This year has challenged me, stretched me to my max, pushed me to focus on priorities and forced me to let go of things that aren't crucial. I began to write this post on my other blog (www.enduranceisrequired.blogspot.com, if you want to read and see my family's journey,) but I realized that what I wanted to talk about would be beneficial to anyone struggling to meet daily demands while wearing a million different hats and, at times, feeling like a failure because you just don't measure up to your own standard of "perfection."
What is perfection, anyways? I've had to redefine that for myself this year and I certainly slip back into my old ways all too often. After a long 18 months dealing with multiple miscarriages and then a devastating diagnosis for our unborn son, I began to just survive. Who could blame me? I forced myself to function everyday because I had to. I had a family and young children that needed their mom. I became a shell, and everything I did was a struggle. Depression manifested itself as an inability to focus on and complete tasks, frequent headaches, lack of energy and irritability. As January rolled around, I decided it was time to face my issue head on and begin taking steps to get myself into a better place. I needed coping skills. I needed to find myself again.
Who can relate? Not necessarily with the depression, but just the everyday struggle...it is real. For moms, for dads, for everyone. I had a hard time juggling the commitment of serving in ministry, keeping up with demands of being a mom and wife, keeping the house going, and trying to make a go with my art career. Somewhere in the mix we lose ourselves.
Below is list of steps that have helped me in my creative life and not-so-creative life.
I'm a bit scatter-brained and I would guess that many creatives are. There are hundreds of ideas spinning through my head at any given moment and that causes me to get distracted easily. I forced myself to create detailed lists breaking down tasks and chores into small items that could be done in a few minutes each. I know that won't necessarily apply to every item, but it is helpful to break down tasks as much as possible.
On days that I just felt defeated...you know the ones where you've been busy all day but you look around at the end of the day and it looks like nothing was accomplished...I make myself a reverse to-do list. I would write down things I knew I finished and crossed them off. It was therapeutic to know that I had indeed been somewhat productive.
Let's Be Realistic
I also started coping by giving myself more realistic expectations. Was someone else putting pressure on me, or was I doing it to myself? Prior to this realization, my to-do lists overwhelmed me to the point that I just avoided doing any of it. I know that sounds silly, but I just didn't know where to begin. Once I let go of the notion that everything had to get done that day, my to-do lists became more realistic and manageable.
I make sure to always include some creative time on my lists. If I don't put it down...it doesn't happen. It is so important to give yourself an opportunity each day to express yourself whether through writing, painting, crafting, or whatever your hobby is.
Set a Timer
Some days (like today) it's just hard. One kid was throwing a tantrum, the house was a wreck, I had a lot of chores that needed to get done before the weekend, and I was tired from a morning of activities and errands. All I really wanted to do was sit down and not think. On days like this, I use a timer. I've found that ten minute increments work well. I'll set the timer and give myself those minutes to focus on nothing but that task. When the timer goes off, I take a break or move onto the next thing. It allows me to be more efficient when I can see an end.
I also do this when my kids are desperate for my attention. I will set aside a few minutes and just focus on playing with them. When the timer beeps, I can move on and they've had their "love bucket" refilled.
Break It Up
It is important to break up your creative and non-creative time. Too much of one thing can cause burn-out or boredom...neither of which is a good thing. Studio time should be broken up, also. Life as an artist or other creative is not all about creating. There are photos to take, emails to send, spreadsheets to update and inspiration to be found. I find that when I give myself a variety of tasks to complete, I'm the most productive.