I refer to myself as The Queen Of Procrastination.
I know, I know, it's not a very sensible self-fulfilling prophecy to land myself with. Pretty blooming accurate though!
Over the years, I've learnt that procrastination can have many causes. I was reminded recently that fear can be a big one.
In December, I swapped webhosts for 365 Jars because the original host was overpriced and since the site is basically now an archive, it seemed crazy to be spending so much on it.
I backed up the site onto my computer, bought new hosting, cancelled the original hosting and then... froze. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Every time I opened the new hosting site to install the site, I completely panicked and shut it down again. One time I actually burst into hysterical sobs. I realised that I was blocked by the sheer terror that something might have gone wrong with the backing up process and what would I do if I'd lost more than a years-worth of work? [Apparently in my terror, I had completely forgotten or discounted the fact that The Wayback Machine exists.]
Knowing what was wrong didn't really help: I still couldn't make myself get over the fear and do it anyway.
I finally got myself unblocked by approaching it sideways. In my other role as President of Hebden Bridge WI, I wanted us to have a better website because Blogger's weird formatting issues was driving me nuts. So I've spent the last couple of days replacing this with this. Much better, yes?
Having transferred one website to a new WordPress blog, I realised it was absolutely ridiculous to be afraid of transferring 365 Jars. So this afternoon, I made myself tackle it. And of course - like so many things that we get ourselves in a tizzy about - it was a complete doddle. It took longer to find a decent theme than it did to install WordPress and get the backup working. I'm left wondering what took me so long whilst simultaneously being a bit wibbly with relief that it's OK.
Anyway, that's a long winded way of saying that 365 Jars is back up again.
What are you stuck on this week? Is there a way you could approach it sideways?
Oh, and a friendly reminder - back up your website(s). And your computer. You'd be gutted if that stuff disappeared into the ether.
The last two years have been immensely difficult for me. 365 Jars was an epic but gruelling art project. And then halfway through the jar project, our 14 year relationship with our ex-wife disintegrated in a very painful way. A divorce and house move followed in 2012. Oh, and our teenage son flew the nest. It was a time of harsh transitions and deep loss.
I kept myself going with willpower, sugar, caffeine and neurotic list making. I knew I was well over my limits but because of circumstances, I had to keep going until my partner and I moved house and got settled. I knew that I would fall apart when once we moved and fall apart I have.
I used to see burnout as a horrible trial, something to be grudgingly endured. And while it's true that it isn't fun to experience, it does have its place in the creative cycle. Like trees sluggish with winter sap, plants hiding underground from the frost and animals hibernating in their nests, sometimes we need to retreat, to turn in on ourselves and conserve our energy. Without a baseline level of energy, making art is impossible. You cannot create from nothing.
My word for January was 'rebooting' and that's what I've been doing. Switching myself off and seeing if I can reset myself to a healthier level. Letting myself be. Resting. Knitting. Reading. Watching documentaries. It does not come easily to me. I chafe at the restrictions my brain and body provide, I constantly butt up against my limits, I convince myself that I am rubbish and that I will never make art again. I am forced to recognise just how much of my self-image is rooted in me being an artist and how lost I am when that deserts me.
February's word has been 'completion' and I have been gently finishing off a few projects and even more gently getting involved in a new one - helping with the Hebden Bridge Rag Market. It's subtle but I can feel the burn-out gradually starting to lift.
So now my challenge for March is not to immediately throw myself into a dozen creative projects before the burnout has fully run its course.
If you're also suffering from burnout, here are some resources:
But sometimes 'work harder and keep going' is actively harmful.
This is because of The Law Of Diminishing Returns.
You already know what The Law Of Diminishing Returns is. You've been there, you’ve done that and the t-shirt is mouldering unwashed at the bottom of your laundry basket.
The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when the energy you’re expanding far outweighs any benefits you will receive.
