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This is the final part in this three part series of looking at the question of ‘how do I find more time for crafting’ or, for some, ‘how do I get more crafting done in the time I have?’ Part I was all about identifying what time you could spare, Part II was about finding the right time and place for projects and in Part III we’ll look at pragmatic parts of scheduling to Get Things Done.
Time-Management Tips and Tricks
Finding what works for you in terms of scheduling and time-management is really an uncomfortable journey in being honest with yourself. I am an incredibly lazy person at heart and so I often have to remind myself that I do really prefer making things than staring at the ceiling. I have also tried I think every fad going for productivity and organisation and found I hate most of them but there are a few things that have stuck along the way. None of these are really craft specific but I do personally make use of some of these to motivate me to do some crafting.
First up is the Pomodoro technique, which I find brilliant for everything in life. There’s a lot of waffle on what it is here, but the idea is you set a timer, do one single thing for the duration of that timer, take a short break, rinse repeat. When you’re doing something difficult, say a complicated warp or a confusing pattern section, it can be hard to start, so I lie to myself and say ‘oh I’ll just devote ten minutes to it…’ and next thing I know, I am ignoring the mini-breaks and I’m away. This works very well for things like cleaning that I absolutely despise doing or challenging tasks that are ‘mentally intimidating’ in some way. The main challenge I find is remembering to actually do them and also to develop the willpower that you really do focus for all the time that the clock is ticking.
The willpower you need does link into two other ‘good habits’ that I think help with crafty productivity. It’s aimed at ‘knowledge workers’ but Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’ is a well-written rehash of the old idea that, if you want to do good quality complicated work, you need to focus with no distractions. Also, that your attention span is something that needs training and a lot of modern life is designed to destroy that. Maybe it’s overkill for something as lovely and inherently engaging as playing with string, but I found it a very timely text that really seems to appreciate the orthogonality of many of the demands of modern workplaces and life with developing the type of skills that take a great deal of devotion.
The second message that I think is so, so critical in ‘Deep Work’ is that it reminds us that we only have a finite amount of high quality ‘real work’ we can produce each day. Maybe laying a load of tacking stitches wouldn’t count as ‘deep work’ as it requires little concentration but putting down something complex like battlement couching would. What I like about this message as well is hammers home something key to time-management, your best work is limited to less than four hours a day, choose wisely how you spend that energy. Your energy and concentration are (unfortunately) not an infinite resource, no matter how trained, disciplined and organised you are – something I struggle with as a rail against the 24 hour day. Cal Newport is also an advocate of tracking your time and logging how much deep work you are managing so you have the data to make informed choices in the future.
There’s a load of books that everyone always recommends for people trying to ‘change their life’, ‘find their purpose’ and ‘focus on their goals’, and as I’ve said previously, be glad I’ve suffered through them so you don’t have to. The one though that gets recommended and totally caught me off guard is Charles Duhigg’s ‘The Power of Habit’. Dugiss is an investigative journalist and this is a really well-written, enjoyable text about various aspects of how our brains work with regards to habit formation. While I suspect it does veer a little into oversimplification on some topics, it manages to be an engaging read that gets you to reflect on your own habits, without the usual tedious fluffy self-help malarky that usually falls under ‘stating the bloody obvious’.
If you do a little work on a project every day, it is surprising how much progress you will make, especially as ‘binge’ crafting is not always efficient. Binges often aren’t possible due to time-constraints and even physical ones – I don’t have arthritis but my fingers and thumbs don’t appreciate too many hours stuck at the embroidery frame. Perhaps you have a life where you can schedule that in, make it a habit, and get a lot more done as a result. For me a habit has to be something much more flexible – especially as I find living my life with hour to hour mapped out in advance incredibly oppressive.
I am a big fan of breaking down as many barriers to working on projects as possible as that means that the perceived energy barrier to doing something becomes much smaller and statistically it becomes much more likely to happen. This is really consistent with a lot of what is advocated in ‘Deep Work’ and ‘The Power of Habit’ – minimise any unnecessary thinking so you can get on with the good stuff. Or in crafting language, more time for thread!
On Getting Inspired and Being Creative
We often think of the artist as being something of a free-spirit, an ephemeral soul prone to flights of fancy and unpredictable bouts of the mythical wonder known as inspiration. I have some bad news for you, inspiration doesn’t really exist. There is a fantastic quotation in ‘Deep Work’ from someone ‘great creative minds think like artists but work like accountants’.
