You know how “the experts” are always telling you to think about the thing that seems completely obvious to you, that other people aren’t doing, and then go out and teach that thing?
Clients sign up to work with me in order to create dream projects, take their careers to new levels, and re-vamp their lives and careers in pretty major ways, and then they ask me to teach them how to do time-blocking.
Every time, it takes me by surprise. As creatives, as musicians and artists, as freelancers, as multi-passionate people,
Time-blocking: “A popular productivity technique that involves dividing your day into specific blocks of time, during which you work on specific tasks or projects.”
For us creatives, this technique can be especially useful in helping to stay focused, manage our time more effectively, and actually achieve those goals we set out for ourselves.
The thing I love most about time-blocking is how it drastically lowers the heat on my to-do list. I’m sure you can all relate to the feeling of having your entire week’s to-do list on your mind at all times. You’re sitting in a rehearsal remembering that you need to pay that bill or go renew your driver’s license, or register your kid for camp. And it seems insurmountable. Your brain is screaming at you:
“But I’m in this rehearsal until 4, and then I’m racing over to teach, and then I have to go home and make dinner and then…and then….and when am I EVER going to get all this done! It’s too much!”
Don’t worry, Time-blocking is here to help. By dedicating specific blocks of time to working on specific tasks or projects throughout the week, you’ve given each task a slot. It can be as specific as “Wednesdays from 10-11 I go through my kids’ schedules and handle whatever needs handling” or as broad as “Fridays from 9-12 I work on admin stuff.”
But that way, the conversation goes more like this:
(In rehearsal, thinking about all of those to-do items) “Yep–they’re in the calendar. I’ll do my driver’s license on Wednesday morning, register the kids for camp on Thursday before teaching, and pay those bills when I get home from teaching this evening. It’s all written down. No problem. Now, about this 7/16 measure….”
Another great benefit of time-blocking–especially for creatives–is improved time management. By planning your day in advance, you can prioritize your tasks and make sure that you’re working on the most important items at the right time. This helps you to avoid wasting time on those less important tasks and ensures that you’re making steady progress towards your goals. And, by setting specific deadlines for your mini-milestones, you can stay more accountable and motivated.
Time-blocking can also help to reduce stress and increase work-life balance. By dedicating specific blocks of time to work and specific blocks of time to personal activities, we can make sure that we’re not sacrificing our health and well-being for the sake of our work. By making time for the activities we enjoy, like exercising (wait, we enjoy that?), gardening, and spending time with friends, we can reduce stress and improve our overall sense of well-being.
Every Sunday, I sit down in my sunroom with my gel pens and my planner (I use an Aug-July Ink& Volt planner).
I start by creating a list of the tasks that need to be completed that week, or goal-posts I want to hit that week on longer projects. I also decide on my Top 3 Goals and Tasks that need to happen that week.
I block out the times that I have coaching clients, my Creatives Leadership Academy Training, and my Office Hours in one color. My teaching times go in with a different color (I don’t differentiate between local cello lessons, faculty meetings, Bridge Online Cello Studio lessons, or Chamber Music coaching–at this point, I know where I need to be when) and I write in my morning routine with my different Zones for Gardening, Housework, and Personal tasks. Any inflexible, but irregular things (like a dentist appointment, or board meeting) get written in Black
With the remaining blank space, I decide how I want to divvy it up based on any deadlines I have, workflows I have set up, or whatever is going on. At times there were large portions blocked off for practicing. Right now, I have 30 minutes blocked off each morning for social media posting, and I have the times between coaching clients and teaching blocked off in my “work” color. Within those blocks, I write in the specific tasks from my master to-do list. Everything gets a spot. Wednesdays are my writing day, so the whole day between the end of my regular 9 am meeting, and when I start teaching at 3:45 is dedicated to writing my newsletter, blog posts, social media captions and content, and my book.
I am flexible with my schedule to a point. Sometimes, unexpected things come up and I need to adjust things. If a friend messages me and asks if I want to grab lunch? If I am working on one of my Top 3 for the week and I’m on a deadline, then no. But if it’s non-urgent work that I’m just “getting done?” I’m going out for lunch. I try to strike the balance between enjoying the freedom my career allows me, and well, getting shit done.
If I don’t get to something–either because something took longer than expected, or I took some time to socialize, or because I was waiting for something out of my control, I just find a new spot for it.
Speaking of social things, I write those down in pink. It stands out, and it’s easy for me to look at that week in my book and make sure there is a bit of pink sprinkled throughout. If not? I’ll see where I can steal a bit of time, and make plans to meet a friend for breakfast, have a zoom catch-up, or go for a walk.
I aim to be really consistent with my schedule and I try to stick to it as closely as possible, even on days when I don’t feel like working. On one hand, as a creative/freelancer/owner of my own company, I have the flexibility to do whatever I want, but I also know that, at least for me, consistency goes a long way in reaching my goals, and keeping the stress to a minimum.
