Sunday, December 27, 2009

A New Year's Challenge

Are you thinking about a resolution for New Year’s? Many of us say we don’t, but we still think of the new year as a chance to change things, to get things right, or do things differently. We say we don’t do resolutions because we never keep them. Usually, of course, the problem is that we have too many resolutions because we’re going to ‘fix’ everything this year.

But I have a suggestion for you as a way to support any changes you do want to make this year. It’s something from Julia Cameron’s books and it’s a simple tool though it does take a commitment. The tool is called ‘Morning Pages’. All you need is a spiral notebook or blank filler paper and a pen. Each ‘morning’ you sit down and write out long hand (no computer) until you fill three pages. Fill three pages with what you ask? It doesn’t matter. Just write. About anything, anything at all. It’s whatever is on your mind. Keep your pen moving until you’ve filled through pages.

For some of you the idea of writing like this will make you a little crazy. For folks like me the idea of getting up a half hour early to fit this in will be the stumbling point. But I’ve been doing this for seven or eight years. I haven’t been constant. There have been long stretches of time when I didn’t want to mess with it. But I keep coming back to writing my morning pages. Here are some of the benefits for me when I do Morning Pages faithfully.

  • A better start to each day.
  • I feel more grounded.
  • I accomplish more over time.
  • I find answers to questions and solutions to problems.
  • I’m more creative.
  • I do my job better.
  • I live my priorities better.
  • I live my values more clearly.

It isn’t really magic, but there are times when it feels as if it were magical. I know that I miss doing the pages when I don’t do them for some reason. I know the ups and downs of life are easier to manage when I am doing them. And I know that I am braver in both my leadership and my creativity when I do my morning pages regularly. If you are looking for a way to keep yourself going on your resolutions or if you want a way to be a bit more creative or any other change you want to make, I have no doubt this tool will help you.

If you are interested in learning more, here’s a site that will help explain it. This is one of those things that you have to try in order to understand, that you have to commit to for a while before you experience the changes. But after all that’s true of any change we want to make isn’t it. It doesn’t cost much, it doesn’t hurt, and you don’t have to give up much (just a little sleep) to start. Already that makes it better than most New Year’s resolutions, doesn’t it? Good luck if you decide to give it a try and either way I hope you have a very Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Planning vs. Creativity

For years I was a planner; planning is my natural tendency, but my work also required orderly thinking and the ability to manage and design processes. It was important for me to know that I was going to end at point X and to know all of the steps along the way. Then I began to read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. As I read this book and others I began to broaden my definition of creativity and to understand how the need to plan every detail got in the way of my creativity on two levels.

A breakthrough came when I had the notion for the Creative Leadership Workshop. I had this cool idea for a 12 week workshop for students modeled on The Artist’s Way, but with a different purpose. I wanted to find a way to combine what I was learning about creativity with leadership. It was early August and classes started in just a couple of weeks, so I could work on it during the fall semester and offer the sessions in the spring.

And that’s when I had the truly radical idea that instead of waiting I could do it now! Of course, the planner part of me kicked in with all the reasons that it wouldn’t work to do it this semester, but for once I ignored them. I sketched out the basic ideas and went back to the office ready to try it. So I invited a group of students to participate and 20 of them were brave or crazy enough to give it try. When we started, I had an outline of what we would do though I had no idea which things would work and which were too crazy. The workshop turned out to be an incredible experience and the list of things we all learned is much too long to share here, but part of the reason it worked so well was because there was room for new ideas as we went along. It’s also true that my idea of success was much too limited for what really happened.

So that was the first level of learning – it’s possible for things to work without a plan. Having the outline but not the plan allowed for more learning than I could have imagined.

The second level came when I offered the workshop again. I’ve offered the full workshop three other times, once for staff and twice more for students. The staff group was a great event, but the second and third sessions of the student version were never as amazing as the first. I think it was because I now had a lesson plan; I was reaching for a specific result now. I had told the first group that we were making it up together and that they were part of the creative process so they approached it in that way. It was a truly participative experience. Not having a complete plan allowed others the freedom to be creative too.