Most artists, whether you love or hate their work, possess an incredible amount of technical skill. Acquiring skills takes time, practice and going through the tortuous process known as learning. This also takes time. You can perhaps shortcut some of this with having excellent teachers, mechanisms to get feedback for improvement and through regular practice. Being a famous or successful professional artist may take more business acumen than just being able to paint, but a lot of the struggle is just devoting the time to master the craft.
Creativity is often considered an innate, rather than a learned, skill, which I always find a little strange. Much as most writers will say to become a good writer you need to go out and read, the same is true for whatever your artistic medium is. I think a lot of artists often find their own style and niche by taking ideas and inspiration by finding not-so-typical combinations or subject matter which makes for something fresh and exciting. There’s a reason I have a huge bookshelf just for looking at and I love Pinterest, going through amazing work is the fastest way to make me want to go and make something for myself.
I think there are grades of creativity too. Crafting can just be using a kit, following the instructions to the letter and making a thing. Crafting could be starting with an original idea, working out a technical implementation, using your skills to make it, and then ending up with a thing. All of these have a place – simple kits are excellent for focusing more on the ‘skills’ part of a project (as you cut out the lengthy design step) – but if you’re not scared of it, starting from scratch is always so rewarding. You can start with ‘copying’ things and staying close to the source material but the further you try something really new, the more fun it is.
I definitely have a design ‘process’ I follow these days which has really reduced the fear factor. I get frustrated a lot when designing – particularly as I’m not a good artist so I struggle to capture the shapes and lines I want – but I’m not paralyzed by a blank canvas. I find ‘ideas’ come when I introduce constraints as well i.e. making a bookmark in a particular style. When I was at school, I always really struggled with art and I think that was because we were always expected to make things without any background of skills to draw from. Some people are very happy to just experiment and try, but I think I have more of the mindset where there is an effect I want to achieve and I need to find the how to do that. In that regard, I really don’t see myself as much of a creative person at all as I always feel very rigid.
If you don’t feel so creative, is it that you don’t feel creative specifically or you are not feeling motivated in general? Creating new pieces of work is immensely demanding and does take a lot of time and comes with its own intimidation factor. Is it that you don’t have the energy for that, but could find some for some ‘accountant-type’ work to tide you over or you need to rediscover the joy of making new art by going and looking at some other beautiful pieces. I struggle a ridiculous amount with ‘doodle cloths’ or anything too freeform but tell me to go do some freemotion quilting on a piece and I’m off and away. I’m not sure our crafting road blocks need to make any sense. Sometime time away or doing something different can also be restorative.
A lot of excellent designs and work come from trying, experimenting, failing, combining new things, trying, failing and starting the process again. It might be hard to come up with a beautiful new creation from scratch on the spot, but keeping that process practiced and going is something that you can schedule in.
The Struggle is Real
Often, what I think a lot of time-management literature forgets though is that all of this is a balancing act. Perhaps there are some people out there with habits for life, but I find good and bad ones alike tend to ebb and flow, depending on what else is going on around them. Motivation and energy levels change and no amount of scheduling will smother the spark of ‘I just saw this super cool thing and I need to make it NOW’.
Flexibility in scheduling is one reason I think Bullet Journaling has become popular. Again, not really a new idea, but the concept at the heart is having lists the work on different timescales i.e. weeks, months, years and keeping logs of what you’ve done and future goals. They’ve packaged it all up with some mindfulness and of course a special book you can buy to figure out how it works and dedicated journals with specially laid out pages.
I have tried Bullet Journaling in the past and I like a few of the concepts but it feels like an incredibly heavy weight and time-consuming way of scheduling. I want a schedule to help me get more out of life and avoid feeling overwhelmed as everything has its place, not because I want to spend my life filling out lists. Also, it seems to be a thing that encourages faff – how do these people not spend more time journaling that doing the things?!
For those of you who love being organised and don’t rankle irrationally at your own self-imposed schedule, schedules are a fantastic way of minimising mental overhead and time wasted on decisions (a very important thing if you’re trying to make unconscious good habits). You just immediately drift from task to task and get lots done. Perhaps there are people out there who are just more consistent in how they are that they can schedule things with military precision and stick to it, but I find the challenge with this approach is creating realistic schedules that accept life happens.