I hope this helps. Time-blocking is a huge game-changer when it comes to staying focused and keeping on top of the myriad things we have going on as creatives. Remember, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, so be open to experimenting and adjusting to see what works best for you. It works with both digital and paper planners/calendars, and there is a method for everyone.
Have a great week!
P.S. If you enjoyed this blog post and want more insider info on how to thrive as a creative, be sure you get on the list to receive my Friday “Weekend List.” Each one is loaded up with additional tips, tricks, and things to think about, including a new curated list of articles, books, podcasts, and things that I think you’d enjoy.
If you’re reading this in real-time, we’re waking up to week 2 of the new year. Now, I love any excuse for a fresh start–be it January 1st, the start of a new quarter, the 1st of the month, Mondays, or even my 5:30 am alarm, lol.
As my friend Ari used to say, it’s a brand new day, and we haven’t F’d it up yet!
But of course, there is the temptation to launch into a new calendar year with all of our hopes and dreams ahead of us. We have burned our past year’s failures one by one–written on tiny pieces of paper and tossed into the NYE bonfire.
And so we swear to run 5 miles every morning, eat all organic food, and have the perfect practice routine that will carry us to our big wins.
There is something to be said for easing into things bit by bit. I’m a big believer in the idea that before we can master a habit, we have to build a habit.
So my “Run 5 miles every morning” has turned into “put your shoes on and go to the gym every day and move around.” I give myself permission to get off the treadmill after 10 minutes if I’m just not feelin’ it. (funny thing is, after going through all the effort it took to put the shoes on, I can’t be bothered to get off the treadmill, so I just run.)
And maybe “build the perfect practice routine” starts with “take the instrument out every day and play a bit. Maybe one day it’s a serious practice session, and the next day all you want to do is play a little Bach” take notice. Were they different times of day? Did you get different amounts of sleep? Were you more (or less?) distracted?
We can use this first month of the year to test the waters. This is a time in nature when most animals are cozied up in deep slumbers. They have zero intention of cracking open that “New Year, New You” book until spring comes. I’m impressed that we are all awake and wearing actual clothes (I see you, Becky in your comfy sweats! You made a good effort though with that sweater.) Should we try to do a little bit better when it comes to building habits and meeting goals? Yes. But maybe you can stroll the organic produce aisle a few times before you toss out the entire contents of your fridge. Start with some broccoli.
Ask yourself what the ultimate dream is for you in this area. Keyword: FOR YOU. I’m trying to run more. I have friends who do ultra-marathons. I have zero desire to ever do an ultra-marathon. No matter how great a runner I become, no matter how easy it feels, I have different things I’d rather do with my time. Hell, I don’t even (really) want to do a marathon. I just want to be able to run a 10K without killing myself. That’s my End-Game.
I’m not quite starting from the couch. I’ve been running on and off for most of my adult life–just never consistently enough to make much improvement. What about your practicing? Are you an “epic procrastinator”? Are you “pretty good, but would like to be more consistent”? Are you a “burnt-out over-practicer who wants to learn to ease up a bit”?
I can get up early. That’s easy for me. 5:30 am and I are very good friends. And I know that I can always, without fail, manage 30 minutes. I can’t yet run for that whole 30 minutes, but I can be on a treadmill for 30 minutes without getting cranky and wondering if I can go yet. Maybe you know that you can probably sit quietly in a room with your eyes closed for 10 minutes. It’s far from the hour-long meditation you’re after, but it’s a starting point that doesn’t pose any threat.
Make it a no-brainer. Make it so easy it’s almost enjoyable. Make it so easy it’s silly to say you can’t. My rule? I have to do 10 minutes. (Spoiler alert: I have yet to leave after only 10 minutes). BUT I COULD IF I WANTED TO, and that’s what gets me out the door when I don’t feel like it. The 4 hours of practicing you need to do is a big emotional lift when you’re tired and stressed out. Tell yourself you only have to work and focus for 15 minutes? Easy. It gets the instrument out of the case. It gets you going. Before you know it, it’s been 2 hours.
I’m going to do a longer post on the benefits of Tracking stats soon, but for now, I’ll just say this: Peter Drucker was right. “What gets measured, gets managed.” Tracking it keeps it on our radar screen, and as artists, we are naturally a little bit competitive–especially with ourselves–so the natural inclination is to want to improve the stats. Whether you do it on an app, in a bullet journal, or with a piece of graph paper taped to the wall, keep track of whatever data is going to be helpful to you.
Again, if you’re reading this in real-time–or at any point in the month of January 2023, we are starting a new Thrive-Fest TODAY! Join us if you’d like to get multiple areas of your life organized, tidied up, and better managed. I’ll post a bite-sized task each day (M-F) that we’ll all do, and at the end of the 3 weeks you’ll find your home and your habits all gussied up. You’ll hit February 1st feeling like you are not merely surviving, but you are Thriving.
It’s free to register, and you’ll find the daily prompts each morning over on the Tales From The Lane Facebook Group. You’ll get all of the (very simple and easy) instructions when you register.
P.S. Interested in a 2nd weekly dose of creative motivation and inspiration? Grab a copy of my free workbook “10 Habits of Successful Artists” and/or sign up for my weekly Friday newsletter: The Weekend List. See you soon!
