It’s time to write a column, paint a picture, compose a song, draft an outline: whatever. Creative expression doesn’t happen by itself, we have to work at it. You know where this is going, don’t you?
Suddenly, washing the dishes assumes a new level of importance, as does the PBS special about tomato plants. The dirty laundry develops an offensive odor that wasn’t there before. Facebook suddenly grows irresistible funny, and every email is an emergency. It’s time to memorize a Shakespearean soliloquy or a poem by Yeats, sharpen ten years’ worth of accumulated drawing pencils, organize your library by the Dewey decimal system, mow the lawn, and renew your relationship with your mother.
No doubt, you can add a hundred items to this list. You are, in a word that I first heard from cellist Alexander Kramer, “multicrastinating.” Hey! Watch it! I know you clicked the link and were about to listen to the cello performance. Get a grip, muse-punker. We need to talk about time management, and we need do it right now.
We all wish we could turn on the creative faucet at will, or follow some magical process to start the flow. We would like to be like Mozart, who famously (and maybe apocryphally) wrote, “I write music like a cow pisses.” Or like Trollope, who timed himself with a pocket watch to produce 500 words every half hour for three hours, consistently completing 3,000 words each workday.
Well, none of us are likely to be Mozart. But Trollope, with his pocket watch, may be on to something. By using his watch, and setting a specific goal, the prolific Victorian was practicing time management.
For myself, I’ve found that using a ticking stopwatch to hold myself to a work session is one of the most effective tools for producing results. A popular form of this time management tool is the Pomodoro Technique. You can find a free Pomodoro Technique timer here. It works for me; it might work for you.
But the main thing is to experiment with different approaches until you find something that works. There are literally thousands of books on the subject, and most of them are helpful. A favorite of mine is Getting Results the Agile Way by J. D. Meier. You can easily find a copy from the bookseller of your choice. Meier uses a system that ranges from simple techniques such as limiting daily outcome goals to just three to elaborate approaches to whole life planning.
It is fun to experiment with ways to play with time. I recommend visiting a Benedictine monastery, where monks live under what has been called the tyranny of the bell, and experience, by means of strict structure, a subjective escape from the sense of time. Indeed, even if you are a militant atheist and find religion little more than exploitation of the superstitious by the greedy, you could do worse than read the Rule of St. Benedict if you are interested in bringing order to the challenges of self-management. The old fox hasn’t been called “the father of Western Civilization” for nothing. I know, I’ve just begged the question, “Is Western Civilization all that great”? But we’ll leave that matter for another time.
An oft-heard suggestion for time management is the changeup: perform the same tasks in the usual amount of time, but in a different way, at a different hour, or in a different place. Take a different route to work. Paint for an hour but do it at night instead of the morning, or en plein air instead of in your studio. A poet I know has lately been developing a series of poems by scheduling his writing sessions in “horrible places”—such as the local Walmart, or a hospital emergency room. Time takes on different colors when you use it in different ways and places.
One of my favorite simple changes is this one: don’t take care of your necessary toilet at the same time every day. If you usually shower in the morning, try showering before bed and going to work immediately when you wake. Or vice versa.
And a nice thing about the shower technique is you can do it with a friend.
Rumpus original logo and artwork by James Lorenzato, aka Argyle C. Klopnick (ACK!).
“The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse” was originally developed as a column under the editorship of Evan Karp at Litseen. An earlier incarnation of this work can be found there, along with many other interesting things.