For those of you who are keen writers or a fan of Steven King, he wrote an absolutely brilliant semi-autobiography, semi-writing advice guide called ‘On Writing‘. (Very useful if you’re reading this and your craft of choice is wordsmithing!) I find King’s novels somewhat hit and miss but even the most cynical critics have to take their hats off to his incredible productivity in terms of books. In ‘On Writing’ though he is discussing the placement of the desk in the house, moving from an isolated studio to in the middle of the chaos of family life – something that you would think would be a disaster for focused work – which also reflected his move from addiction to sobriety. He says ‘life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around’.
The same should be true of schedules. There is stuff in life that needs to be done, otherwise there are dire consequences be they financial, familial or health-wise, but a lot of the rest, like crafting as a hobby not a job, is optional. This is why I think time management is such a personal and individual topic – your way of doing things needs to be compatible with your life as it actually is. This is why project management is a challenging job, you learn tools, tricks and techniques for scoping projects, but particularly for high-risk work, you need to replan on the fly and deal with many unexpected scenarios.
I think sometimes we all look back, with some regret, and think ‘I wish I hadn’t given up doing that hobby years ago, think how good I’d be now’ or ‘I wish I’d done another thing when I had the chance’. While our perceptions of time might be completely unreliable, much as there being 24 hours, for most of us in most situations, time always marching linearly forward in an immutable fact.
I think regret is a somewhat useless emotion unless you use it to feed and inform behaviour going forwards. Do you regret doing less of a specific hobby or is it more you wish you’d found more time to be creative generally? What was it that stopped you and is that still the case now?
If you’re looking to find more time for crafting or being creative, I think it’s key to work out if you’re in the scenario of ‘having the time but not using the time’ – where I think a more organised approach works – or ‘very limited time and need to maximise the time’ where perhaps it’s more about making it as easy as possible and fun as possible to craft in the minutes you have.
There’s an absolute deluge of tools out and methods to get you to do things. I have tried many, and in all honesty, again, I find keeping it simple is what works. I would decide if you prefer digital or paper – there are advantages to both. A digital calendar is a must for me but for everything else I would rather write.
This is what I do for work: Google Calendar (I love being able to have multiple calendars on a single calendar) keeps me informed of all my deadlines and where I need to be but for all my to-do lists I keep them scribbled on paper. I am a notebook fiend (Mnemosyne books are my poison of choice) so keep several on the go. One is a big A4 with a long-term project pool and is for ‘important’ brainstorming. My daily one is an A5 – I try to keep a weekly list of tasks to pull from day to day and then what I chose depends on what’s most on fire and how I feel that day. I always keep planning stuff at the back but any notes for meetings etc. start from the front so it serves a dual purpose! I also don’t lose lists in case something ends up not getting done and being postponed.
For fun: I have my slimline ‘project book’ with a list of all project titles at the back and try to keep notes of where I’m at in particular projects. I also have blank or squared paper notebooks depending on the craft for keeping track of patterns or designs so I don’t lose them. The other big thing for me is the blog! I try to keep notes on the document that eventually becomes the post and the whole blog serves as an external memory bank and encourages me to keep notes. Normally I am atrocious at writing things down when I’m working! I will deliberately add craft projects to my to-do lists sometimes too. After all, fabric is an important part of life too!
Try, try and try again
I think it’s worth trying a bunch of different tools and tricks. Many won’t work or stick for you, but a few might. Remember, if that happens, it’s the tool that doesn’t suit you, not a sign that you need to adapt to it. On the longer term, I think there is a realisation that comes that time-management is a dynamic task that needs constant tweaks and updates as life goes along. Priorities change and so do goals and creativity is a very non-linear process sometimes.
Practicing skills in crafting is really important and I think you can take a few shortcuts there by streamlining the learning process with lessons from expert teachers. I think practicing is something you can get yourself to do routinely as well and I think the more of this there is, the more space you have for the more complex creative work that seems to come at seemingly random.
Have you got any methods or rituals that help you settle into craft projects or keep you knitting socks with the swiftness of a knitting machine? Do you feel you have enough time to do all the crafting you want to do?