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productivity

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Death to the Stuck Whiner - Life to the Creator!

Dear "It's Good Friday, I'm Dying and Can't Seem to Get it Together to Even Create a Good Death" Self,

You always think that you have to do something dramatic to signal a new track in your life: move houses, acquire a new mode of transportation (boat, scooter), do a big physical cleanse, set yourself a series of goals in a fresh, new journal. Death to the old and life to the new. But by now you are starting to get the idea, at the ripe old age of 38, that the big changes are always little ones.

I moved houses 3 times this winter, into two different house sits and back to my little cabin in between. Each time it was like a fresh start, a “wow, look at this beautiful space I can be in and think of all the work I can get done!” kind of feeling. But I’m still me. I’m messy, leave unfinished projects everywhere, don’t pick up after myself til company’s coming, indulge in TV and wine and distractions as soon as work is somewhat accomplished (or whenever I can justify it). And then I tire of the place, or feel trapped by it, and I need a change again. Death before life.

So, big moves don’t usually signal a deep change, they just make me feel better for a time.

However, some significant changes have taken place over the last few months, and I did get into an actual routine of working. But it wasn’t the moves or the new space or access to internet that suddenly changed me from being a whining, stuck creative, to an actually working creative.

You know what's changed in the last few months? I began to be grateful, I began to see opportunities instead only obstacles, and I started laying track for The Work. When I was complaining, whining, crying and using distractions to cover my fears that I couldn’t bring my ideas to reality, I just didn't see any way forward. It seemed impossible. As I focused on my own inability, I was choking out the creative process. And without creativity and imagination, nothing will ever get done.

Creativity requires room to breathe: it needs hope like humans require air. When I became grateful and saw opportunities, I began to have hope. When I have hope, I stop panicking and can see the next step ahead of me. I started to see what I could do, right here and right now.

Creativity requires a track to run on. I finally gave it an outlet into The Work, instead of being imaginative and creative with all the ways I was avoiding work. When my creativity is stifled, I find it expressing itself in all kinds of random ways in my life. It goes berserk and runs in other directions, sometimes harmful ones. 

Like, hmmm... I become a little obsessed with posting details of my precious life on Facebook. Or I put my imagination to work imagining what my ex is doing with his new girlfriend, and what their relationship looks like. Or I start having great and wonderful ideas about all my friends' businesses, and start blabbing about how I could help them achieve what they want to. I spend time reorganizing things and making grand plans. All because I'm not directing that creative energy to my own work. 

So when I look back at it, the three biggest changes in my life have been small ones. I write down something beautiful that happened that day in a gratitude journal every night. I stopped saying 'yes' to everyone else, and said no to some significant jobs that I knew would cost me time in my own work. And I look for chances get some traction on my ideas, rather than opportunities to avoid The Work.

Another little trick I've recently discovered is that tackling things I’ve procrastinated on for months, or even years, can also unblock the creative side. For some reason, my little task-oriented brain is compulsively running over a list of things I have to do, and when I finally do one of them, it frees up some harddrive space for creative work. Isn’t that weird?

Tobi with chickies.jpg

And then of course, the more track you lay, the more you get done. As I wrote yesterday, the more I get done the more I want to get done. 

It’s refreshing to realize that I don’t need to overhaul my life to get on track. I just need to start with something small, right now.

Death to procrastinating and whining, life to hope and creative track-making.

Right now.

 

Love from, Your Newly-Hatched Baby Chickie Creative Self

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The Bringer of Ideas

To my dear Incomplete Self, as she is wondering if she will ever finish one of her great ideas:

Fir tree, Saltspring Island, 2016

Fir tree, Saltspring Island, 2016

What's the difference between completion and finishing? Someone posed that question on Facebook yesterday, and it struck me as being true: we don't have a satisfactory definition in the English language that distinguishes one from the other. 

Completion: the action or process of finishing something; the state of being finished. 

Finished: an action, activity, or piece of work having been completed or ended; a person having completed or ended an action or activity. 

I would say that this fir tree ably demonstrates the act of finishing, with its broken off branches scaling upward, and also completion at the top, where it rose to meet the sun. Not all the branches survived the journey - they finished their task of providing nutrients and energy to the tree as it grew. But its larger mission was completed once it pushed upward and reached the light. 

Either way, I've had very little experience with either of those words when it comes to my own projects. 

I tend to be a very, very serious person. Somehow, I never acquired the ability to lighten up and accept the moments in life as they come, as randomly assembled bits of life that don't necessarily have to make sense. Instead, driven perhaps by the messaging from my Christian upbringing in which I learned that "God has a plan", my Big Brain uses an awful lot of its hard drive power to ponder how it all "fits together" and "am I accomplishing my mission in life" and "what the hell does this project have to do with the other" and trying to figure out how I will "get it all done" before I die.

Seriously, that is a fear that I have. That I will die, like my mother, with boxes and boxes of unsorted photographs and unfinished projects. Her projects haunt me, and my own quietly hiss at me from my 40+ terabytes of hard drives. There are literally thousands of hours of footage I haven't looked at yet, waiting to be turned into a work of art, if I could just get around to it. 

It's like I took my mother's love of taking photographs and quadrupled the challenge, brought it to the 3rd dimension with moving images and sound, and thus ensured I would be shackled to my projects for the rest of my life. 

A photograph from Brazil, at Fazenda Cavalos Selvagems (Wild Horses Farm) where I've been shooting a documentary since 2010. The amount of footage is amazing. Daunting. Just like the skyscape.

A photograph from Brazil, at Fazenda Cavalos Selvagems (Wild Horses Farm) where I've been shooting a documentary since 2010. The amount of footage is amazing. Daunting. Just like the skyscape.

