Motivation and Distraction: How to Deal
So motivating with reward and accountability partnership. These are the two things I'm gonna talk about, in terms of motivation. We're gonna talk about motivation first, then we'll talk about distraction and like, dealing with not having your phone on you, okay? So first let's talk about reward. Now, time blocking, we've talked about the challenges of setting a timer, right? And actually using it the way we're supposed to be using it. We've talked about the benefits of time blocking, but there's also some challenges to it, right? And that is that you gotta stay focused for a certain period of time on something that you might be dreading. It might actually be really boring. There are days I don't have to time block at all because I'm so excited to do what I'm working on, and I maybe only have one thing to do that day, and those are the best kinds of days. But when I'm overloaded with work, and when I have to make progress on multiple projects, time blocking is really important, but some...
of the time it's really challenging because I'm actually working on something that is not, or over time has become kind of boring. I'm writing a book right now for kids on the periodic table of elements. I love science. It's like, I'm really excited about this book, but last summer, a year ago, this is a very long-term project, I'm currently illustrating the book, but last summer I was focused on writing it, and every day I blocked time to research three different elements and write the text for the book on three elements a day. Like, this went on all summer. And you know, part of the reason this was so important was like, after element number 70, I was like, losing my mind. (audience laughing) I was so bored. I really wanted to write and interesting book for kids so they'd be excited about science, but you know, and so part of it was like, digging through texts to find the most scintillating information and writing it in a way that was gonna be kid-friendly, but there were days it just dragged on. We all have those projects, even you know, stuff we're really interested in can sometimes get tedious. Like, the creative process is just tedious, you know. You could make the most beautiful, intricate drawing in the world, but the middle of it, you're like, "When is this ever gonna end? "When am I gonna finish this?" So that's why reward is helpful and can sometimes be motivating for people. So what I will do is I will assign myself a task to complete in a time block, and then I'll say, "If you do that, you get something special." Sometimes I don't have to do this at all, but. So examples of rewards that work for me are taking myself out to lunch, frozen yogurt in the afternoon during a 30-minute break, going to the art store for 30 minutes and trying out new pens, an hour of digital drawing on my iPad, watching my favorite TV program in the basement for 50 minutes. Okay so, any of you want to share some ways that you reward yourselves, or anyone out there in internet land? Rewards. Yeah. We've got one here and then one there, yeah.
This may seem like a ridiculous reward, but often it's just getting up and getting a load of dishes done and then going back to my office and thinking, "At least my kitchen isn't dirty."
Yeah, it's amazing what reward means. It doesn't necessarily mean a treat, right? It could just be like, "Ah now later, "I don't have to worry about my dirty kitchen," yeah.
I was just going to say that I think that a dog park is a very magical place.
So the dog park and taking my dog for a walk is
I love that, yeah, yeah.
The best reward.