Happy New Year!
This break has been such a gift. My husband and I both had 3 weeks off from teaching, which gave me a week of normal coaching work, plus additional time to prep for the holidays, 1 week with my family visiting for Christmas, and now a week where I am jumping into my Q1 Stay-at-home Retreat. AKA Bliss. If you missed my first retreat roundup, you can read about it here.
I’ve also been finishing up the last of the 2023 Strategy Sessions that I offered. They’ve been so wonderful, and have brought about so much clarity for those who did them. One very interesting thing came through loud and clear from almost every single person, though, and I was a bit surprised.
In narrowing down the values and areas they wanted to focus on, nearly everyone listed “Community” as one of their top 3. One could argue that it’s because of the pandemic that people are feeling lonely and isolated, but what I kept hearing over and over again was the opposite. That during the pandemic, they felt a STRONGER sense of community. With everyone at home, we had to be more intentional about who we were going to have those zoom cocktails with. People had neighbors and close friends with whom they would sit around fire pits drinking hot chocolate in zero-degree weather. And people talked about their online communities. FB groups, coaching cohorts, online classes, and virtual festivals. All of them creating close-knit communities of people going after a common goal.
Now that the world has gone back to IRL activities, everyone is scattered, busy, running around from gig to gig, teaching, chauffeuring kids around, and too exhausted by the sudden increase in activity to socialize.
One of my favorite communities (online or otherwise) is this one. The musicians, artists, former musicians and artists, and all-around creative people who read this blog, get my newsletter, are in the TFTL FB group, or take part in my periodic Thrive Fests.
It’s a community based on 3 things:
1. Nurturing our creative work
2. Growing as humans
3. Balancing our artistic lives with our real-world commitments
As for the Thrive Fests, we’ve done a January Practice Cure, A Spring Clean, A Summer Practice Challenge, and a Holiday Edition. And whether you end up doing every single task every single day, or doing them sporadically as you have time, the comments, insights, and sense of community are always amazing.
So I’m bringing it back! This one is a New Year Re-boot and will last 3 weeks. From next Monday, January 9th-to Friday, January 27th, I’ll post a prompt for a short, easy-to-accomplish task to be completed that day. On Fridays, there will be a FB Live Discussion/Q&A in the group, and I’ll email out the list of that week’s prompts including that weekend’s longer task.
The Focus this time? Tweaking and Organizing, so that you can get on with your creative work, and maybe even have a bit of a social life. As creatives, our lives generally follow the Academic calendar, so we’re 4/10ths of the way through the year. Studios have gotten messy, our systems have lapsed (or we desperately NEED a new system) and our habits have, well, let’s just say they could use a Reboot.
If you’ve participated in a Thrive Fest before, you KNOW you’re in for a treat. If you haven’t, I hope you’ll join us for this round. They are always free, and the comments are always worth the effort of logging into FB! In fact, this year, there will be prizes for most comments, funniest comments, most liked comments, sharing on socials, and bringing new friends in.
So join us by signing up HERE, and get ready to wake up on February 1st with purged closets, organized music collections, clean brushes, and feeling GOOD. Feeling invincible. Feeling…Thrive-y.
When I lived in Boston, whether I was feeling broke or simply in one of my “I should save as much as possible” phases, I would decide that I could lower the thermostat in my condo, and cozy up in wool socks and warm sweaters (see my post on inappropriate clothing here). It would last about a week until one day, for no apparent reason, and somehow forgetting all about my new plan to wear layers and save money, I’d become desperate to hear the (incredibly loud) whoosh of my forced hot air system kicking on.
This post is about that. It also has absolutely nothing to do with:
It is, however, about the fact that I am a human, and there is a weird dumb thing that we humans tend to do.
Just when things are starting to go well, we do whatever needs to be done to screw it up. Look around, and you’ll see evidence of it all around you.
Just as our bodies become accustomed to a certain indoor room temperature, we also get accustomed to seeing a certain amount of money in our accounts, and if we see a much larger sum in there, we find ourselves spending it as quickly as we can. Subconsciously trying to get back to our usual bank balance.
Our poor friend might have gotten to a point where being lonely and miserable felt more familiar than being happy and in a relationship. (BTW–I am NOT implying that one cannot be perfectly happy as a single person! Nor that being in a relationship = Happiness. It’s just a 1-person example.) And so subconsciously, they messed things up so that they could go back to feeling those old, familiar, miserable feelings.
The self-sabotaging student might not be able to even process the idea of winning, so they make sure they don’t. They DO know how to be disappointed–both with their performance preparation and the ensuing result–and they’d rather stick with what they know than risk the scariness of a new reality.
The trick, of course, is to recognize it and to get things in place to keep us from putting the thermostat back where it was. We have to learn how to lean into that temporary discomfort until our bodies and our subconscious minds can adapt to the new setting.
How? Well, here is what works for me.