The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you’re too tired, hungry or burnt-out to work but you keep going anyway. You do bad work that will need to be redone later but hey, at least you were in the office showing your face so no one can accuse you of ‘slacking'.
The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you hit your email button on your phone just one more time before bed. The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you endlessly rehearse a conversation that you know you'll never have because the other person refuses to hear you. The Law Of Diminishing Returns is when you read that same page five times but don't take in a single word.
The Law Of Diminishing Returns is this conversation from When Harry Met Sally:
Marie: The point is, he just spent $120 on a new nightgown for his wife. I don't think he's ever gonna leave her.
Sally: No one thinks he's ever gonna leave her.
Marie: You're right, you're right, I know you're right.
The Law Of Diminishing Returns happens in offices & workplaces all over the world every single day. It happens to me after about 3 hours of working, when I hit my internal limit. Now what I should do at this point is take a break and go do something else or rest.
If I don’t switch gears, I invariably start going round and round in endless internet circles like a dog chasing its tail. Mine goes email; Twitter: Pinterest; RSS feed; Twitter; Ravelry; Facebook - rinse & repeat until I get cross with myself or my eyes fall out, whichever happens first. You’ll have your own version.
Sometimes what you should be doing is not ‘trying harder’ or ‘being more magnificent’ but resting. Or thinking. Or playing with your kids. Or sleeping. Or reading. Or watching TV with your sweetie. Or even - whisper it if you dare – quitting completely because you're trying hard at the wrong thing.
By all means, be magnificent if magnificent is where you are right now. If you are magnificent, I will applaud you and tell my friends.
But no one can be magnificent constantly. It’s just not possible. So if your well is empty, you need to bloody stop. There is no more water there. So you need to either find another water source or sit down and wait for some rain.
Yes, sorry about the dusty ghost town feel around here of late. There is a very simple reason. 365 Jars has been kicking my ass. Hard.
In my enthusiasm for starting a new project - 'yay, new art project, yay' - I forgot that new projects are always intense and all-consuming. 365 Jars is especially full on because it is a ton of work: I seriously underestimated how much time it was going to take every day. Plus starting a new daily walking habit has been a shock to the system. Don't fret, I'm OK but between all that and recovering from The Hideous Flu, I've been distinctly overwhelmed and I'm still behind with everything.
I don't know about you but I live with the pretty fiction that I can somehow Get On Top Of Things.
Let us pause for a moment for the hysterical laugher to subside.
Despite 43 years of solid evidence to the contrary, I persist in believing in a mythical point at which I will be Up To Date.
I secretly believe that it's possible that my inbox will be empty, the laundry will be washed and put away and I won't have any urgent outstanding work. Furthermore, I believe that it's possible for all this to happen on the same day!
There is no indication that this is humanly possible but like a fervent believer in the Loch Ness Monster, absence of hard scientific evidence does nothing to dissuade me. The truth is out there, Scully, the truth is out there.
Surely it's theoretically possible that one day I will complete all my unfinished knitting projects? And all my paperwork will be correctly filed with no missing bank statements and my accounting shall be done to a level that would make the Inland Revenue smile and pat me on the head. And the floors will be clean and I will have cooked in recent memory. And angels shall sing and fairies shall dance in my spotless kitchen and all will be well with the world. And all this shall happen before civilisation crumbles into oblivion, the sun explodes or we are invaded by aliens who eat our brains.
In short, I believe that it is possible that I will be On Top Of Things Like A Real Person.
Now, I do not know who these Real People are but apparently they are capable of a mystical level of organisation that I can barely aspire to.
In truth, like many people, I exist in a state of barely controlled chaos.
Recently I had a staggering insight. There will never be a point at which everything is working. Never. There will always be something undone, something lost, something falling off the bottom of the list, something a mere moment away from a crisis. Always.
So what to do with this insight?
I could forgive myself.
Hard for a perfectionist but OK, I'll give it a go. But then I just wind up crying into my cornflakes about how I'm not forgiving myself perfectly enough. Oh wait, I see a slight problem with this approach.
