningfully employed right now, but I can’t deny there was some envy building when I looked around at the creative outputs other people were managing.
The reality of that, though, is that I have been through lots of phases of different employment and free time, and I have to admit that what mostly affects my creative output is not free time, but rather the structure of my life.
It’s not so much the usual regimented a thing at the same time every day sort of structure that works for me, but rather the structure of only allowing certain ways of thinking to affect my day. My most productive time ever, the time that gave birth to this blog, was when I was working long hours as a security guard. I developed the habit of giving myself some time to read a book or watch a movie at the start of my shift. Every 40-50 minutes, I would do my one kilometer patrol. After a few hours of that, my brain would kick into overdrive, and I’d write, patrol, write, patrol, until I was done writing or my shift was over.
I wrote the blog, almost a post a day, and at the same time over about a year wrote nine screenplays and two novels. I felt so productive I quit that job fully expecting I would be able to turn the incredible amount of free time into even more productive work.
Instead, there was less. I maintained the habit of writing for another few years, but eventually that wore off. Before long I was back to full time working, and teaching, and wishing I had free time to write again. I kept trying to build a habit by cutting out time for myself and making rules and a million other things, but no success. Instead, I ran back into my old pre-blog habit of starting many projects and never finishing them.
So there I was a few weeks ago, feeling incredibly burned out and and stressed. I had just worked a full week of dealing with other people’s crushing economic realities and dying dreams, and only had one day off before the next week of the same started. My previous habit was to try and recuperate as much as possible on two days off by being a slug on day one, and then getting up and moving on day two. Which always left me feeling drained but able to get through the week. Such was working life, yes?
But now I had only one day off, and was already on the verge of breaking down. I’d developed the coping habit of giving myself some time to grab a fountain pen and write in a journal by natural light. I’d noticed that it calmed me down tremendously to work through each letter, watching the ink flow out and dry on the page.
It struck me that I wanted to spend the day buried in that feeling. So I decided I was going to do something extreme. I was going to take a Hobbit day.
What this meant to me was that I was going to be a hobbit from breakfast til bedtime. No technology interaction. Writing pen on paper, playing guitar for a while, wearing only the comfiest clothes. Drinking good coffee all morning, baking treats when I got bored, sitting out in the garden or in a chair by a window and reading a book. Those were my plans for the day. Treat myself like a hobbit having the best day ever.
It was amazing. Changed my whole week. And it’s been changing me ever since. In retrospect, it wasn’t the lack of technology that made the big difference, but that lack of social media and the lack of passive entertainment. Without a constant window of what other people were doing, I was free to do just what I wanted. Without a game or show to be teasing me into watching just a few more minutes of story, I was free to stare out the window and watch the spiders, bees and hummingbirds getting on with their daily lives.
A week after that, I started to write again. I stepped away from social media much more thoroughly…allowing myself only five minutes in the morning for a quick glance at the feeds, then down for the day. I’ve started my exercise program again, and my blood pressure is trending down enough that I’m looking at reducing my meds. It strikes me that my original productivity, so long ago, was not from the habits but rather from the exclusions.
This is how our brains work, after all. The do not seek more data, but instead seek to limit and filter the storm of data that comes in. And we all have our methods to do so. It’s worth finding out for ourselves what creates silence in our minds and hearts, and allows our thoughts to roam free and organize themselves into new patterns for us to make live through our actions.