Creativity – it takes an odd mix of planning, freedom, openness to other’s ideas and to the possibilities of the moment. So what event might you chose not to plan?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Making Time

This weekend I’ve already made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies and the plan for today includes a double batch of thumbprint cookies – the kind you put jam in. If you know anything about my domestic inclinations (they are few in number), you know that cookie making signals the end of the fall semester. It’s the one time of the year that I find time to bake.

‘Find time to bake.’ It’s such an interesting phrase isn’t it? Equally intriguing is its cousin ‘to make time.’ We hear people wishing for more than 24 hours in the day or saying they don’t have enough time to accomplish everything on their list let alone add something. We also know people who seem to have more time than others, at least based on what they accomplish, and we wonder if they ever sleep.

One of the realities about time that I’ve learned over the years is that we find time for the things that are important to us. But that only works when we are clear about our values, and yes, when we exercise a little self discipline. I have a busy schedule and a long commute and yet you’ll see a dance lesson on my weekly schedule and frequently time out dancing with friends. Dancing is important to me. Reading is important which is why you might find me reading while I blow dry my hair in the morning. My work consumes many hours and time with my husband is important so I try to be sure we find time to do things together even if it’s running errands.

What’s important to you? Do you make sure it fits into your week? Spend a little of that precious time reviewing the way you spend your time and be honest with yourself. When you look at the list, do you say ‘yes, my actions match my values’ or do you realize instead that what you say is important doesn’t match where you spend your time?

Now, what do you want to do about it? What are you willing to change? Where are you willing to ‘make’ time which really means where are you willing to change how you use your time. If you say you don’t have time for exercise, maybe spending less time on Facebook will ‘make’ time for exercise. Spending more time with family could create opportunities for exercise if you spend that time on a bicycle or a walk. At work, you may find that the way you are answering e-mail gets in the way of reading new information on-line. It is different for each of us and does indeed take creativity to make it all work.
Take a little time to make a little time next time you hear yourself saying you can’t find time. While you may not find all the time in the world, you may find you have time enough to do just what is important to you.

Keep making time,


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Easy Does It

Nearly four years ago, I had an idea for a book. I loved this idea – it brought together many things I enjoy and am interested in. As an added bonus, it let me talk with my colleagues all over the country and learn from them. It’s a good idea for a good book, if I do say so myself. I invited 50 people to talk with me and 30 of them said yes. So, in the summer of 2006, I interviewed them and during the summer and fall I transcribed the interviews. I was on a roll. Then in December, I accepted a new position. We moved in January and I started the new job in February. And the work on the book slowed down – imagine that.

But I keep coming back to it. I still love the idea. I have a complete draft now and this fall, I’ve been brave enough to let some people read it. They tell me two important things I need to know, both of which I know in my heart of hearts but need to hear from someone else: ‘It’s good. Keep going.’ and ‘It needs work. Keep going.’

I find the editing and rewriting part of writing part of a book to be the hardest part. It feels overwhelming. I’m very lucky that the people who have read it have given me concrete suggestions both large and small. The task for this weekend was to get started on ‘fixing the book’ and it’s now 5:00 p. m. on Sunday and somehow, I’ve been busy all weekend!

Finally, I remembered what I know, something I’ve learned from many talented people – pick one task and do it. I wrote about this last week as a way to cope with a limitless list. This practice is at least as important as a way to make progress on a creative project. In the same way a list that’s too long can be managed by focusing on one task, a project that is too big can be started by picking one little part to work on.

I can’t find the citation, but I’m certain it’s Julia Cameron who wrote that we misunderstand the phrase ‘Easy does it.’ We use it to mean take it easy. But when read literally, it means that easy gets it done. We don’t have to cart the entire wheelbarrow full of our project all the way up the hill in one trip; undertaking a few little pieces of the project at a time will work just as well.

I don’t have to rewrite an entire book this weekend, I just have to find one piece and take care of it. Easy does it. Easy will get it done. What great idea are you ignoring because you don’t have time to get it done today? Where might you make some progress if you gave your self permission to take it easy?

Take care,