I'm gonna take a 45-minute break and walk the dog. Yeah, I do that too. So you know, you can combine reward into your break, right? So I'm gonna take a break, and I'm also gonna reward myself. So I am a high, like, espouser of rewards. Okay, another great strategy is to have an accountability partner. So finding another person in your life to help you with accountability. If you have a trusted friend or partner, somebody that you, and an accountability partnership means that that person's not just holding you accountable, you're also holding them accountable. So you find somebody else who's also trying to work on time management and work flow and time blocking and all those things, and use each other to drive your productivity. So you want to check in with each other about how it's going over text. At the end of the day, you might turn it into a competition. (laughs) Like, who can be the most honest about how they did at the end of the day. Give each other pep talks. I have a best friend who I text with several times a day, and we are always checking in with each other at the end of the day about how productive we were. Not that that's the end goal because sometimes having fun with your work is more important, but you know, I think sometimes we're more likely to stay accountable. Maybe it's just your partner, your significant other, and maybe they're also trying to work on productivity, but using another person to hold yourself accountable. Check in with each other about how it's going. Turn it into a competition. Give each other pep talks. Research suggests that finding a friend who can work towards your goals with you is one of the best ways to motivate change. And I think that's especially important for those of us who are freelancers and work alone. It's a kind of lonely, isolating existence sometimes. And so finding people that are also working at home alone, not to distract you, like, you want to put your phone away during your work chunks, but like, really taking your productivity seriously and your ability to also take breaks and take care of yourself seriously, and talking to somebody about how that's going for you is really great. Find someone you trust and like. Communicate clearly to them what you're working on, like, what your work habit goals are, so that they can help hold you to those. Get specific about actions you will want to take to meet your goals, as well as consequences and rewards for not taking action on them. You might think about setting up regular check-in times. This can be a text message. Just some little tips for working with an accountability partner, okay. All right. Even more important, I think, is developing a healthy relationship to distraction. And the reason I say, "develop a relationship "to distraction," and not, "eliminate distraction," is that it is impossible to eliminate distraction. And the more you try to eliminate it completely, the more you're actually gonna be attracted to it, right? So it's like the more you try not to think about something, the more you think about it. Distractions exist. Life happens. So you want to try to minimize your distractions and also have a healthy relationship to them. Social media being one of the most important ones. So first of all, raise your hand if you think you already have a healthy relationship to distractions? Okay, good, a few of you are raising your hands, and that's really, that's nothing to be embarrassed about, raising your hand about, like, we all, I think are constantly, whether we're conscious of it or not, working on that. Because it's just ever-present in our lives. I mean, you're all adults. You can remember what it was like being a kid when we weren't all walking around with our phones all day. There's a new generation of people coming up who have no such experience. They don't know what it's like to walk around without a phone or constantly be, and not that phones and email and texts and social media aren't the only distractions, but they're a huge one. There are obviously other distractions in your life. If you have kids or animals or (laughing) you know, any other human beings in your life, there also can be distractions when you're trying to work. Okay, so first is sort of obvious, but it bears mentioning. And that is turning off social media notifications on your phone. If you are fine to have your phone sitting next to you because you're a pretty disciplined person, but you do actually have notifications around social media, just turn off the notifications. That's been super helpful for me. I also turn off sound. I actually don't know often when I get calls, (laughing) and I've missed client calls before because my sound is off. I knew I had the appointment, but I sometimes have to remember to turn the sound on, but I'm so distracted by the, even the vibration of a email coming through, I have to be very careful. So, if that doesn't work for you, you could also put the devices you're not using into another room, and we talked. So one of the risks of that is that you're gonna miss something important. I doubt, most time blocks are only two hours, and if you check your phone, I recommend time blocks not being more than two hours, and if you check your phone on your break and notice that somebody important has called you or emailed you, obviously, and it's time-sensitive, obviously you can use your break to get back to that person, but I wouldn't worry too much about having your phone not right on you because it's not like the world's gonna come to an end. I mean, trust your judgment. If a family member is ill, or something, you can't be off your phone, then obviously you have to have it there, but if there's a way to put it away, I've personally found that helpful, especially if I'm having trouble focusing. Another thing that really works is wearing headphones. I notice here in the CreativeLive offices, it's like open cubicles. And yesterday, they were, or I was here a couple days ago, and there was music playing, and I was thinking to myself, "I could never work here 'cause there's music." And then I was like, "Oh no, "I would just put my own headphones on." And I have noise-canceling headphones, which are great. And so I would listen to my own music, or just try to silence because I get very distracted by music unless it's music that I choose. I have a hard time drowning out outside noise. What I also like to do when I'm drawing is listen to audiobooks or podcasts or music. So you might consider that multitasking, and if it feels like multitasking to you to listen and draw or do something creative at the same time, then don't do it. But for me, it actually helps me to