Friday, February 1, 2013

Beyond productivity - leveraging the spaces in between

Having OPTIONS is not the problem.

Sometimes the shifts in focus that I experience astound me. One day I’m full of ideas and energy and feel intensely focused and highly productive. Another day I’ll find myself feeling like an ineffectual child hovering in a paralytic state bumping around in between activity-filled spaces despite the clearly marked path nestled among the many arteries of options.

There’s NEVER a shortage of things to do.

To my left is my journal. Because I tend to write my book chapters by hand before typing them up, the pages are filled with small, tight cursive writing that continues the fictional tale of Elia, Guzmon, and Robbie. Twelve chapters in with five chapters waiting to be typed up, and yet I sit between spaces.

Only ONE STEP away and yet...

To my right are Post-It Notes filled in and laid out in a Work Breakdown Structure that supports my nonfiction book Delivering Bad News in Good Ways on Projects. In my mind, the already composed next section of chapter five patiently waits for me to simply transfer it to paper. A friend in the film business once told me that content generation was never a problem for Alfred Hitchcock. For him, the story was already complete in his head. It was just a matter of getting resources and laying it down on film. Again, as in the case of Hitchcock, it’s just a matter of laying it down on paper, and yet I continue to linger in between spaces.

Busy work that looks like PRODUCTIVITY.

Sitting in a web browser page, the article called Emmanuelle and the Seductive Power of Words, which rekindled my deep interest in the process of anticipation, is ready for a second read in preparation to write a blog post I plan to title The Art of Anticipation and Why Porn Gets It Wrong. Because it's not content that fits with my blog, yesterday I contacted the owner of the property where I’d like to have it published. She enthusiastically said she’d post it whenever I can get it to her. I was so excited about it yesterday that I wrote a friend the following:

“The key to many experiences, I believe, is in the anticipation that builds as the result of the stories we write in our heads in advance of an event. It's a kind of rehearsal that primes, emboldens, and spurs into action even the shyest and most timorous of lovers, writers, artists, and novices. Really good writers hold the key to this delicious secret. I've thought about the concept of anticipation and how it relates to process off and on for more than 20 years. I've researched it, written about it, and experimented with it through observing myself and others. It's a fascinating subject that deserves more attention as it applies to one's life.”

Excited by the subject, I abandoned all my other projects and dove into researching it, but even as inspired as I felt, I still find myself sitting in between spaces. It's in between spaces of productivity that thoughts, ideas, and memories bump into each other. 

They are not really looking for attention per se, but instead need only be present. The cool presentation on print making from earlier in the week. My trip to LA next week and people I want to see. My poor showing in the Scrabble and Words With Friends games I currently have going. Keeping up with social media postings and dialogues. Starting a drawing class that I’ve longed to do for a number of years. Running six miles and then doing hot yoga today. Deciding what to make for dinner. Mulling over the desk I want to make out of reclaimed wood but feel reluctant to do because I’ve never done such things.

Hearing VOICES? Yep, they're really yours.

All these things shift across my field of vision as I write, type, and play. It’s like going into one of those dreadful stores so jammed packed with overwhelming options one only wants to back away from it as quickly as possible in fear of being eaten by the tchotchke monsters that no doubt inhabit it. My fear then hears voices of others who surely have it more together than me. With a view from the outside, everyone else seems to have productivity well in hand. They seem to have a clear finish line when I can't even find the start.

Fully AWAKE in and out of spaces.

Distractions, options, opportunities - however activities in a day are defined, consider a few things:

- Pick with awareness. Whether leaning over to make your Scrabble or Words With Friends move, working on a project plan, typing an email response, or making your grocery list, pay attention to your choice. We don't have to be "on" all the time. Watching three episodes of Homeland last night doesn't make me any less productive. With mindfulness, that was how I chose to spend my time in between spaces. The immersion, the experience goes with me when I dive into the next space. It gives me a chance to unplug from a current challenge so my subconscious can process. Ironically, I woke up this morning very focused and ready to write.

- It's okay to say no. It's not my nature to say no for two reasons. I want and need to feel helpful to others. Also, I don't want to disappoint, and yet when I always say "yes," I'm often doing so out of ego. Saying "yes" also conveniently allows me to avoid the "spaces" that are connected to deeper, more meaningful but definitely harder and more challenging things I want to do in life.

- When a comment is less a judgement and more a reflection of your fear. Someone said to me recently, "You mean you haven't finished those books yet???" There was a smile behind those words, but my fear (and ego) ignored it. The nerve is raw because that's how I feel -- it's taking too long!!! My reaction was a reflection of a deep feeling of ineffectiveness I feel when in between spaces. To make up for it, I tend to find busy work with quick returns that sooth my ego and make me feel productive again. Ironically, the short term gain only seems to lengthen the distance to the long term goal, and serves to make me feel worse in the end.

- Just do it however brief. Whatever your passion, goal, or desire in life, practice it everyday as noted in 8 Essential Habits for Effective Writers. Five minutes or five hours doesn't matter. What matters is engaging with it.

- Path to your beach head is rarely a straight line. Although it would be nice to be able to get from A to B without any detours, it's rare in more complex, strategic work. Understanding this and being patient with it is crucial to realizing B. What's important is to define markers much like when you're traveling. Defining markers helps us gauge progress and make course corrections.

Magic of sitting in BETWEEN spaces

That's an odd way to title the close, but I'm just realizing as I wrap up that this is what the post is truly about. Sitting in between activities, events, and projects can feel unproductive and well, lazy, but I want to challenge that.

Being in between activity spaces offers a reflection point for what we've done to date and what we need to do next. Like Leo Babauta reminds us in The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better, our attitude about the space will determine how we experience it. Acknowledging what you are feeling during those times in between and letting go of the judgment, ego, and labeling of it creates an open space to pick and choose the next activity space with mindfulness. Embracing the uncertainty of the spaces in between can lead us to ANTICIPATING them because those moments can tell us so much if we are open to it.

Of course, I just had to work in that bit about anticipation. Until next time... :)

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