If you’ve prepared well for an audition, and know that you actually have a shot at it this time? It means more is at stake. If you COULD win it, then NOT winning it will feel even worse. Acknowledge that being more prepared might make you feel more nervous at first, and then focus on the positive side of things. Being better prepared also means that you can relax into your playing and have more fun.
You’ve come into/won/made a large sum of money. More than you’ve ever had. Maybe the worst-case scenario for you is the idea that people will only want to hang out with you for your money. Okay. How would you handle that? Do you have a plan for your money? Can you set some boundaries? Maybe you can decide that you won’t spend a penny of it for 6 months. Whatever it is, think through it fully, until the fear dissipates.
We’ve already established that the old you is very uncomfortable with it. That’s okay. Lucky for us, change and growth are part of the long-term plan anyway. So, what positive shifts can you make as far as your identity is concerned? Can you start to see yourself as “one of the good players” amongst your peers? Someone to be taken seriously, win or lose?
Or can you see yourself as someone who is savvy with money? What would that kind of person do? Maybe they’d read books on finance and investing, or maybe they’d have a financial advisor who could help them.
Gay Hendricks writes about this concept in his book The Big Leap, which I read years ago, and highly recommend for his thoughts on this topic. I think it’s something that creatives deal with on a nearly constant level. We put self-inflicted limits on ourselves, and the second we come close to expanding those limits, we will do something stupid to get ourselves back to what we are accustomed to.
By being aware of the tendency, and using the simple thought tools above, you can set the thermostat to whatever you want, and know that you’ll be perfectly comfortable there in no time.
P.S. Interested in a 2nd weekly dose of creative motivation and inspiration? Grab a copy of my free workbook “10 Habits of Successful Artists” and sign up for my weekly Friday newsletter: The Weekend List. See you soon!
I was incredibly fortunate to have grown up in an almost surreal musical environment where everyone was good. Like, really good. As a group of young musicians, we were almost absurdly good. The bar was high, and in our own individual ways, we all met it.
It’s funny, though, that always being a pack of talented, high-achieving musicians, meant that nobody ever made much of a fuss about any of us. I don’t really remember anyone ever coming out and saying–wow, you’re a great cellist. I mean, I won competitions, and auditions, and was given tons of great opportunities, and scholarships. People would say “nicely done.” or “ good job” about a particular performance or audition, but I cannot remember a single instance where people randomly, out of the blue, said “you’re such a great player!” or “I just love listening to you play!” It was just about doing what needed to be done that day and then practicing for the next thing.
We did it because we loved it, we didn’t necessarily need or look for that praise, and it wasn’t until recently that it even occurred to me that it was absent.
It was only when I decided to retire from my performance life that people freaked out– “but you can’t!” they said. “But you’re too good a musician!” “But I love hearing and seeing you perform!” But, but, but.
That’s when it occurred to me––I had never heard those words. Not from a teacher, a friend, a colleague, or a conductor. No one. Okay, probably my Dad. But let’s be real. I could have walked on stage with a broken, out-of-tune cello with 2 strings missing and he would have said I was the best one there. (Get yourself a dad like that, friends!)
So it baffles me whenever I write something, and people send over positive comments and beaming praise. “You’re such a good writer!” “I LOVE reading your blog posts” “That was the first draft? Holy crap!”
Have you noticed that too? You make a pie, and the crust is burnt, and the pieces fall apart on the plate into a pile of goop, but OMYGODYOUMADETHIS? That pie (and your role as the maker of said pie) is the star of the show. But if you were a pastry chef? It would just be “oh, and Jessica made the pies, of course,” Expected.
I suspect that if I were to join an MFA program or a writer’s group, the comments would stop. I would be identified as a writer, maybe even at that point, as a serious writer, and the focus would shift from what I could do well (a little), to what I needed to work on (a lot!). It would be about the critique Writing at a certain level would be the expectation, and the praise would cease.
So the writing done by a cellist is unexpected and worthy of praise and encouragement. But the writing done by a writer is just a job.
And the art made by an amateur is unexpected and worthy of praise and encouragement, but the art made by an artist is just their job.
Let’s take notice today, of people doing what is expected of them, and let them know that they’re good at it. That you are impressed. Whether it’s the barista crafting your morning coffee–just the way you like it each day, or your colleague sitting next to you in the pit this evening. What would happen if you looked over and said “you know, you’re a great player-I really enjoy sitting with you!”
And while you’re at it, remind yourself, that you, too, are worthy of a bit of praise. I see you there, day after day, teaching, playing, writing, whatever it is you’re doing, you’re doing it damn well.
We know it’s not easy. It always requires the kind of thought and focus and skills you were trained in. It’s truly remarkable how consistent artists are when it comes to putting out high-quality “product.”
P.S. I still have a few available spots for a 1:1 Strategy Session, I’m opening up my calendar between now and January 7th, and offering them to you at a pretty steep discount. Normally, a session like this costs $250, but I’m offering these 1-off 2023 Strategy Sessions to you this month (December) for $149. You can book one right here. (Only 2 rules: 1 session per person, and they must be completed before January 7th, 2023.)