focus and stay engaged with what I'm doing. I can't write and listen to words at the same time, but I can draw, and I'll find that I get lost in drawing sometimes, or any kind of, whether it's digital drawing or analog drawing, or doing work in Photoshop, if I'm listening to something interesting. So that's another strategy. I also listen to music quite a bit as well. But pay attention to whether that helps or hinders you, okay? You also want to declutter your physical and virtual workspaces. So some people are better able to focus when their surroundings are decluttered and neat. If you are one of those people, we talked about this earlier, my mom who, like, brags that she works better in a mess, I still don't think that's true, but if you are somebody who knows you're distracted when things are disorganized around you, take time every day to make a space that is clean and decluttered. I also think this is really important for virtual spaces. I am a hyper-email-cleaner-outer. And I get a lot of email, so this is my strategy for not being stressed out about email. So there's two things I do. I even clean out my spam box every day. Like, I cannot stand to have more than a certain number of emails. Even when I'm traveling, I will check my email and delete things every single day, and only leave the unread things that I can't attend to that day in the unread messages. So I recommend cleaning out your inbox every day. I used to have a business partner. I owned a store before I became a full-time artist, and we would sit together sometimes and do planning, both had our computers open, and she had her inbox had like, 750 unread messages, and like, her spam box had like 10,000 things in it. And I was like, "How do you?" And she was like, "Oh, you know, I know that, like," And I was like, "No, you need to clean this thing out. "Like, there's too much in there." And then sure enough, things were getting lost. She wasn't responding to things. And so, you want to clean it out, and I highly recommend if your Gmail does this, you can go into the settings, and list the unread messages separately because Gmail, once you're at the bottom of your page, and it goes on to the next page, you can't see it. You have to search for the unread messages. So you want to keep those separate, especially if you can't like, read your email often enough. Keep your unread messages listed separately, like at the top, and that way, if it takes you 24 hours to respond, you can go back and check those. But sort of like taking time every day during your admin time block to delete junk, delete stuff you know is spammy, maybe respond to the stuff you need to respond to, and keep the other stuff unread so you can deal with it later. But I think decluttering your email space is just as important as decluttering your physical space. Go through that to-do list that you are working on, and cross things off that you've completed. That alone is like a very satisfying act. Straighten your physical workspace at the end of every day. Clear as much physical clutter as you are able. You also want to structure solitude into your day. So if you can't complete your time blocks in a space by yourself where you are most likely to focus and you know, be able to set a timer in a way that maximizes your ability to finish something, you want to at least wear headphones, listen to ambient or classical music. Get away from other people if you can. Like, spending time with people is really important, but if you're trying to get stuff done, you want to be in a place where you're not distracted by people or your pets if possible. Or work in places or in areas of your house or at times of the day when those distractions are the least likely. Research actually suggests that solitude is not just important for getting work done, but also for creativity to really happen. You have to be able to focus and feel some space around yourself. So try to stretch your solitude into your day to get things done. Often, that just facing a wall instead of other people, if you work in a coworking space, or in a library, or whatever, can be helpful. Pay attention to your most productive times of the day, take advantage of those. Don't just schedule the time. Create a ritual around building a peaceful space. Okay. Any more questions? We're getting to the end here.
About the putting the phone away part.
One of the things that I struggle with with that is I use my phone or computer for reference a lot.
When I'm drawing a frog, and I need a photograph of a frog to refer to. So I tend to have that in front of me all the time for that reason, and then I get distracted.
So just any way around that, or?
Well, I do think there are apps and I'm gonna, I hope I don't sound like an idiot here, because I don't use them, but, because I have another strategy, which I'm gonna talk about in a second, but I do think there are apps that actually help block you from using certain other apps during certain times of the day. So I would look into that. People are nodding, so I'm not completely far-off. I've heard this. Where you actually like, it's not like you have to take Instagram off your phone. It's just that, like, if you try to go use it, it won't let you, and so eventually you'll just stop trying. I think that's an effective thing. I've known people who turn off email completely. Like, sometimes when I'm on vacation, so I'm not even tempted to look at email, I'll like, go to, I have Gmail on my phone, and I will go to the email whatever, preferences or settings, and just turn it off, so it doesn't show me when I'm getting new emails. It's not buzzing, it's not vibrating. So if email is a distraction for you, actually email is more of a distraction for me than social media, and I've also been through periods where I've taken apps off my phone for periods of time. And if that's too much of a pain to take them off and reload them, I do think that there's these other apps, like, that you can use, that will sort of prevent you from using them. But I do think that's the tricky part is like, I am not a leave my phone in the other room person. I've done it before when I've felt challenged, and I've also had a lot to accomplish in a short period of time, and I really needed to focus, but I, like you, I use the phone often while I'm working on something to research. I do a lot of writing, so I use the thesaurus, like religiously. I mean, not that I can't use it on my computer also, but also image searching. I have Pinterest on my phone. Like, I'll go look at images, and I have to make sure, even when I'm on Pinterest for a specific purpose, that I'm then not getting like lost in looking.
