Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Four Tips for Getting Things Finished!

"[I have a lot of] projects ... going on right now, and I find I end up just reading all the fun magazines and blogs I never have time for in real life.  But this is real life and I need to get busy!  Which I notice you're good at, so please, any helpful self-motivators?"

In the span of two weeks a few different friends posed questions to me like the one above. How do I motivate myself, get projects done, act as my own boss... It is a HUGE question and one that I have to rethink daily. I am grateful for the question since it makes me really concentrate on what I am doing and how I am doing it. 

Its definitely not something I figured out once and have in the bag. We are funny, us humans, always wanting to be needed, wanting to be busy and have things to do but constantly trying to find ways around actual work and ways to stay on our own selfish comfy couch. When you have a boss or even clients, you have someone who is directly affected by your work and productivity. That personal connection can be a huge motivating factor. I do work with clients and bosses occasionally but my own art projects? There is no one but me.

I have to be the boss: setting the deadlines, motivating the 'staff', lecturing the lazy, disciplining the worker... I also have to be the client: deciding what I want, changing my mind, wanting it to be useful, affordable, beautiful... I also have to be the employee: putting in the long hard hours, maintaining the deadline set by the boss, producing... 

This reality has been required of me in my situation for years now. In high school I signed up for the art show and realized that I would show up on that day, by myself, to present whatever it was that I completed. There was no one there to grade me, reprimand me, praise me for doing what I set out for myself... people would either stop at my booth or they would not. I was responsible for the work that I did.

In college I wrote up proposals for Independent Studies where, by very definition, you are your own boss. Yes, at certain points in the semester, the professor would check in and at the end I had to present my work. But it was up to me to get out of the study what I wanted. There wasn't an exam to work toward or someone holding my hand through out, ensuring that I would get as much as possible from the experience. I either did or I didn't. Really, I could've fudged my way through an Independent Study if I wanted to... but then where was I? Who had I duped? No one but myself. 

After college I've worked many jobs and continued to create on the side. My work for an employer would finish and then there was my other boss standing in the mirror, urging me to get on with it!

So, how do I set deadlines for myself? What are my "self-motivator tricks?" 

First: Keep it fluid. 
I can't emphasize enough that it is a fluid process. As I change and as my environment changes, my tactics for motivation and focus have to change as well. Like I said before, I've not 'figured it out and have it in the bag.' Just realizing this fact helps me get to work each day. I look at it like a mystery to solve each day, an adventure in discovery... I'll give you some examples that are close to home. "Hmm, wow today I am REALLY distracted! I haven't stayed on one thing for more than 10 minutes" or "I really don't feel like doing anything today. What is the point anyways? Nothing really matters" or "Hooray! Today I am going to work so hard! ...*2 hours later*... Wait! I'm still watching these youtube clips?! What time is it?!" Then there are outside factors too. I set a list to complete but then a friend needs help unexpectedly, a call comes that takes far too long, I run into an old friend, etc. So realizing that each day's tactics for getting to work have to be directed at that day's adventure is helpful to me. 

Second: Keep promises. 
I am very serious about keeping promises to myself. If I say that I will work on project X or finish cleaning item X, I do it (almost) no matter what. That means if I've made bad decisions earlier in the day or the week I don't just toss that fact aside saying, "Oh well, it doesn't really matter." Sure, my project will still be there, there is still time, etc but I've broken a promise. I am responsible for the use of my time. I will stay up late, say no to fun outings, skip a movie or TV show or reading my book at night in order to stay on track. I see this as good practice for how i interact with others as well. If I make a promise to someone else, I will do all I can to keep it. Be consistent. (Preaching to myself here!)

Third: Lists and priorities. 
I make lists all the time. I include little things and big things. This means my list includes
- Sand down Plywood for tray
- Saw Molding for trim of tray
- Reply to J and K's emails
- Put clothes away
- Eat lunch 

By including all of the things that I want/need to complete I can properly evaluate how much time I have. This way I can create manageable lists. Being honest with myself as to what I can actually complete helps me keep a good attitude. I usually have 2 columns: one column for that day's list and one for things I think of as I create a list (since inevitably my brain gets excited and starts to come up with ALL of the things I could possibly do). After making a list, the evaluation of priorities begins. I constantly have to evaluate priorities. I fail a lot but continue to evaluate and re-evaluate and try to learn. 

EXAMPLE: Do I need to check my email? Yes. I may have time sensitive emails from clients or bosses. I get to my email and have 4 emails that were unexpected and have link to watch or read fascinating things. Do I read them now? Was that what I planned to do? NO. Do I FEEL like watching/reading them right now. YES. Ignore, star in my inbox, and come back another time. The more I give in to whatever I feel like doing in the moment, the less I get done and the more bad decisions I make. 

Fourth: Have a motivating factor.
A motivating factor helps me a lot. If my work outs are getting to be few and far between, I sign up for a race or ask a friend to join to get me out there training. If my art projects are starting to take far too long or pile up, I'll get them out to the public somehow... a show, Etsy, anything! If my home has a half-finished project or my room is a mess, I'll invite someone over to scare myself into responsibility. I often make little calendars and hang it on my bedroom door with a sharpie. The calendar only has the days from the starting date to the ending date of the particular goal. Each night I either cross off the day (meaning I did what needed to be done that day) or I circle the day (meaning I was irresponsible and didn't do what I should've). Then I can see how well I am doing... how much I have actually kept my promises... it keeps me very realistic about my work. Then I can look back at the end and say, "Wow! I really stuck to it!" or look back and say, "Well, no wonder you didn't finish by now... just look at how many days are circled." Count up the circled days, add those to the goal date and try again. No fluff added, just the failed days. 

This eventually gets deep down into your foundation. I find that the more sensitive my conscience is the more guilty I feel for not being productive in a way that would improve the lives of others. I know this is an abstract thought but it really keeps me putting my nose to the grindstone rather than doing whatever it is that I feel like doing. My religious beliefs give me a lot of hope and excitement in this realm. 

Now stop reading this blog and go do a project!

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