All of us planners out there in the world learned an important lesson in 2020. You can make all the plans you want, but…
You know how that one ends.
And it’s true, we only have so much control over how things will go for us. Or for the world.
Some will tell you that the lesson here is to only plan one quarter–3 months–at a time. That way, if something comes up–a medical emergency, a death in the family, a global pandemic, and a worldwide shutdown–you only need to adjust those 3 months. Others will go so far as to say it’s not worth it to plan at all.
I disagree with both. I think it IS possible to make a plan for the year ahead in a way that allows for the details to be adjusted.
Back in December 2019, I was making big plans for my 2020. Did the year look ANYTHING like what I thought it would? No. Obviously not. And yet, I still achieved (and even surpassed) my goals.
The execution looked different. The details looked different. I created things that didn’t even exist in December 2019, but they were all a part of my yearly plan anyway.
Because there is no way we can know all of the details that will come our way in a 12-month period, but we can get clear on how we want our life to move forward.
Here’s how I do it:
What are the big-picture things that are important to you this year? Do you want to spend more time with your family? Travel more? Perform more? Make more money? Volunteer more?
This might look like planning a large-scale family reunion, going backpacking around Southeast Asia, winning an orchestra or an academic job, writing a book, etc.
Here’s where things get interesting: Why do you want to plan that family reunion? Is it to have a deeper connection with the various generations? To learn the stories, to develop some new traditions, or celebrate old ones? The trip to SE Asia–is that about a desire for more adventure in your life? To experience different cultures? Or to challenge yourself physically? And the jobs–is it about the love of the repertoire? Wanting the financial security (because that wasn’t looking so secure there for a while!) Or wanting to be around other, more intellectually-minded artists, to help shape the futures of the next generation?
What little habits could you incorporate this year that would help you get closer to your goals? Maybe that’s a family zoom call every month, or just checking in with some cousins by text more often. Maybe it’s doing one new and slightly adventurous thing each week, maybe it’s getting to know (like, REALLY getting to know) a new opera each week, or working on your resume every month.
Whether you prefer digital or paper, find a way to keep track of your progress throughout the year. Building the mailing list for your ensemble? Do you know how many new names you’re adding each month? Track it.
It IS true that anything can happen at any time, but if your goals are aligned with your values, then you’ll always be able to adapt to your circumstances. Goal to Run a marathon get thwarted by a broken leg? Not if the goal was tied to the value-based desire to get fitter. There are other ways to do that. Is it a pivot? Yes, but you still meet the overriding goal.
January is a weird time for artists and musicians. On one hand, it’s the middle of the season–we live more on an academic calendar than most people. And yet, we still feel the opportunity for a fresh start, a blank page, a brand new year that holds magic in its newness.
It’s also a great time to start thinking about summer work. Do you want to perform? Teach? A bit of each? Or would you like to create something brand new? And what about next fall? Once everyone is scattered about over the summer months it’s hard to get things pinned down for September, but you can work on putting things into place now. As everyone is just enjoying the groove of the “2nd” half of the season, we start to dream about what comes next.
I love doing strategy sessions with my clients and will be meeting with each of them this month to go through this process. This is where the magic happens. We get laser-focused on their goals, see what various timelines look like, figure out what people and things are needed, and start to get things into place.
If you’d like to experience the power of one of these Strategy Sessions, I’m opening up my calendar between now and January 1st, and offering them to you at a pretty steep discount.
Normally, a session like this costs $250, but I’m offering these 1-off 2023 Strategy Sessions to you this month (December) for $149.
You can book one right here. (Only 2 rules: 1 session per person, and they must be completed before January 7th, 2023.)
I have seen, over and over, the powerful transformation that happens when an artist decides to take their career (and their life) back into their own hands, instead of waiting for “others” to grant them things. They start creating opportunities for themselves that allow them to do exactly what they want to be doing artistically, bring in more money each month, and have the freedom to schedule their lives as they wish.
AND, they are improving their industries with performances, student offerings, mentorships, recording anthologies, research, you name it.
Try out the 6-step process above, or you can book a session with me and I’ll take you through it in the exact way I do with my clients. Helping you to get past the surface-level to-do list, and into the nitty-gritty of your true values & goals, what you’ll really need to get there, and how to put those things in place. This is also a great (and inexpensive) way to see how it feels to experience working with a coach in this way.
I grew up just outside of Chicago, and for the first 18 years of my life, I HATED winter. So, instead of going to sunny California for college as was the plan, I turned down USC and headed to Boston instead.
Because I am a masochist.
So let me rephrase that. For the first 22 years of my life, I hated winter. By the time I graduated from college, I had had enough and moved to Miami.
When after 3 years of sun and surf, I made the decision to return to Boston for work, I knew I needed to figure a few things out.
It’s funny, the difference between Chicagoans and New Englanders. No matter where they are, Chicagoans dress like they are in the city. Sleek, fashionable boots, streamlined coats, etc. And in Boston? They could be walking into a Symphony Hall Gala, and they’ll be wearing a down parka and full-on snow boots over their black-tie attire.