The spiral, yeah. It's really difficult, and it requires a lot of discipline and patience with yourself and understanding that you know, the world is not gonna come crashing down if you don't check your social media for, or your email for a period of time. Yeah.
And I think that's something that many people were asking about is, "How do you then schedule "your social media, schedule the time for interaction, "for your posting, and planning that out in advance, "or those types of things."
Yeah, well, I think, I'm a sort of, people are always asking me, "Do you plan your social media in advance?" And I used to do lots of different forms of social media. Like, I would post regularly on my Facebook fan page, and on Instagram, and on my blog, and now I pretty much only post on Instagram. And when I was doing more social media, I would plan in advance what I was doing and make time for it every morning 'cause I was trying to be really intentional about what I posted, and I'm still intentional about Instagram. I definitely think the day before what I'm gonna post the next day. When I had a less large following, I didn't give it as much thought because it didn't really matter. Not very many people were paying attention. Now I really think about it much more strategically, and you know, I sort of build that into my work time too, like thinking about social media and you know, in Instagram stories, I'm definitely much more spontaneous. Going through my day, and something strikes me as interesting, or I see something interesting on the internet, and I'll take a screenshot and post it. But I try to do that during my breaks, and not during my time chunks. And so I do think a certain amount of planning is important, but also, part of the joy of social media is being spontaneous and doing things in the moment that are interesting for you. So, and taking advantage of that, and sort of showing how you're going through your day. So it does, you know, it's a little tricky.
Oh, did you want to? Okay, you go first. (laughing)
I think my downfall might be that I have three notebooks. I have one for my intentions, one for my meetings, and then one for my task, and I'm not sure it's working out. So I was wondering if one notebook is really the way to go.
Well, let's talk more about your situation. How's that falling apart for you? Like, what isn't working?
That I have to open three notebooks, and then three other apps.
Okay, do you open all three?
In your mind, is having them separate feel good to you, or could you imagine having them together, and does that also feel like it might be better?
I'm definitely the person that I have to go through it in order to see whether or not I like it, and I've been doing the three notebooks, and I'm beginning not to like it. So when I saw you break out just one notebook, I was like, "Oh maybe that's the key."
Yeah, and I would highly recommend, and I am not a bullet journaler. I don't, it's almost a little over the top for me. I like to keep things really simple. But a lot of the ideas of bullet journaling, if you watch any bullet journal, bullet journaling is basically like keeping a notebook like this, and every, the beginning of every month, you do certain things where you list things out, and then every week, and then you also lay out your to-do list, and it's typically a rolling to-do list. I mean, I made up that word, I think, but like, that's basically how it works. But what I loved about watching bullet journaling videos that are online is that they give you a lot of interesting ideas for how to capture information in one place. And ways to do that visually. So if you're visually inclined, or you like to hand-letter, or whatever, like, there's so much inspiration on bullet journaling out there that's really great. I can't keep up with it. You know, I'm too busy doing other stuff, but I think it's really inspiring, and I also think that it might make you think about a way to keep your list of intentions, your tasks, and you know, your brainstorm of great ideas all, or whatever the three things are, all in one place in a way that still feels organized. 'Cause you were talking earlier about like, when you write stuff down, how do you find it? But I do think there's ways to organize that and code that if you really got into the practice of it that would actually be super fun and interesting, and visually beautiful, you know, to open up one book and just have your whole brain in one place. Like, it's really pretty amazing.