There's "The Trapper of Peace River", surrounded by oil and gas and forestry, watching his beloved wilderness be gutted by industry. That one, started in 2009, I have to admit I will probably never finish, though it's a subject that continues to both fascinate and grieve me. 

There is "Wild Horses" the documentary about my amazing horsewoman friend Ingela Larsson Smith, as she and her husband Richard take a band of unruly orphan boys and try to turn them into leaders and good men, through mentorship and horsemanship. Started in 2010, I have roughly 400 hours of footage, and hundreds of thousands of photographs to sort through. 

There's "Between Wood and Water" my current project about the oldest sailboat in Canada, Dorothy, set to sail again (we hope) sometime in the near future. It's her 120th anniversary and I've been waiting for progress on that front since 2014. Have given up a few times but again, the story is too good to quit on, even if it has been 5 years. 

These three projects have consumed me, by turns obsessed me, traumatized me and caused me to weep, at regular intervals over the last 7 years. It's been a long, hard road, and like the fir, I have many broken off branches to on me. 

And that's not even it. I seem to be born to generate new ideas. I want to start a media co-op on the island. A film school. An artists/production space. A tool-sharing workshop. A tiny house building series. And I have many many more ideas for community development and interactive projects. Ways to make life better for people. Strategies for all of my friends' small businesses. Every time I talk to someone I have an idea how I could help them, what they could do to grow or expand their business to fit the shape of their life. 

I have begun to suspect that I may not have enough time to do them all. I've often said I need an executive secretary to tell me what to do every day, and an army of workers to help me carry it out. I bring the ideas. But I can't do them all. 

So I've begun breaking off my own branches. Saying no to some things (and yes to still others - horses, WTF am I thinking, argghhhhh). I've said no to clients, to exciting opportunities, to people who want my help. I've largely become a hermit, housesitting up here on a hill in a beautiful house with the beautiful Winnie dog, because it's all I can do to just focus on my own work and not get distracted by having other people around. With every new conversation, I have a new idea, and then I'm off... on someone else's tangent. 

So our conversation on completing things will, of course, be continued. I have some other strategies for reaching the sun, as it were, that I'm slowly putting into place. But I just wanted you to know that it's ok if you haven't finished a project or 5, or you have so many ideas that you know you can't do them all... because I'm in the same boat. And I believe there is a way forward, a way to complete things, a way to have a beautiful life and not die with everything still unfinished. 

I'll let you know in the next post. 

In true form, leaving this conversation incomplete, but finished for now... 

love Tobi

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The Perfect Workweek

My Dear Driven Artist and Compulsive Overworker,

I've always known that working 40 hours per week was not for me. It was always either 70 or 80, or 10/20 ish. I believe I'm really only productive when I'm working flat-out, obsessively, enjoying the rush and stimulus of expediting food for a conference of 1000s of attendees for example, or fitting in a leisurely 2 hour work period as I do in my late 30s, between caring for horses, large dogs, gardens, and packing or unpacking my things from whatever housing arrangement I have at the time. 

Now I have scientific proof that working less is better for me, and is more productive in the end. I hereby present: The Ideal Workweek, According to Science, by Simon Parkin.

ideal workweek poster.jpg

Basically, he explains that just because "we live in a culture that venerates overwork", doesn't make us more productive. In fact, a lot of the research shows that four hour stints of work is about as much as anyone, from artists to philosophers to athletes, can handle. And even that might be best broken up into one hour work segments, with 15-20 minute breaks. 

My challenge, and perhaps yours too, is that my brain has been transformed by the ADD-inducing nature of social media culture, to the point that I can't seem to concentrate on a single task for more than 20 minutes before I'm actively looking for a distraction.

Ironically, when I'm "working" on social media content and surfing the web and Facebook for marketing opportunities, I can sit there, zoned out like a zombie, for hours. But when I'm standing in front of the computer doing some actual creative work to do with one of my documentaries, it takes about 20 minutes before my brain starts to drift, and if I can harness it at that point and wrestle it back to attention, I'm still only good til around the 40 minute mark before I have to do something else. 

Why is that? Why can't I focus on the work that is most meaningful and will produce the most long-lasting feeling of satisfaction for me? At the end of a workweek, I don't look back on my social media posts and go, "wow, those were some creative pieces of work there, Tobi, well done!" OK, so I do pat myself on the back a little bit for the bloggy bits that actually take some storytelling skill. But when I think about what I've done that week in terms of "real work", it's only the time I've put in to actually putting bits of video on a timeline, or words on a page, or ideas and research in a publishable format, that I really feel a sense of accomplishment about. 

The problem perhaps is, that the sense of accomplishment comes long after I've actually done the work, not while I'm creating. I usually have a sense of un-accomplishment while I'm creating something. It feels always rough, unpleasant, not enough, not polished, unhappily unfinished. So I go away from it with the nagging sense that I have to come back, and it bugs me. Whereas social media publishing work has an immediate sense of accomplishment, a reward right at the time of posting, and I feel a little rush and sense of satisfaction that makes me want to do more. 

So instead of limiting myself to a single post, like an addict, I have to replicate that post's success, doing it in multiple groups and trying to get even more traction, chasing the dragon of more reach and interaction. But it's a high that never lasts, and I don't think about it beyond that limited period. The gain is instant, and instantly over. 

But real work... the hard, uncomfortable stuff that I have to do daily if I'm ever going to finish one of my documentaries... the grinding, hair-pulling, sweat-inducing valleys and troughs I have to push myself through to actually lay track... this kind of work can only be done in short bursts.

I take hope in the evidence that far greater artists and thinkers than I am have traditionally worked in short bursts and then taken their leisurely time to do the rest of life, and let their mighty creative minds and juices slowly recover. Here's to a better workweek, and to working with less pressure and compulsion, for all of us. 

Hang in there,

love, Me.

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