I realized I had a thing or two to learn from this hardy bunch.
Cold? I remembered what my college roommate’s mom (a lifelong Mainer) said to me once: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” And it was true, my winter gear was crap.
I needed to get myself a good hat, gloves that didn’t have holes in them, wool socks, long underwear to wear under my concert clothes, an actual winter coat, and actual, snow-be-damned boots–complete with Yak Traks to keep me from slipping and falling on the ice (again). And I bought myself one of those rubber boot holders so that I didn’t trash my floors when I came in the house.
The Battle with the car? Gear. A better scraper, a rag to wipe the windows and mirrors, and I learned how fun it can be when the entire block came out at once after a snowstorm and we dug the entire street out. Someone would always bring out cookies, and someone else would blast some tunes.
And the Darkness? I got my cozy on. I made a list of all of the things that you got to have in winter that you couldn’t have at other times of the year–hot chocolate, soup, mulled cider, Christmas tree lights, thick stews, and tagines, and I relished it. I started to see how beautiful it was to drive around at 5:00 pm in the dark, and see the houses all lit up, get home, light a candle, plug in the tree, and settle in with a hot bowl of soup. I even started to daydream about those moments from the heat of July and August.
Why am I telling you all of this? I mean, it IS mid-November, so it’s a good time to re-assess your winter preparedness plans, but I live in Bermuda now, where “winter gear” means shoes that aren’t flip flops, and putting a sweater on at night.
The thing is, the concept of “There is no bad weather, only poor clothing choices” is a universal truth right? Whatever you are dreading, or feeling frustrated with, it’s all about these three things:
Once I had my cute AND warm knit hat covering my ears and had waterproof boots pulled over my wool socks, I wasn’t afraid of going outside. It was fine. I felt protected. I felt like I could just get on with things. Life became less HARD again.
What tools do you need to get in place? Do you need new strings? A new art studio? A coach? A course? A class? Do you need to get your laptop cleaned so that it runs faster? Do the things that will make life feel less hard. It is worth it!
No one is in this alone. Everyone in Boston knew it was kind of a pain in the ass to constantly dig your car out of the snow every week for 3 months. But doing it together was fun. And one guy had a snowblower and would do everyone’s sidewalk while someone else helped his kids make a snowman. It was great!
Where can you lean into your community more? Do you want to play more chamber music? Then host a freaking chamber music party at your house. Make it a potluck. Everyone brings something to eat and something to play. Feel like you’re writing in a bubble? Find a group that you can read excerpts out to, and listen to what they are working on.
One can’t simultaneously be looking at pretty twinkling lights AND be grumpy and tired because it’s dark so early. It’s the dark that makes the lights so beautiful. And leaning into what the season wanted me to do: eat warm soups, relax more, curl up with blankets and a good book. Make my house smell like cloves and orange peels with a simmering pot on the stove.
Maybe the season you’re in is “mom of little ones who need more of my time right now” or “empty nester who suddenly has the opportunity to focus on themself again” I have clients in both camps, and once they saw the beauty in those situations for what they are, their work came alive.
What is your “Winter” right now? What is something that you are dreading, frustrated with, or hesitating on, that could be made to feel so much easier if only you had these 3 things in place?
Is there a tool you can add to your life? Is there a sense of community you can lean into to make it more fun? Is there anything beautiful or meaningful about it?
Let us know in the comments.
P.S. Interested in a 2nd weekly dose of creative motivation and inspiration? Grab a copy of my free workbook “10 Habits of Successful Artists” and sign up for my weekly Friday newsletter: The Weekend List. See you soon!
I was talking to 2 different friends this week about 2 completely different situations: 1 had some important recording sessions that had been in the books for months get postponed for weeks due to the recording engineer getting sick, and the other had come back from having dinner with friends and was feeling bad about not being “the fun friend.”
One situation was caused by external forces, and the other was an internal force.
But I had the same thought about both of them:
I’m sure you’ve found yourself in that kind of moment, when all of your hard work, planning, practicing, scheduling, etc. gets thwarted by something out of your control. The venue floods, the engineer gets sick, there’s a blizzard that night, or the world shuts down because of a global pandemic.
“Oh no!” is our first thought. We feel demoralized. Like all of our hard work has just been flushed down the drain. It’s just so unfair!
Somehow, we always focus on what was lost. The plan, the date, the expected outcome. We become so attached to them that we feel the loss deeply, and wonder how to move forward. Surely, we had set out the best possible plan, and, well, now what? Any other plan will be subpar, right?
I asked my client how this delay in her recording sessions could actually benefit her, and she was able to list 1 good thing. Then another, and another. Soon, she had a list of about 6 reasons it was better to do the sessions later and was convinced this new plan was far superior to the old one.
As for my “unfun” friend? I actually laughed when she said it. This friend of mine is warm, generous, funny, kind, and loyal. Even though she is far away, I know I can depend on her, and she is my go-to person for bouncing ideas off of.