I could seriously cut back on what I'm doing.
Ah, this feels better. Is everything on my list really necessary? Is it all equally important? Will the world end if the laundry is not put away? Ah wait, perhaps this is that mythical 'prioritising' of which I've heard? Why, goodness me, I do believe it is.
But truthfully, right now, even the thought of prioritising makes me want to cry. It seems to demand more competence and energy than I currently possess.
Oh dear, we're back to forgiveness again.
So I'm falling back on that old standby: 'tiny steps'. It's not big and dramatic but it works. I'm not taking on new responsibilities and I'm patiently nibbling away at existing ones like a harvest mouse.
If resolutions work for you, that’s cool. But it is my deeply held belief that January is long and depressing enough without making yourself feel like a failure halfway through because you thought you 'ought' to do something about your weight/finances/fitness/work-life balance or whatever damn thing you're feeling guilty about.
Goals are good when they're clear, measurable and achievable. Resolutions, on the other hand, smack of wishful thinking. A resolution is a cop-out. Oh, you ‘resolve’ to do something. Not actually a decision though, is it. Resolution is a kinda-sorta-wanna word. And most people choose resolutions that are destined to fail because they are murky and unclear and the person hasn't fully committed to them. Or doesn't even want to do them. Resolutions are invariably 'shoulds' writ large.
What I do instead are commitments, goals and a Word Of The Year.
So, for example, 365 Jars is a commitment, not a resolution. There’s no resolution involved. I’ve decided that I’m doing it and I know that I will get to the end of 2011 with that art project completed unless I break a leg or something (and I have a contingency plan for that). No excuses. No giving up in February because I'm bored. I'm committed, so I will see it through. That's how I am with art projects. Which is why I think long and hard before I start them.
If resolutions give you an icky, ‘don’t wanna’ feeling, please come and join me in the ‘no resolutions’ corner – we have whisky, cough sweets, leftover chocolates and we don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m not even doing any 2011 goals right now because a) I'm knackered from the flu and b) I already have some important goals in play.
However, if you do want to set yourself some goals, here are some helpful tips:
Shoulds are deadly
‘Shoulds’ are killer words: they will eat you alive whilst making nom-nom noises. If the word ‘should’ appears when you’re thinking about goals, you need to chase it out of your brain with much screaming and a chainsaw.
If you don’t give a shit about that last 10lbs, don’t pretend you do. You’re not fooling anyone. Wishful thinking and half-heartedness won’t get you anywhere. If you think that you ‘should’ lose that 10lbs because some magazine says you need to or because all your workmates are dieting, you’ll fail. Because you don’t care enough to do it.
There is a very simple reason that I don’t have an MA – I can’t be arsed to go and get one. Until I have a burning, overwhelming desire to go back to college, I'll be sticking with my BA. Sure, I'd quite like to HAVE an MA but not enough to do the actual 'getting one' part. The moment I realised that an MA was in my 'should' category, I gleefully struck it off my list and felt much lighter.
For the love of all that is holy, chose something fun or find a way to make it fun. You’ll do much better. Reward yourself with stickers, find a creative way to achieve that aim or do something you love. If you hate going to the gym but love playing with kids, borrow some kids a couple of times a week (ask first!) and take them to the park for a run around. You'll get exercise and their parents will be pathetically grateful. Or volunteer to coach football at your local school. Or lead a Brownie or Scout troupe.
Most people fail at resolutions and goals because they punish themselves with them. Why? Do you want to change a habit or do you just want to wear a hairshirt? Choose.
Be clear on your WHY
Goals that start with a ‘why’ are always stronger than wishy-washy, direction-less goals.
OK, so you want more time in the studio. Why? What does it get you? What happens if you do lose that ten pounds? How is your life better? What difference does it make?
