Tag Archives: focus

Art Maintains Momentum

Corbett Barr asked in a comment on When Is It Time Enough how to help maintain momentum when you’ve started something.

Slacking off mid-project is a big problem for all of us.  I know it is for me and I’ve left many projects unfinished because I didn’t have the motivation to really stick with it.

These days I have a few tricks up my sleeve to keep myself focused when my energy dwindles and one that I really love is using different forms of art to keep myself motivated.

Here are a few of them and why they work for me.

1) Sufjan Stevens – You Are The Blood

Listen to it on my Blip.fm station.

This song just strikes a chord with my creative center.  I plug in my headphones and put this on loop and next thing I know two hours have passed and I’ve crunched through a ton of work.  It shifts tone and style throughout the song which I think helps keeps me shifting gears and moving forward.

It helps me enter a state of flow when I’m working, keeping me focused and dedicated to the task at hand.

Find a song or an album that resonates with you creatively.  Often times when you are hitting a wall putting on an aural creative trigger will help you push through it and get on to the next step in your process.  Even better is that it will keep you engaged with your work and focused so you don’t slip out of the process.

2) Flobots – Handlebars

Handlebars Art Maintains Momentum

Not only does this song resonate with my creativity but the music video has such striking motion graphics and imagery.  It inspires me to action far more than the song would on its own.

It is full of revolutionary images and the theme pulls out of me that drive to create change in the world.  As a liberation artist who wants to spread the passion to create a life worth waking up for this music video hurls me towards that goal.

Find images or video that resonates with your goals.  When your motivation wanes hit the play button and feel the rush of inspiration.

3) Walt Whitman – Song of the Open Road

Nothing says motivation to a vagabond like this poem by Walt Whitman.  While it isn’t necessarily a quick read or a quick fix it definitely helps me keep me on track with my goals as a vagabond.

The imagery that Whitman conjures has played out for me in as I travel and when I’m feeling stuck or that persistent ennui from a late night spent alone it keeps the fire stocked with fuel for the long run.

Find a poem or series of verse that resonate with your lifestyle.  When you find yourself slipping from your desired life take a moment to reconnect with what helped spark those dreams in the first place.

What types of art do you use to keep you motivated, focused and inspired?

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Maintaining Momentum: It's Our Time and Our Focus

Time management and focus are two key factors to maintaining momentum in any creative process.

Every day I have to battle the urge to put something off; whether it’s writing, exercise, choreographing, or some other endeavor. I am a slacker and it is my internal battle to overcome; to count down and do it.

These are a few things I do to try to keep myself on track and going.

3 Steps to Better Time Management

1) Learn to Batch Process

Batching ProcessesBatching is a phrase used in production which has been adopted by the productivity community.

Typically batching involves setting aside a specific amount of time for a single process.  This is often for repetitive processes such as e-mail, bills, photo processing, reading Twitter messages, and so on.

If I step out of my writing process for five minutes to check my Twitter account it will often take me ten or fifteen minutes to get back in the writing groove.  Add in a couple times checking e-mail, Facebook, etc. and I’ve slowed down my writing process by an hour or more.

Batching out a block of time to check e-mail, read or respond to Twitter messages, etc. keeps me from interrupting my regular work flow by going back and forth between different activities.

2) List 3 Important Tasks

I find this one particularly helpful and one that I’m most often to lapse on.

It takes only a few minutes to write out these tasks the night before in my notebook but when I wake up the next day I have a manageable and effective list of activities to perform in my day.

These tasks should be ones that are going to (a) make you feel fulfilled having accomplished them; (b) produce major results; and (c) be reasonable in a days time frame.

With this list written down I’m much more likely to commit segments of my day to following through on these actions.  Without a list my commitments are amorphous and it is hard to block my time.

3) Plan for Downtime

Lastly make sure you are reasonable with your time.  Plan in some down time, whether it’s with family, friends or by yourself.

Free time and leisure time is essential to the creative process.  Our brains work in the background when we take time to relax so don’t micro-manage your time.  Give yourself some leeway in your schedule so you can take fifteen minutes to sip your cup of tea and decompress.

I am a huge fan of downtime, perhaps because I’m a slacker or perhaps because I just like enjoying my cup of tea, but it is essential to my day to have it.  The challenge is just to make sure that my entire day doesn’t become downtime.

3 Steps to Better Focus

1) Minimize Distractions

Zen Pond - Not All Zen MastersWe are not all zen masters capable of performing in perfect focus while being surrounding by all the distractions of the world.

Especially with the number of devices and services vying for your attention at any given moment (phone, e-mail, twitter, facebook, youtube, etc.) when it is time to focus let them go.  They’ll be there when you are done.

So don’t have fifteen browser windows open with e-mail, facebook, and twitter all in clicking distance.  Close those browser windows, turn off widgets which pop-up notifications, and turn off Outlook reminders.