Oh, we got more, keep going.
First, thank you, it's been very helpful.
Oh, you're welcome.
I was just curious if you could talk a little bit more about when it's a self-directed deadline, and if, you know, actually following them, and setting realistic ones because I think yeah, I sometimes struggle with that.
Okay, so the question was about personal work and like, self-directed work, that that is often the thing that falls to the wayside, right? Because if we're working for a client or a customer, we're gonna get paid, or we have an agreement, and we need to abide by it. But when we do personal work, it's often really hard to like, hold ourselves accountable for finishing something. There are a few different way that I like to approach it. If you've been following my work for any period of time, you know I love to do personal projects, and I'll like, go off on themes, or I'll invent a constraint for myself, and I'll make a piece of art using that constraint for a period of time. And I've completed three different year-long projects, and you know, over the years, and then many other sort of shorter-term projects, month-long projects, and people ask me a lot, like, "How did you do that every day for a year?" and part of it is, for me, fist of all, you gotta choose personal work or self-directed work that you actually want to do and that you feel motivated to do and that's exciting to you. And that might seem like a duh, but you'd be surprised how many people are like, "I should be making this thing to fill my portfolio," or "I should be doing this thing "so then I get better at it," but it isn't something they're actually that interested in doing. For me, usually my personal projects are something I want to build skill in, so they're not necessarily very easy, but they definitely need to be something that I'm interested in getting better at and that I enjoy doing. So I would say like, first and foremost, make sure that whatever you assign yourself is something you want to do. Also, I often will make a big deal of it on the internet. Like, "I'm gonna do this thing." I announce it publicly. And then I ask people to like, and then I have accountability partners, like built-in, people wanting to know where my thing is. This year, I've been doing this project where every month, or not every month, but every like, zodiac cycle, I do an illustration of like, the, I gotta do Gemini, you know, right? And so yesterday, I posted something, and this woman said, "I'm still waiting for Gemini, "your Gemini illustration." Like, I've been really busy. I know Gemini started like, last week. I think it was May 21st, but you know, like whatever. You know, I've got to always be thinking about that project, sure, but I've also got people expecting it now from me, and that's happened every time I've done a project, like especially if I'm late on something, my followers let me know. So, you know, holding yourself accountable by announcing something publicly and posting it on the internet and trying to get, you know, and people love following along with people's personal projects. You know, if you're not a person who wants to post stuff on the internet, I think like, literally just chunking out time in your to-do list, in your rolling to-do list, and keeping your personal project on your work flow, and setting personal goals around getting, you know, making progress on that, and then figuring out. So one bit of advice, I just read a book recently on finding your creative voice, and part of finding your creative voice is actually like, I don't know, just being disciplined, and making art as often as you can because that's how you finally, like, develop your perspective as an artist, is just by making stuff all the time. It doesn't happen overnight. I interviewed 10 different artists for that book, and one of the artists I interviewed is a friend of mine named Kate Bingaman Burt. She's an amazing illustrator and graphic designer, and one of her bits of advice is, and she also teaches graphic design at the college level is that she's like, "I always like to think about what the, "like, if it's a personal project, "what's the product or deliverable or thing, "or the thing that I'm gonna produce "out of this project at the end? "Is it gonna become a zine? "Is it gonna become a new section in my portfolio? "Is it gonna become, like, a print, "or a set of prints I sell in my shop?" Like, think about how you can turn that thing, not into necessarily something you need to monetize, although that's great too, but something that you can share with the world at the end of it. And sometimes having, not just making stuff, but making stuff that will culminate in something, even if it's something that lives on the internet, is often a great motivator. Like, I'm creating, I'm working on this to create this end product. Or I'm gonna have a show of all of these things. I'm gonna try to find a gallery to have a show, or whatever, like that has also been, I think super helpful for a lot of people in motivating, like, what is this all for in the end, except that I'm gonna get better at this thing? Well, maybe I should turn it into something. Does that help?