I have other friends who I would describe as our “fun friends” and they serve other purposes. I go to them when I want to get out of my world and have an adventure, laugh, and forget my worries. Not be serious.
But I wouldn’t necessarily think to go to them with a problem I was trying to work through.
So I posed the question to my friend:
Her serious nature makes her calm, focused, and able to read people. She excels at one-on-one conversations, making the other person feel completely heard, understood, and appreciated.
We all need a healthy mix of all kinds of friends: fun ones, serious ones, ones who know about the hip new wine bar that just opened, and ones who know how to keep a houseplant alive.
We can’t as individuals be all of those things to all people, all the time.
Are you “overly sensitive”? How can the fact that you are extremely sensitive be the most wonderful thing? Can you read people better than others, and pick up on subtle nuances in their moods?
Are you a terrible cook? How might that be the most wonderful thing? Are you the go-to expert on all of the best restaurants and food trucks in town?
Even “failures” can be a gift. Knowing what doesn’t work can be just as important as knowing what does, and you probably made new friends and contacts along the way that you can continue to partner with in other ways down the line.
So my friend, the next time circumstances SEEM less than ideal–whether because of a perceived failure, an external smash-up of your well-laid plan, or something you see as a character flaw, ask yourself that one little question:
P.S. Interested in a 2nd weekly dose of creative motivation and inspiration? Grab a copy of my free workbook “10 Habits of Successful Artists” and sign up for my weekly Friday newsletter: The Weekend List. See you soon!
Back in my Boston freelance days––you know, the days of feeling both constantly busy and yet hopelessly broke–I experienced something that has stayed with me all these years. It’s something that I keep coming back to again and again whenever things start to feel burdensome or overwhelming.
I had a rehearsal downtown and parked at a meter a few blocks away. I only had enough quarters to cover 2 hours of the 5+hr rehearsal day, but I was close enough to move it to the school lot next door to the venue during the break. It would be after-school hours and open for public parking by then. No problem.
Of course, I got distracted during the break–probably chatting with friends, or off to the coffee shop–whatever it was, I forgot to move my car.
Rehearsal ended and, walking to my car, I could see it from about a block away–that scuffed-up yellow metal boot firmly attached to my back wheel.
But here’s where it got strange. I didn’t react. I didn’t feel shocked (driving in the city means a fair share of parking tickets are inevitable, and working 24/7 means not remembering to pay them is also a thing) I didn’t get upset. I didn’t panic about the costs or the time it would take to deal with it all (even though I had a student arriving at my house in 30 minutes for a lesson and a recording session in Worcester the next day at noon, and then needed to teach 45-minutes NORTH of Boston after that. And it was not going to be cheap.
I remember calmly walking past my car without even looking at it and just kept walking until I got to the T station. I rode to my neighborhood, walked to my place, went inside, and waited for my first student to arrive.
The next morning I woke up early and walked to the tow lot (It’s not close, nor is it accessible by public transportation) I waited for them to open, paid my tickets, got my receipt, and was told the truck would be notified to come by to take the boot off the car.
From there, I walked the 2.5 miles to my car–which happened to be parked in front of a Starbucks–grabbed a seat by the window, and did some work while I kept an eye out for the boot man.
He rolled up about 90 minutes later, took the boot off, and drove off. I finished up what I was working on, walked to my car, got in, and drove away. I stopped back at my place to shower and grab my cello, and made it to Worcester in plenty of time.
There are moments in life that are worthy of concern, stress, and even panic. When tragedy strikes, or if you are in truly serious trouble. We know these moments when they arrive as the ones that make everything else seem inconsequential.
What stayed with me about this experience was that I was somehow able to skip over the personal drama of “oh my god! Oh shit! What do I do? I NEED MY CAR! I have to get to Worcester tomorrow–oh crap, oh god, arrghhhh!” and I just did what I needed to do.
I went home. Taught my lessons. Checked my bank balance and looked up where the tow lot was, what time it opened, and what the process was for getting the car freed. I set my alarm, woke up, got my car, and got on with my life. In the process, the next day, I had a nice long walk and spent the morning working from a coffee shop.
Most importantly, I somehow avoided the self-hatred that normally would have accompanied such a moment. The “you’re such an idiot! Why didn’t you just move your car? Why can’t you remember to pay a stupid parking ticket? You’re terrible at this adulting thing!”
Is this what Ryan Holiday means when he quotes Marcus Aurelius as the definition of Stoicism?
I’m the first to admit, I have my moments where I feel overwhelmed by what I have going on–when things end up piling on top of one another, it can feel stressful. But what I find in these moments, is that it’s the internal narrative I’m telling myself that is stressing me out. It’s the judgment I am assigning to it that makes it feel so burdensome.
It’s the obsessing over that internal narrative that is ACTUALLY taking up my time. Not the tasks themselves.
When I have a full workday ahead of me and find that my husband hasn’t finished the laundry, or that he has left tools and clothes out everywhere and we have guests coming over later. I feel like I am going to burst if I have to add one more thing to my plate. my inner narrative starts going on about how “it ALWAYS falls to the woman to take care of the house. It’s not fair–doesn’t he realize my work is important too?”