I started 365 Jars because I wanted to take a daily walk every day during 2011. That was it. That was my ‘why’. I also wanted to get back to a daily art practice and I like doing year-long projects because they have a defined start and end. So that was two good strong 'whys' that I realised could be yoked together to make a fun project.
The art is a cheat code. I knew I wouldn’t walk daily if I made a resolution to do so but I sure as hell would if walking was part of an art project. So I came up with the art idea that would accommodate the walking. At this point, my wife looked at me funny and said, ‘you really will do anything if it’s for art, won’t you’. To which the answer was 'yes, but only when I set the rules.'
Tackle one area at once
When I’ve been trying to change big things, I've always been more successful when I’ve stuck to one area at a time. Trying to lose weight, sort out your finances, get fit, learn French and start a daily art practice all in a single month might be doable but hitting yourself with a stick would probably be more fun. Changing habits can be hard. And if you're trying to change habits in big, scary emotional areas like body image or finances, you can trigger all sorts of defensive mechanisms. Start small and achievable. Or trick yourself like I did with 365 Jars.
Make it measurable
‘I want to get fit’ is a completely pointless goal because you can’t measure it, so you will never achieve it. ‘I will do five minutes of stretching every morning during 2011’ is a far better goal because you’ll know exactly when you’re doing it and when you’re not.
If you do those daily stretches for 300 days out of 365, you’ve won. It’s not a zero-sum game, you haven’t ‘failed’ until you quit completely. 300 days of stretching will still make a big difference to your life. Sure, it's a bit annoying about the other 65 days but hey, you’re still way ahead of the people who did it religiously for 2 weeks and then gave up. Shit happens: give yourself credit for the things you did, not what you didn’t. If you don't manage to do your thing one day, pick it up the next day or the day after. If the way you're doing it stops working, find a new way to do it. But don't use 'I missed a day' as an excuse to quit.
Beware of romanticism
In my head, I can belly-dance. In my head I am also a willowy redhead who plays the harp and floats around in long wispy dresses. One day I may get round to learning belly dancing but frankly, I am shit out of luck with the willowy thing because I am small, dark and very curvy. Sure, I could grow my hair long, dye it red and lose weight but with the best will in the world, I can’t gain five inches in height unless I wear very unsuitable shoes.
And although I would like to be that pre-Raphaelite heroine, in truth, I am not that person. I look kind of drippy with long hair; I would have paint and mud on my long, billowing sleeves in five minutes and I would constantly trip over the wispy hemlines and then swear in a most unromantic fashion. Besides I have very little musical aptitude and no time or patience to learn. It is a pretty fantasy that bears no relation to who I truly am and I wouldn't enjoy the reality. Now, if my fantasy was to be a bumbling, slightly grubby, female hobbit, I’d be totally sorted.
I once had an amusing conversation with a knitting friend where we admitted to each other that we sometimes knit things we knew wouldn’t suit our body shape just because we fell in love with the model and the way the project had been photographed. That’s romantic thinking. So is 'I will feel happy in a bikini if I can just lose that 10lbs'.
Accept your reality.
There is nothing mystical about January
Set goals whenever it’s right to set them. I use monthly aims to keep myself on track and make sure important deadlines don’t get forgotten. If I get to March and I decide that 2011 needs its own special goals, I’ll set some then. The goal police won't come round and arrest me because I didn't decide on my goals on January 1st.
If you can’t commit to it fully, don’t even bother: you’re just setting yourself up to fail. Think this stuff through before you decide to do it. Be utterly clear what’s involved and why you want to do it. Make sure it's achievable. And then decide. And then do it. Yoda was right...
Things to remember
If setting goals right now is a genuinely helpful thing for you, then do it and enjoy. I hope you make positive goals that help you grow and the tips should help you set strong, achievable ones.
But you also have my full permission to take a big deep breath, resolve not to set any resolutions or goals whatsoever, say 'oh thank god' and feel instantly better. Here, have a chocolate...
