Geetanjali Mukherjee

Monday, May 18, 2015

Making Time For Your Art, When Everyone Wants You To Do Something Else

There's something I have been noticing recently - that time is really less about actual hours and minutes and more about perception. It is relative. You can have a lot of time if you are relaxed, feeling good about yourself, and decide to just sit down and work on your art. You could also have no time if generally you're more stressed out, people are pulling you in different directions, and you spend time thinking about all you need to get done.

Lately I have been trying to put in long hours towards completing the first draft of a new book. I was hoping to be done a while ago, but the draft is taking longer than I expected. As each day goes by, I get more stressed and anxious about how long it is taking and how much I'm getting done each day. I am writing far more than I usually write, some days twice my usual amount, and yet, compared to how much I still have to write, I am perceiving that amount as not good enough. And I noticed that during this time, anything I have to do that when I'm less under pressure I get mildly annoyed by, or just register as something I would like to avoid but end up doing anyway, now it seems like a huge burden. I'm looking at some of my obligations and thinking - they take up way too much time, it seems like this is all I am doing with my time, and this is why my work isn't going as well as I had hoped.

In fact, these past few weeks, every time I had to do something for a certain voluntary obligation, or attended a meeting, I would calculate how much writing I could be getting done, and felt resentful. I seethed with what I saw were other people's lack of planning, leading to inefficient use of everyone's time. I complained to people about how much time I was spending on this particular commitment, and considering pulling back, or even leaving it altogether.

Then a conversation I had with someone regarding their own similar issues struck me with the idea that what I was particularly resenting wasn't the amount I was doing for that particular obligation, but how much of my own work I was getting done. When I wasn't on deadline, I was getting relatively more done, compared to what my goals were, and the time commitment didn't seem excessive. Now the commitment hasn't increased, but how much I need to get done for my own writing has, and in comparison the commitment seems like it has expanded.

So perhaps when we are struggling to complete all the tasks for our job, tend to the needs of our family and friends, and still make time for our art, if we aren't really feeling enough progress in the making art front, we may start to get resentful and blame the environment for putting obstacles in our path. Sure most of us have more commitments than we strictly have time for, but we are probably overlooking crucial strips of time that we re-position to do our heart-work first.

By art I mean whatever your heart considers is important to your well-being - it could be painting, writing, making quilts, decorating your living room - something that fulfils you and makes you feel happy. Sure, spending time with friends and family and being fulfilled at work can also do that - but many of us have an urge to do something different - but often that urge gets buried under everything else we have to do. Maybe we are genuinely very busy, but I have also come to realise that our perceptions may also be skewed. If I have a spare 30 minutes, I may disregard that as time that I have to do some writing, because I think I need at least a couple of hours to really get going. If someone calls me and asks me to do something when I was writing, I will put my writing aside and do what they wanted, even though it wasn't urgent, and then resent them for it.

We may not get large swathes of time all to ourself to do everything we would like. But we do get choices. We can decide to spend an hour doing something that is important to us, and ignore or postpone requests for our attention to a later time. We can look closely at everything we have committed to, and see if we can reduce that list, either by quantity or quality. For example, I am very often the emcee for a monthly meeting we have for my volunteer commitment, and I used to get stressed about writing a written script for each occasion, despite the fact that I have done this so often I can ad lib without a script, just by looking at the agenda. I still continued to write a script, thinking that was the professional thing to do. One day I didn't have time, and realised that it really didn't matter, and just added to the list of things I had to do. I stopped writing the script after that, and its been a huge relief.

If you're feeling like other people's agendas are preventing you from making headway with your own, don't try to change everything all at once. Start by carving out time for your art in your current schedule, using any bits of time you can steal. Put off requests if you can't say no. Spend 30 minutes on your art first, then respond to others. You will be surprised how much more positively you can respond when you have given something to yourself first. And your perception of how much others are taking up will change, because they are no longer taking something away from you, and you can enjoy being with them, and even doing those pesky guilted-into obligations, a little more.

How do you make time for your art?
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