A few months ago I wrote a post about the major changes I was making to my life – ignited by a growing dissatisfaction with my business and bleeding into the rest of my reality. I wrote about rediscovering flow and realizing how hard it was to get into the flow with all the distractions, crazy deadlines, and pressure to multitask. In the weeks and months since embarking on this new adventure, I’m continuing to learn how to get back into the flow of my craft and other parts of my life.
Flow needs space. It needs breathing room. It can’t be rushed or crammed into a 15 minute slot between two other items on the list. When I was a young art student, getting into the flow was common. For children, its second nature – they lose themselves in their imagination and play in the flow instinctively. For adults, it’s a different story: we are inundated with tasks; trying to cram so many things into our few hours a day.
I realize now that when I was running a company, I had so little space in my day to get into the flow: accounting, employee needs, client needs, creative direction, art direction, technical direction, training new hires, etc. There was little time to breathe, let alone think and far too few of those long stretches of time to really get into the flow of what I love to do. My to-do list was always overflowing and it got to the point where I was not even paying attention to it. The only times I really felt in the flow with any one task was when I would get back to work after the family had gone off to bed. Those midnight hours were great for making some serious headway on business issues and client projects, but not so great on my body, mental health, and creative wellbeing!
Reduce the To Do List and Slow Down!
Now I’m the one-man shop again, and I have been learning to really keep that to do list short! I tend to be pretty ambitious: as a creative person I get a lot of ideas and want to do a lot of things, so I tack them on to the ever growing list of things to do. Most days I would start with so many things on my list, I would feel overwhelmed. If I wasn’t shell-shocked at the length of my list, then I would feel discouraged when I reached the end of the day to find I didn’t get enough done! One day, my wife looks at my list and says “pick one!” I took my wife’s advice; I reduced the list to one or two items.
I began to pick the stuff I love to do, and just focus on that during my work day. I try to keep my work hours as simple and open as possible so I can really sink in and get into it. Slowing down and simplifying really makes a difference here – stop the web browsing, the tweeting, the news reading. Take a deep breath and focus. If I can’t, I try to get away from the distractions – maybe take a slow walk outside just to reset the brain.
Reverse the Cycle
Now I’m feeling the slow reversing of a cycle I would often get stuck in:
- As I tried to accomplish more and more each day, I spent less and less time getting into the flow of my craft.
- As I spent less time in the flow, I learned less, discovered less, I grew less in my skills.
- I began to feel less secure about my design skills, so I tacked on more tasks.
- This lead to even less time getting into the flow, left me feeling rushed and discontent with my execution, more insecure about my skills.
- Rinse and repeat!
You can see the pattern emerging. The cycle goes on and on and eventually leads to massive burnout! As a company leader, I couldn’t break out of this cycle; at least I couldn’t see a way to – there never seemed to be enough time in the day to get everything I needed to done so I could focus!
In contrast, I’ve spent real time designing again. These days I try to focus on maybe just one task at work. Really losing myself in it. The flow. It’s unexplainable how good this feels. What’s more, it’s amazing how this starts to bleed into your personal life. I find more time to be present with my family and friends, to get into the flow with them. I really feel like I am growing again, learning and discovering. Not every day is this flow-love-fest; I have to work constantly at keeping the list short, keeping the focus on the really important tasks, and, most importantly, making time for it.
Making a habit of that state of flow has really helped to invigorate my passion for the interactive space again. It has also reignited my energy around the growing list of ideas that I never really spent quality time trying to make into reality – some ideas have been on that list for 10 or more years. I’ll be writing more about this new product in the near future. I’ll also be following up with more of my discoveries along this new and uncharted path I’m on to get back into a place of creative and wellbeing. Stay tuned!