19 Aug 2013
A thought can start out as a snowflake and quickly snowball into an avalanche. This process of thought escalation happens to a lot of us creative folks. I notice this happens to me when the veiled illusion of control over my life is lifted. Reality is exposed: there are a lot of things in life I have little control over. This is when thoughts as small as a snowflakes clump together to form rough weather in my mind.
This escalation in rough weather, formed by fear and anxiety, doesn’t just happen to us, we allow it to happen to us. The one thing we have any real control over is our thoughts. When the veiled illusion of control is ripped away exposing the nerve (that is, my fear) to the elements (the reality of life) I’m in control of what I do with my thoughts.
When I feel in limbo and feel I have no control over anything, I remind myself to be where my feet are.
I say these five words to myself. Then, I press my feet onto the floor and ground myself. I feel my feet firmly planted on the ground and I’m grateful that I have two feet. I’m grateful that I have the strength, ability, and life to be able to press them to the ground.
I become fully present in the moment and stop thinking about the “what ifs” or the “whens.” Instead, I’m mindful of my present state. I’m aware of me. I’m aware of where my feet are. I’m aware that I’m alive and that’s way better than the alternative. I am grateful. I am present. I am just me, in that moment. I do not have to be surrounded by swirling cold winds carrying snow and inclement weather. I create a momentary oasis that allows me to breathe in the warmth of life and breathe out the cold of fear.
However, I can’t just press my feet to the ground and visualize a peaceful oasis all day. Although that would be nice, I have work to do. I’ve come to realize I feel more relaxed when I can find a way to create an effective process for a task I often repeat. Below is one of the processes I’ve adopted and adapted that helps me get things done, so I can focus on being present.
I use Trello, a free online organizational tool, to help me sort out much of my life. It works both in my professional and personal life, which is good because the two blur the edges so often that I rarely know the difference. Oh, and I don’t have anything to do with Trello. The folks there don’t know how much I love their product, unless they’re reading this now.
One day, I needed to relax so I started researching an effective process for a repeated task using Trello. I came across this post by Angela Bowman, How to Manage Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Space With Trello.
I was really interested in what Angela wrote about how space affects creativity and how to manage space using Trello. She made a lot of sense, and reading the post by Jeff Goins that Angela referenced helped clarify things even further. Jeff describes the three spaces in our creative lives like this:
- Physical space: There is a relationship between the place you work and the work you do.
- Mental space: If your mind is consumed with worries and concerns—pending deadlines and to-do items—you won’t be thinking clearly.
- Spiritual space: Creativity is a spiritual act, a work of the heart. If my internal life is messy, can you imagine what that means for what I’ll create? You guessed it—a mess.
I like the ideas of different spaces and how they affect your creativity. I’ve always believed this and known it to be true in my own life. When my physical space is messy, I know my emotional space is messy. But I’ve never used this idea of spaces in my to-do lists before. Since reading these articles, I started to use this concept in practice and it really worked for me. I started to get more to-do items done and I felt a lot more grounded in all of my spaces. There’s something really satisfying about moving cards (how you make to-do items in Trello) around on Trello. I like the way it’s so visual. I like how easy it is to see the pacing of my day, of my life. I like being able to see where in the three spaces of my life there is a potential bottleneck.
I’ve made a slight adjustment to the three spaces concept. I’ve added a separate mental space for both my personal and my professional life. Even though my personal life and my professional life are very interweaved (and I don’t believe in life-work balance, just life balance), I found myself needing a separate mental space to-do list for each. This might be because when the lists get really long, I feel more stressed out. However, it doesn’t stress me out to have two separate lists next to each other. (This is probably some sort of psychology thing that is the complete opposite for other people.)
If you try this, I suggest that you do what works for you. That’s the beauty of Trello, you make it be what you need it to be. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just a little slice of organization heaven, right there own your screen.
Something else I should note, my professional mental space list isn’t filled with work project to-do’s. I keep those in Basecamp because I work with a team of people and we use Basecamp to collaborate on our projects. Instead, for my professional mental space, I make cards that are more about details for speaking, writing, and my personal/professional websites that live outside our team projects. Often, I’m the only one responsible for getting these details accomplished.
I’ve found that most of the things I need to do to keep balance in my creative/emotional/spiritual space are the same everyday. So I’ve added cards for these items and I don’t even bother checking them off the list, because I know I will need to do these things again. My creative/emotional/spiritual space to-do’s are:
- Write Morning Pages
- Be where your feet are
- Kern something
- Do one of four good deeds for the day
- Take a walk
- Create an effective process for a repeated task
- Be mindful
- Do water aerobics
- Read a physical book
- Answer: How did I make awesomeness and do good today?
- Write daily reflection
When I start feeling like a snowflake is snowballing into an avalanche, I choose one of these things to do and I do it, right away. I don’t wait until I’m buried by emotional snow because that’s a real mess to clean up. After I choose a to-do in my creative/emotional/spiritual space, I move onto another item in another space and get it done.
Creativity happens when we make room for it to happen, when our spaces aren’t cluttered. Using this system helps me stay grounded and, at the same time, it allows me to move forward. I do my best to remember to be where my feet are and when I forget, I have a to-do item that reminds me.