When we moved into our house 13 years ago, the garden was so neglected that I thought I’d have to dig up the lawn just to have a few flowers. Then I started cutting back the hedge and discovered to my surprise that I already had large flowerbeds. They were just completely hidden by a ridiculously overgrown hedge and swathes of ivy, brambles and ground elder.
Kirsty Hall: Garden after the hedge butchery but still full of brambles & ivy, May 2003
If I wanted to reclaim my flowerbeds, I had to get serious.
One of the first things I did in my garden was to completely remove three enormous leylandii trees that were shading the entire space. It was obvious that nothing very interesting would grow in such deep shade. Most flowers and vegetables need light.
Your art or business is the same. You’ve got to make space in your life for Your Wonderful Thing or nothing will grow.
If your life is full of crap, there will be no room for Your Wonderful Thing. It will be strangled to death by other people’s needs and shaded out by all those sneers and subtle little put-downs.
You’ve got to clear the ground. Get rid of that clinging, stifling ivy and those spreading brambles.
Oh, you know what I’m talking about. That friend who's oh-so-entertaining but only talks about their stuff and is mysteriously absent when you need help. That family member who pours scorn on Your Wonderful Thing and tells you to Get A Real Job. That clinging person who just won’t let go and insinuates herself into every space in your life.
Sometimes those people can be contained. There is still ivy in my garden – it’s good for wildlife & I am happy to have it on walls, trees and in the hedges - but when it starts to rampage through the flowerbeds, I know I have to pull it up or it will smother everything else.
Some people need firm boundaries or they’ll choke out Your Wonderful Thing. They won’t even mean to but they will, so you need to protect your flowerbeds. Arrange to have a pressing appointment so you can cut short that person who goes on too long. Graciously go into a conversation with that self-absorbed friend accepting that you’ll be in listening mode for an hour. Phone a different friend when you need help.
Kirsty Hall: New shrubbery and path, May 2009
Unfortunately there are some people and situations that you simply cannot afford in your life. Not if you’re committed to Your Wonderful Thing.
After three years of pulling up ground elder, I finally realised that all I was doing was spreading the damn stuff around. It is virulent as all hell and will spread from the tiniest bit of root that’s left in the ground. And it makes a lot of roots. I’m not quite sure what the Romans were thinking when they introduced it to Britain. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Eventually I guiltily resorted to weed killer and I’m now ground elder free. Similarly I have at least one person that I cannot let back into my life even the tiniest amount because they absolutely will not accept boundaries.
I’ve dropped friends who were such drama queens that they sucked the life out of me. Sometimes I’ve been the person who’s been dropped. It is Not Fun to be on either side of that situation but sometimes it’s needful.
If boundaries won’t work & they’re killing Your Wonderful Thing, well, you have a hard choice to make.
1) Customer Love challengers are amazing
The support, love, ideas and kindness I’ve received from fellow challengers has been incredible. I've met cool new people and deepened relationships with existing people and this was undeniably the best part of the experience for me.
2) I need to get better at promotion
This is an area where I totally fell down. I did lots of great things but then either got coy about telling people or just didn’t have the time. This is a long-standing issue for me but Customer Love brought it into sharp relief.
All month I could hear my art college tutor saying the words, “Kirsty, you need to do more with less”. He was right 9 years ago and it’s still true today but my ADD nature struggles with that limitation. My brain is always all, ‘ooh shiny, new thing, shiny new thing! Oh wait what was I doing again?’
I need to do some Big Thinking about how to work with this aspect of myself because I'm clearly never going to eradicate it.
3) A stronger strategy would have given better results
When I take part in the next challenge, I plan to be more prepared. That said, being spontaneous was a lot of fun.
4) I overestimated the amount I could get done
You know, I don’t know why this is always such a surprise to me since it happens all the freaking time. Yet I am always blithely convinced I can do twice as much as humanly possible in half the time. What can I say, I’m an eternal optimist. Completely clearing the decks before doing Customer Love would also have been smart. We live and learn, people, we live and learn...