The one that gets me all the time is my phone.  I text a great deal with my friends.  Yet when I need to focus and a text comes in I’m lost for fifteen minutes fiddling with my fancy iPhone.  Turn it off, put it out of sight.

Lastly, be in control of your creative environment.  Wear headphones.  Close doors.  Get in your zone and don’t leave it.

2) Be Prepared

At least the boy scouts had something right.  Be prepared for when you need to focus.

If you need a piping hot cup of coffee at hand (like me) make sure you have a carafe sitting next to you so you can top up that mug as you drain it between paragraphs.

Take the time to setup your creative environment with the materials you need.  It’ll pay off to have a few extra things on hand that you might need instead of interrupting your flow and leaving your workspace.

For some people this means having a particular mug, a special pen, their favorite kind of notepad, or other ritual devices.  Make sure you have them with you.

3) The 5 Minute Rule

If you find yourself losing focus, use the 5 Minute Rule.

Say to yourself, “another five minutes,” and keep at it for another five minutes.

Often I’ll find that by the time five minutes has passed I’ve worked through that momentary disconnect and have gotten back on track.

Sometimes you’ll work another five minutes and still be losing focus.  Then, maybe it’s time for a little break and some downtime to recoup.  But usually pushing through that wall will open you up to a whole new field to run in.

You’re Not Alonehammock 300x225 Maintaining Momentum: It's Our Time and Our Focus

Time management is my greatest struggle.

I don’t like having a set schedule most of the time, I’ve lived on my own terms time wise for a long time and it has been enjoyable yet detrimental to my effectiveness in various ventures.  Using a few guidelines to keep me in check help me focus energies.

What are some of your time management and focus hacks or tricks to keep you on track?

How Calligraphy Clears My Mind – Focus From a Pen Nib

Fingers stained with ink I set the fountain pen down.

An hour has passed.  My mind is clear and aware.

Alphabets are arranged over and over again down the sheet of paper.

I have been practicing my calligraphy.

No pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination.

-James Joyce

fountainpen How Calligraphy Clears My Mind   Focus From a Pen NibIn an age of fonts and typography (including the wonders of kinetic typography), there is something very simple about calligraphy that takes me out of time and place.  It is practicing my penmanship as if I were six years old. It is mastering the easy flow of my hand across the page. It is sculpting each letter to form as if carving letters of stone. It is sitting in class and doodling my name every different way I can see it.

When I sit down with my notepad and fountain pen my focus is scattered and often I am feeling stuck.  Unable to move forward with action whether it is writing, choreographing, or editing a design.

Setting nib to paper the letters take shape.  I become active.  Each stroke draws me in farther and soon pages are full and an hour has disappeared.  My mind is clear of distraction and my attention is sharper.  No surprise, I am happier.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this as a state of flow.

Mihaly, a prominent psychologist on creativity and happiness, explains the power that challenging creative activity can have on our sense of being.  With a high level of challenge in an activity which you have a corresponding level of skill you can enter a psychological state of flow.

Flow is described by athletes, composers, programmers and artists alike as a state of being where action flows without needed direction.  The focus is so intense time and the feeling of self fall away so that there is no barrier between the actor and the activity or the artist and the art.

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Interview for Wired

Practicing calligraphy pulls me into a state of flow.

When I am struggling in ennui, a moment of adversity, or just scatter-brained, taking up an activity which is single-minded and purposeful, one that can always challenge me, and pouring myself into it clears away all the obstructions.  I forget about the bad day, the pressure to write, the calls I should make or the lack of ambition I have to get out of the house.

I come out focused.  Ready to move.

What is your focus activity?  What do you do to find clarity and calm?  Let me know and comment.

Accepting Adversity – Making the Difficult Look Easy

Wrecked Car - AccidentOne of the things I’ve had in the past few years is a variety of personal setbacks or struggles which most people are amazed at.  (This is in context of being from a 1st world country and not having the hardships of war, extreme poverty, famine, etc.)

I’ve been excluded (for a year) from the country I called home where my entire life revolved.

I’ve moved to the biggest city in the U.S. without a job or place to live and found work within two days.

I’ve had more relationship difficulties than I would care to expound upon (people have said it would make a decent hollywood movie).

Despite all of this I’ve turned this into one of the most productive and creative periods in my life.  I take setbacks relatively lightly and consider most of my struggles and difficulties ahead as a learning experience.

How have I managed all of this?  Here are some things I keep in mind.

Smile

When you smile there are actual reactions which will improve your mood. Your body is wired in a particular way that when you smile you’ll often feel happier.  So when they’re out of your favorite ice cream smile and try something else instead.

