Motivation and Productivity

So I’m feeling inspired, and I want to write.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about productivity and motivation. I touched on that a little in a recent youtube video. But especially lately it has been on my mind as I decided to set myself a goal.

I started a tradition in 2009 to always release my albums on my birthday. And I wanted to release one this year, and since my birthday is coming up only a little over a month away I decided it was time to get cracking. I have already finished recording most of the songs for it, but there are a good handful that still need a fair bit of work. And I wanted to challenge myself to get it done on time. So I have been trying to practice a lot of what I have learned about myself and what motivates me; and most importantly, what de-motivates me. I thought it might make an interesting blog post to share my observations. I can have a bit of a strange way of feeling/thinking about things, but perhaps some of you will be able to relate.

A lot of what all of this involves has been observing myself; learning and being aware of how I function creatively. And the first big thing is how I like to focus on one big task at a time. I often have a million little things I want to do at once, and if I ask myself to dip into too many of them I end up feeling overwhelmed and just don’t do anything at all! So I started giving myself just one task to do every day, and if I do more than that in the day it’s a bonus! What that actually meant though, since I’m a master procrastinator (who isn’t though), was that I ended up doing lots of little other things instead of doing the main thing. So I end up actually getting quite a lot done anyway when if I’d have set out to do all of those things I probably wouldn’t have managed to. So that’s a nifty little tactic I use to trick myself into getting more done. Reverse psychology, it works, on myself, who’d’ve thunk it?

In contradiction to that though, I have also noticed how I can sometimes get really invested in one big project I’m working on. It can really motivate me to give myself an ambitious goal that I’d really like to achieve. I know that some people suffer from self doubt when they try to do things that are ambitious, but I thankfully don’t need to worry about this so much. Not because I’m massively big headed, but rather because I don’t put too much weight into whether or not I accomplish anything in the end. I like to try to do things I currently don’t know how to, or aren’t sure if I can do. I don’t worry too much if I don’t get what I expect to get out of it in the end. Usually what I get at the end, in fact, is more satisfying than I originally anticipated. These things tend to go off in unexpected directions.

So when I get into these projects I tend to find I have a lot of energy for them. Let me give you an example. The last 3-4 days I have been pretty incessantly coding myself a new website (it should be live in the near future!). I’ve pretty much entirely built a whole website, including photoshopping graphics for it, from the ground up in half a week. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t got mildly obsessed with it. I got excited by the prospect of having a fancy looking website that I had made entirely myself, (and, lets be honest, that I could show off to people). And that excitement gave me the fuel I needed to get through all the frustrating little obstacles. They weren’t obstacles, they were puzzles. I was the coding detective for a few days. It was marvellous fun. Anyway, I’m getting vaguely off topic here; point is, ambitious projects motivate me. Another example of when I’ve done this is when I one day decided to replicate a limited edition totoro poster my wife found on the internet using nothing but the paint we had in the house and a big sheet of cardboard. We have it proudly hung up on our living room wall

I have discovered that doing things like this actually motivates me to do other things as well. When I have finished with something like that it makes me feel like I can accomplish things easily. My unconscious logic is “well if I could do that massive thing, these little things I do every day will surely be a breeze”. So I end up having considerably more energy for everything else than I started with before I had my idea. It’s really a good way of motivating me.

A big thing that being mindful these last few days has taught me though, is that it’s important for me to listen to my body and my emotions in these things. We are taught to ignore our whims from an early age; you have to do homework whether you want to or not, don’t go to the bathroom now wait ’til it’s convenient etc etc. And it turns out that ignoring your body like this is actually really bad for creativity… I mean… maybe not those things exactly, but… I’ll explain. I decided to just listen more to my moods when it comes to being productive/creative recently. If I feel frustrated/tired/bored/restless I’ll stop. I’ll just stop. No guilt. Go do something else. I tend to find that I’m much more likely to have the energy to continue it later on than I would have if I’d simply “pushed through” as we’re so often encouraged to do. On the other hand!; If I’m getting really into something, and enjoying the work without feeling drained by it, I’ll continue until it feels most natural to stop. And that’s the gist of it really – doing what feels most natural.

