Sometimes you just have to give into your neuroses—chuck out your plans and to-do lists, and make whatever gains you can, no matter how modest.
No joke—my perfectionism issues can be so bad at times I can’t sit and concentrate on anything for more than a couple of minutes. Well, I can sit there for ages trying, but little gets done.
It literally hurts to write sometimes. I get antsy. I feel ill. I get tired and want to go do something else—anything to avoid the catastrophe that’s unfolding on the page—how it’ll never work, how it’s bullsh*t, how I’m wasting my time.
It was getting pretty bad a few weeks back so I decided to give in to it. I needed to do something radical. If I can’t concentrate for more than ten minutes on any project before I want to give up, I thought to myself, then why not do just that—only work for ten minutes at a time?
I also decided to give up on the tyranny of keeping ‘to-do’ lists. I never got to tick off that many items anyway, which made me feel guilty and depressed, so why write them any more?
In fact, I decided to do the opposite of what I’d been doing all along. If I couldn’t move past my creative blocks, I figured it’s time to work with them. It’s like that famous Einstein quote:
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Or am I thinking of the Narcotics Anonymous thing?
“The definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over again and expecting different results.”
Well, whatever it was, I decided I needed a new plan, and for a day thought I had invented something.
Instead of writing a ‘to do’ list and judging myself for not scratching much off it, I would only work in ten-minute blocks. I would set a timer and every time my phone pinged, I would stop what I was doing and do something else.
Write for ten (ping), put away the dishes for ten (ping), pay a bill for ten (ping), find that quote (ping), take that photo (ping), read that article (ping), clean my study (ping), (ping), (ping), (ping)…
And every time I achieved something, instead of scratching it off a list, I would write it down…
For a little while there I thought I’d discovered a totally new method for working. I tried to think of what to call it—a ‘reverse to-do list,’ a ‘to done list,’ a ‘ta done! list’? I googled those words and immediately saw that there were 40,000 hits for ‘ta done list’ alone. Dammit. Oh well—some ideas are just floating out there in the ether waiting to be thought.
The Ten-minute Artist
It seems to work for me. I’ve been getting far more done because every piece of work is the culmination of hundreds of little victories, not some grand artistic equivalent of the scale and intensity of the landing at Normandy, and although such super-human efforts are possible, I’ve never been that kind of person who can sit in one spot and hack away at something until it’s done. Some people can but I can’t.
When I need it most, this method keeps me moving. It seems to lull my neuroses and attention deficits into a kind of rhythm of stimulus and reward.
No task is too painful because ten minutes later I’m doing something else (ping). And if I don’t finish it, I’d come back to it again to have another crack at it later…
Washed dishes (ping)
Checked work email (ping)
And if not, I'll try again tomorrow...
Published blog (ping)