My inner narrative will go full-tilt, off the rails about the patriarchy if I let it.
But actually, if I just walked to the laundry room and put the clothes into the dryer, and then came into the house and picked up the stray items, it would take me less than 5 minutes. 5 minutes that I absolutely had available to me even in my busy schedule.
The truth? My husband is THE biggest supporter of my work, and he does a TON around the house. (Also the truth? I *occasionally* leave stuff around the house, and he has to do his fair share of picking up after me, too.)
Life is so much easier when we take the emotional stress out of situations that don’t call for it. You go to the store for something and they are out, so you have to drive to a different store? What if we just did that? Without the drama.
Don’t feel like practicing, but you have a lesson/rehearsal/performance tomorrow? And you’re SO TIRED? What if you just practiced? Tired and everything. Just did it. Relax and unwind afterward, but what would happen if we all started calmly doing whatever it is that needs to get done?
Then, as we learn, we can adjust. Like how I downloaded the new parking app on my phone while I was waiting for the boot to be taken off my car so that I wouldn’t get caught without enough coins for the meter again.
But honestly, I channel that moment often. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by a situation, I go back in time and see myself walking calmly by my car and getting on the T that chilly fall evening in Boston all those years ago. I didn’t know what it was at the time, and I had no idea what a life-saver it would be. I hope it can help you too.
There’s been an interesting transformation over the last decade or so between what is now known as “Hustle Culture” (complete with those horrid rose gold embossed “Boss Babe” mugs—cringe) and today’s current “Self-Care or Bust” mentality.
Don’t get me wrong–we need to take care of ourselves, and thank god the pendulum swung away from the self-inflicted punishment of the 2010s, but I wonder if the pendulum has veered too far in the other direction.
I wrote about how I think the “Self-Care” movement is costing us in more ways than money a while ago, but today I want to view this struggle for balance through the lens of being an artist–and particularly a classical musician, for which a certain amount of discipline is (sorry!) needed in order to play at a high level.
There has been an influx of musician + wellness accounts over on social media lately–talking about everything from mental health to physical health. Exercise for musicians, Nutrition for musicians, and I am here for all of it! Because you WILL perform better at the audition if you have fueled your body the right way, you’re feeling great physically, and have built the mental stamina to push through the stress of these situations.
But I’m also seeing and hearing from people who are feeling torn between the artistic work they know they need to do, and the self-care they are being told to perform on an alarmingly constant basis. Colleagues are seeing it with their students–canceling lessons last minute because they didn’t get enough sleep the night before and they’re tired, and–wait, this one killed me–my friend had a student ask to reschedule a COLLEGE LESSON 10 minutes before it was supposed to start because they had had a late brunch and needed more time to digest “because gut health = brain health” and they didn’t feel their brain would be able to focus for at least another couple of hours. OMG.
On the one hand, students know they need to get their concerto learned for their jury/audition/competition/performance, and on the other, they’re being told they *shouldn’t* practice more than a couple of hours a day, and that they’ll get more accomplished if they sleep more (and, apparently, properly digest their eggs benedict.)
We need to get familiar with what is an excuse, and what is a problem. The problems need to be addressed as soon as possible, and the rest are just excuses. Take a moment and think about your current working/practicing environment:
In other words, take the time to make your workspace as optimal as possible so that you are comfortable, and set up to work well and undisturbed.
Once that is in place…
Look, we ALL have “days”. It’s part of being human. We are not all functioning at our best 365 days a week. I have a client, in fact, who, due to some extenuating circumstances has more “bad” days than most, and she worried they were holding her back.
Together, we came up with a list of tasks she could do even when she was feeling crappy. Some of them were longer, but super easy (like organizing a music cabinet) and some of them were shorter, but more intense (like working on a tough passage, but only for 10 minutes)
Make a deal with yourself that on any given day (aside from the days you have purposely set aside as non-working days) you will make SOME progress on your work. Promise yourself that every day, something about it will be better.
Keep a simple log (and keep it near you) to track how much you’re actually working. We musicians tend to have a number in mind (I practice 3-4 hours a day!) but if we tracked it, we’d see that one day we stopped early, the next day we started late, the third day we spent the middle hour scrolling TikTok videos, and the 4th day we bailed completely.
Personally, I am so glad to see that things in the arts industry are changing. The increased mental health support we are seeing across the board has been long overdue and will save many careers, and more importantly, many lives. I’m glad that the overly-romanticized version of the starving artist who needs nothing but their art, and does nothing but practice their craft 24/7 has been stuffed in the trash and set on fire.
But being an artist DOES require us to show up, do the work, and be disciplined about it (and yes–that means different things for different people.) The more we as a collective can learn to combine the two. To take care of ourselves in such a way that we CAN show up and do the work, and not simply use the need for care as an excuse not to do it.
I believe that the two are NOT mutually exclusive. That balance point is there, we just need to get honest with ourselves, put some tools, support, and accountability in place, and figure it out.
Imagine what kinds of glorious art could happen then!