I do feel like I should acknowledge that I have a privilege that most people don’t though. Most people don’t have as much time to create freely as I do. I am lucky in the freedom I have with that. And it grants me the ability to create in a more instinctive way, rather than in the most efficient way. And for me, that is the only way. Trying to do things “efficiently” as the goal tends to result in a complete lack of accomplishing anything… Which is another thing I have learned about myself and my inner workings:

I can’t feel motivated by negatives. It never lasts. It’s possible that I can manage to muster the motivation to start something in order to avoid a negative outcome sometimes, but it never lasts. I always lapse. And this is probably the biggest wall I come up against in life. It doesn’t matter if there are positive things that will motivate me, if the biggest emotion I have about something is fear of the alternative I will inevitably have to face that. And this is even harder to overcome, the bigger the fear. Which ends up being a massively destructive downwards spiral. And it sucks. So I have to find a way to separate the things I want to do from the fears they could be connected to. It’s the trickiest part of what I do. But it’s worth it, and it makes me happy to strive for things I want. I can’t go through my life only striving to avoid the things I don’t want. That will crush my spirit.

When I look back at all of these things I’ve learned about creativity, it makes me think about self-care. Maybe all of these things are just little ways of giving me that. I was recently watching a video that this cool person I know made about making changes in your life and how that relates to self-care. She talks about a childlike inner being who comes out when you don’t get enough self-care and stops you from doing the things you want to be doing by throwing a bit of a tantrum and refuses to cooperate. I think this is important. And it makes me wonder if I just have a particularly stubborn inner-child, because sometimes it feels like I have to have way more self-care than other people seem to manage with in order to do anything at all. Maybe that indicates that there is some other kind of imbalance that I’m yet to address… I’m not too sure about that one. Something to ponder on certainly. But I have definitely noticed that, for me, the only way to get anything done is to be unceasingly kind to myself. And I’m still learning how to stop beating myself up for needing that.

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2 thoughts on “Motivation and Productivity

  1. Sidetracking a bit from your main points, but I think that most education and training goes into trying to get people to create on demand, because on the whole that’s how our economic society is organised. Most working adults, even in ‘creative industries’ or with arty jobs, will be required to produce to a schedule, within fairly strict bounds.

    At school, you don’t go off to an art lesson when you feel like painting; it’s scheduled in your timetable just like science. And you’re generally given a style or a theme to work with (at least, that’s how things were for me), rather than deciding for yourself. So it’s not even a zoned-off free space for creativity. And I don’t think that’s how creativity works for most people.
    I wonder if education that tries to encourage creativity (and it has been viewed as important, until this government) might be better off concentrating on skills – eg. draughtsmanship – that are important for certain forms of creativity, and are easier to teach.

    Not that I was any better at school when given a free-rein – eg. for english GCSE you could do anything for the creative writing coursework and I simply didn’t do it at all.

    • [nod] yeah, I think there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement on how arts are taught in school (and schools on the whole, how they function aren’t really that great at actually educating people and inspiring young people). My experience of anything like that, especially in secondary school, seemed like it was “the thought that counts”. As long as the subject was there it didn’t really matter what was actually being taught. I think my school tried to put as much into this as it could, we had incredibly good resources, but the curriculum itself was shocking. It was much better at A-Level. But yeah, I think you have a good point, that there isn’t really even room for creativity in school; so much so that I remember a lot of my peers being very put off by all the enforced creativity (generally in the form of coursework) when I was revelling in the opportunity to do something that was actually interesting for once.

      I don’t think I agree with your solution though. Just giving up and saying “we can’t teach creativity” is pathetic. I think, yes, we should give them the skills that are actually teachable, but also the freedom and encouragement to actually use them in an individual way… Although, people tend to laugh at all the hippy stuff I find useful. I remember having a lesson about the psychology of memory – and it was one of the most useful things I learnt that year, and it actually helped me with… you know… stuff in my actual day to day life. But it wasn’t taken seriously at all, it was just a silly PSE thing (or whatever it was called). So I have little faith in any school trying to teach self-knowledge and awareness so that people can work out what motivates them and what doesn’t and how they can work around that etc.

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