Laugh

In my opinion even better than smiling.  When the world hands me a downpour and I’m out for a walk I’ll probably laugh rather than cringe and run for cover.  When my luggage doesn’t show up or my bicycle gets stolen I’ll often chuckle or laugh at the sheer nonsensical nature of things.  It takes the weight of the situation off.

Plus laughter is a good workout (who hasn’t pulled a side-stitch cause they laughed too hard) and has positive health effects mentally, physically and emotionally.

Appearance vs. Reality

Does it appear worse or feel worse than it actually is?

Taking a moment to step back and evaluate the consequences of the situation or why you are feeling the way you are will give you a bit of perspective.  Losing your job can feel worse or appear worse than it actually is, perhaps it is just the catalyst you needed for you to change out of the boring 9 to 5 you’ve been enduring for the past four years (that’s what it was for me).

This is a recurring theme in literature, philosophy and is often the focus of a large body of humor.

Focus

When you always look at the end point you’re living in a mode of expectation rather than a mode of action.  When things don’t necessarily work out like you had expected you are doubly hurt by the event itself and by your failure of expectations.

When you are focused on acting or doing the result is just another part of that process.

Feel

The worst experiences I’ve had with adversity are when I bury my reactions to them with distractions (work, alcohol, women, or dancing).

When I take the time by myself without distractions and understand that I’ve been hurt or disappointed I can come to terms with it. Being honest with myself and admitting my pain and understanding my part in the issues at hand help me take the weight of a situation off.

Fail

Always taking the easy route in life is a sure fire way to be exceptionally disappointed when you don’t succeed.  Sometimes making the hard choice, whether it is painful or uncomfortable, is the better choice even if it means we admit to failure.

Failure is the key to learning and growth in a lot of ways.

Nonattachment

The Buddhist in me advises me to live in a manner which lets me smile, laugh, focus, feel and fail.

This is living in a mode of nonattachment.  Simply speaking, don’t attach your personal esteem to the things around you.  When they are out of soy milk it is not a slight against your lactose-intolerant person, it’s just the way things are.

How to Be Eccentric: Engage

Part of living an unconventional, or as I like to call it eccentric, life is to culture habits that stand out and shape your world view.  This is a mini-series on habits of eccentricity, the second is Engagement.  Check out the first part in this series on Awareness.

Be Engaged

Engagement in the world is important to being eccentric.  It is a commitment to each moment that we live, the actions that we take and the responsibility that comes with the freedoms we create.

love life, engage in it, give it all you’ve got. love it with a passion, because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it

Maya Angelou

Being engaged is taking an interest in people.

Ask about their interests, their life, their work – take a moment and actually listen and inquire on topics they are excited about.  Ask for peoples names who help you out or provide a service and give thanks for their assistance.

Engaging in our relationships requires time and devotion.  We may have to cut down on the amount of time we spend on casual relationships, but in terms of the 80/20 rule having a small core of close friends enriches our lives far more than a flighty network of acquaintances.

Taking an interest in casual acquaintances introduces us to new people, develops broad social networks, and enriches our own personality.  Reaching out to others, even if only for a moment, teaches us far more about ourselves than engaging ourselves only with those who are like us.

Being engaged is having focus.

Cultivate intensity in your interests and activities.  When you commit to a class, arrive and be aware of what is going on, give feedback and ask questions.  When you subscribe to a hobby immerse yourself in it: seek out exemplars to learn from, carry it with you and practice constantly.

Developing focus empowers us, teaches us discipline, and often leads to a more productive existence.  Our goals and aspirations become clear and attainable when we focus our energies.  With focus you can cut through the fog of distractions and minutiae that sap our energy and time and make a visible difference.

Being engaged is taking responsibility.

Your actions and choices are yours alone.  Scapegoating or blaming other people and circumstances disengages you from reality.  While your actions may not always have the outcome you desire and the world may not present the best for you, it is still you acting and being in the world.

In my own life I have often taken my freedom for granted.  While the freedoms I have, whether financially, in relationships, or educationally, have benefited me – taking those opportunities without taking on the responsibility that comes with them has taken more from me than I gained.  Understanding that my spending, my friends, my actions, and decisions are my responsibility to engage with is a frightening yet empowering aspect of life.

The weight of freedom is responsibility.

Being engaged is being present.

Imagination and daydreaming have their place but they should not take over your life.  Live now rather than for a dream of the future or a memory of the past.  Find immediacy. Waiting for the future to happen or trying to relive the past lead to disappointment.

Living now can be difficult when we have goals that we are striving for or pasts that haunt us.  When I get wrapped up in these things it is best that I take a moment and perform a physical action.  Whether it is practicing calligraphy, working out, dancing or going for a walk, engaging in a hands-on trade or activity takes me out of my head and forces me into the present.

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.

The Buddha

Engagement

brings you closer to the world.  You have more investment in the things that are important to you.  Those activities give greater meaning to your life.  Live a richer experience, live now.