5) Deep strategy stuff fascinates the hell out of me
I love it to death. I even love the word ‘strategy’ and wish it hadn't been overused by boring corporate types. Part of my mission is to reclaim it. We can have strategy, people and it can be fun strategy with extra cakes and biscuits.
6) I need to be more strategic about 'free'
I talked about this in my Customer Love guest post – The Volunteer Junkie. Please read the incredible wisdom in the comments.
7) It's a bit crowded in my head
I have an Inner Businesswoman, a Volunteer Junkie and a Girl Reporter who's in charge of the newsletter (she's very keen, bless her and survives on biscuits and cups of tea because I don’t pay her). Unearthing these metaphors was one of my favourite parts of Customer Love.
8) Not everything I tried worked
I attempted a bit of public Twitter loving but it felt slightly icky to me. I realised that I’m not comfortable singling people out for public loving - unless there’s a good reason to mention them, it feels artificial and weird. I also worry about the hurt feelings of those I haven't singled out.
But that's OK, it's good to try stuff to find where your edges and tolerances are and I value learning this.
9) Be clear about what you’re offering
Saying ‘I’ve got some free time, who needs help’ on Twitter won’t get nearly as many responses as something specific like, ‘who wants a mini-Eyeball on their sales page?’
10) I sometimes swallow my words
But it's not my fault, it's because I'm Scottish.
[PS. To anyone interviewing me in the future, get me to say the words ‘film’ or ‘iron’ – the way I say them will make you laugh your ass off.]
11) I rocked the tiara on VYou
I loved making these little videos but the VYou thing didn't take off as much I'd hoped, probably because I didn’t promote it enough. Although I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook a few times, I never told you guys about it (sorry, my bad!)
12) I'm loathe to ask people what they want
I get shy and embarrassed about asking people what services and products they want or need, in case I can't deliver. Getting the hell over that piece of ridiculousness will be my challenge for the next round of Customer Love.
13) It IS important to launch something
My Inner Businesswoman wasn't at all happy that I said I wasn't going to sell anything in my first Customer Love post, so I've revised that decision. We're not letting The Volunteer Junkie make those kind of choices any more. Plus my Artist's Eyeballs insisted they wanted a party with streamers and buns since they never had a proper launch and hey, nobody wants sulking services.
The official Artist’s Eyeball launch with a special 72 hour Customer Love sale!
14) I can't tell the difference between peers & customers
It quickly became apparent that I'm way more comfortable loving on my peers than on my clients and I’m hazy on the difference because I tend to think that everyone is a potential peer. In fact, I’ve realised that I'm still not clear who my ideal customers are. More Big Thinking is required on this issue over the next few months.
15) I'm not comfortable pitching to my friends
In fact, I'm not comfortable selling at all. This wasn't exactly news but again, Customer Love highlighted it. However, I’m about to take Pam Slim’s Ethical Selling That Works course in December, which I’m hoping will sort out some of these tangled emotional threads.
16) My business needs a new name
SOS For Artists was never right and now it feels like a shoe that’s too tight. I think it's limiting and far too negative. An amazing late-night Twitter brainstorming session revealed that the core of what I do is about seeing and explaining patterns, which makes total sense when you consider how important patterns are in my art. The lovely Amy from Antemortem Arts dubbed me a Patternista, which I just adore.
17) Sometimes old school is better
When I bought a mic & headphones set, I should have bought one with a traditional jack instead of a USB connection. However, even with that caveat, my audio quality is hugely improved - get a headset, people, it makes a world of difference.
18) There are awesome people outside your niche
Who knew that an elf who does tiling would be so funny and delightful? Who knew that a sex therapist could teach me so much about newsletters? Who knew that I would become good friends with a maths tutor?
19) And finally...
I will use the word ‘trebuchet’ in one of my sales pages even if I have to invent a brand new product to do it!