I recently stumbled across Michael Nobbs’ blog Sustainably Creative and it hit a cord. Michael learnt to draw after life threw him a curved ball and he had to stop. He was diagnosed with ME/CFS and could no longer fill the days at the pace he had. On reading his blog, his attitude and outlook instantly resonated with me.
For months if not years my life has been so packed with work, that play has been shoe-horned in and ultimately feels like a chore. What should be fun does not only become another thing on the to-do list, it also does not get done very well due to lack of time or sleep and eventually falls by the wayside. As my body and mind grind to a halt with exhaustion, I am increasingly adopting Michael’s approach of spending 20 minutes on Important Work and achieving more in multiple 20 minute slots, punctuated with lots of cups of tea.
My Important Work is not my paid work. As much as I enjoy the substantive work, if not the sleep-deprivation or the frustration caused by excessive demands, this is not currently my Important Work. A lot of the time, my real job sucks the marrow out of me, whilst the Important Work puts it back. Since I started writing again 18 months ago, my senses have come back to life. I have gone from being a workaholic focussed on the next deal at the cost of all my other interests to a more rounded (and I am not just alluding to the curves) person casting glances left and right and soaking up the unusual in the everyday.
My twenty minutes start in the morning. I have embraced the concept of morning pages expounded by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. Before leaving to go to work or do the week’s grocery shopping I will have written 750 words of uncensored stream of consciousness. Initially drawing out these words was I torturous experience. Now they just flood out and feels like an unloading in a less intrusive way than therapy.
At lunchtime I buy some sandwiches, take my laptop or notebook to the coffee shop and over a coffee but before eating lunch I devote another 20 minutes to writing: usually the first draft of a blog entry which I will revise with fresh eyes later in the day. On the days when I cannot get into the writing groove, I use the 20 minutes to read or to knit, in other words to do something as far removed from turning contracts as is intellectually possible.
Come the evening, after supper and before logging on to do more paid work, I spend a further 20 minutes (at least) reworking the draft blog entry or working on longer non-fiction projects.
These three slots of 20 minutes amount to an hour of “me” time and have worked wonders. The smallness of the unit not only means I can carve them out of a busy day, it also means I do not view them as an indulgence. Very soon the 20-minute unit translated into other spheres of my life, like 20 minutes of yoga (increasingly twice a day), 20 minutes of walking home from work, 20 minutes of preparing food rather than gobbling down a sandwich, 20 minutes of lying down with my legs elevated to ease my back and feet… and one of my favourite, 20 minutes of conversation with Mr M over a cup of tea and a biscuit.