I’ve been hitting “publish” nearly daily for a little over six months. I’ve been happy to see each like that comes my way, and grateful to see readers occasionally moved to comment.
It’s seems there have been a couple of arcs to what I’ve posted. In the summer, I was focused a lot on what self-care meant to me, and how to create space for discernment without self-judgment.
Over the fall, I’ve gotten more interested in how focus my time and energy. On how and what to prioritize.
And, dear reader, I imagine you can smell from this recap, some kind of announcement coming on, which is this: for next little bit, I’m abandoning the established five day a week schedule for the blog and focusing in on my project explaining the principles of music with BEAD Guides Chord Flow.
I’ve come come to the conclusion it’s time to really focus on what I’ve wanted to be a priority for a long time, making songwriting tools and opportunities accessible for songwriters, (especially songwriter guitarists).
The weekly prompts and musical ideas I’ve been posting each Friday will continue. I’m sure over time other things will begin to turn up here as well. It just won’t be on a regular schedule for a while.
When I first started writing, I was told writers write. Everyday.
I’ve been told the same thing about exercise and meditation—have a daily practice. My guitar teachers over the years have insisted on the same thing. Yoga and stretching as well. And so it is with any task of import: when I decide to commit, the commitment I decide to make is daily.
But of course, I can’t do everything daily. I have time to really prioritize two daily practices, maybe three depending on the time they demand.
So the point of writing this is simply to remind myself of that. To leave a mental Post-It: the next time I imagine I should make something a daily practice, remember, I can’t. It’s to remember I must choose my two, or maybe three priorities. To remember, any daily practice I add will displace a priority, so it better be more important.
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Gregg McKeown is the author of Essentialism. He has a podcast called What’s Essential. I’ve talked about his work here before. I own his book too.
Essentialism is more or less, choosing what is most important to me, and making it a priority.
A short list of essentials for me would look something like:
* My wife, and my relationship with her.
* Helping others create music of meaning and beauty.
* Being in touch with my own sense of music and beauty.
Something like that.
Essentialism is hard. It requires looking at ideas and opportunities and deciding if they align with my essentials. It means saying no to things that aren’t essential to me, while my usual tact is something closer to getting excited by an idea and chasing it down like a rabbit. Or being asked to doing something and saying yes out of a sense of obligation (or a wish not to disappoint).
The past few weeks, learning to evaluate and choose what’s essential has been one of my biggest adventures and challenges. It’s also important to recognize my idea of essentialism and my tilt towards perfectionism are hosted in neighboring nodes of my brain. I want to do essentialism perfectly. In this life things are rarely perfect.
A friend the other day said she heard Gregg McKeown say something like: Expecting people to be productive every minute of the day is unrealistic. You can only assume 60% productivity.
As a rule, humans are pretty bad at estimating how long project will take. A rule of thumb in construction, as I understand it, is to estimate the amount of time a project will take then multiply by two. That math lines up pretty well with the supposed Gregg McKeown quote.
Which is all to say if you think you’re working at 60% capacity, you may well be close to working at 100%. But more, we often expect and demand far too much out of ourselves and others. It seems that It’s only when we get really honest with ourselves about what we can do consistently, and plan for that, that we begin to approach what appears to be a superhuman 110%.
Getting really honest doesn’t mean getting draconian, overbearing, and unkind. It means observing what I do and reporting on it without judgment. Seeing what my strengths are. Seeing where I could probably get more done by not attempting to do anything. And finally, doing what seems to be a kryptonite for me—asking for help when I need it.
I was speaking today with creative friends about out work today.
We’ve each rolled around to where the work is a drag. One friend is feeling dried up. Another is struggling with back pain; it’s literally painful for her to sit. Me? I’ve been feeling worn down, dried up, and a bit overwhelmed.
How to deal with writers block and dry spells is an age old question. The three of us met in a Seth Godin workshop. He’s in the writers write, plumbers plumb school on the subject—you won’t hear about a plumber having plumber’s block, why should a writer get to have writer’s block.
That said, one friend pointed out plumbers take vacations. Plumbers take personal days from time to time.
I think many writers get superstitious about taking days off. I know I often believe that one day off leads to two (months).
The same friend suggested this: intentionally start and intentionally stop. As I’m writing this, those words seem to have all the punch of a joke you had to be there for. But the procrastination that keeps me from my work feels at best semi-intentional, and really seems to happen in a kind ritualized somnambulance. Intention feels like a real answer. I could simply start with intention—then stop.