Yeah, thank you.
It sounds to me like you have a really good job of being a one man show for your business, and that's great, but if you ever find yourself rolling over tasks too much, to the point that you're not meeting your deadlines, or that tasks are taking too long to complete, do you start to delegate those tasks, or are you revisiting how you're scheduling things?
Somehow I skipped over it in my notes while I was doing this, but I did want to address this like, what happens when you're finding either pressure from the time blocking, like, I don't have enough time for this, or you're finding that you're, yeah, continually rolling things over. So one thing is to like, allot more time, literally, to the things that seem to be taking you more time. Now, that isn't, if you are truly working, focusing on something, and not going on the internet, and not distracting yourself, you're focusing, and things are still taking you a long time, just allot more time, or allot more time blocks to that thing. I think when you get into the sort of professional world of being an artist, and you're responsible for delivering things, the more you do things, the faster you get at the thing. But in the beginning, whenever you're doing something for the first time, both carefulness or lack of fluency in whatever the thing is that you're doing, or like, being worried you're not doing it right, can all inhibit how quickly you get things done. And sometimes, if something's new to you, and you're not confident in it, you just need to allot more time to it, longer time block, or more time blocks. If you're actually rolling things over because you're just not doing the time block, that's a whole different issue, right? Like, if you're blocking out 60 minutes on Monday to finish an illustration or a sketch for an illustration, or do any task, like package a wholesale order, whatever it is, the thing is that you're gonna do during that time, and you just don't do it, that's totally different. Like, to me, it's like, the whole purpose of time blocking is to set yourself up to actually do the thing. And if you're not doing the thing, that's like, just something you need to explore, I think. (laughs) I'm not sure if that's what you're asking, but I do think, if you also are finding that at 3:00 in the afternoon, you never get your 3:00 time block done 'cause you're just like, spent, then don't work at 3:00 in the afternoon. Like, figure out another time, or you know, especially figure out another time to get the most important stuff done that you need to get done, and this does take practice. And one thing I wanted to say, and I promised Heather, my producer, that I wasn't gonna forget to say it, so I'm glad I'm remembering now. You know, one thing to remember is that like, if this way of working is new to you, I mean, some of you I think probably already do some of these things, and this is either affirming or making you think about it in a slightly different way, or maybe resolving some issues you may've had, hopefully, but if this is totally new to you, and you don't have any systems for organizing or managing your work, it's going to feel foreign to you at first. And so what I would recommend is just, it's kind of what I said to you earlier about like, switching back and forth between things, versus doing only one thing in a day, give it a try. You know, they say, like, it takes three weeks to develop a new habit. Like, try really hard for a month to just do this, even if it feels painful for you. I think, over time, if you're doing it, and the structure is actually making you feel less stressed, you'll be more motivated to continue doing it, but it's not gonna be easy. It's like anything. You need to practice it, you need to just sort of go back to it every day. It's not like, "Oh, I have this new system, "and I'm gonna use it, and now I'm completely comfortable "and adept at it." Like, it's gonna be challenging at first, and if you're not used to focusing for chunks of time, that's also going to take practice. But with practice, you'll get better at it, I guarantee. Yeah.
The final question, and kind of leading into what you've got on this last slide is just that you know, from Margot, "How do you handle those feelings "of loss of control and being overwhelmed "when all the different, just you know, kids, "and broken hot water heater get in the way? "Just kind of framing it, "coming back around to not getting overwhelmed."
I mean, I think that's hard. And I think that, even if you're like the best manager, I mean, I like, use this system religiously, and I still feel overwhelmed sometimes. I feel overwhelmed a lot, and that's because I work hard, I'm engaged in my life, I have friendships, I have you know, I have work to do, I have personal projects I want to do. But I always have to remember like, the question I always ask myself when I am feeling overwhelmed by all of the different things is like, "What can I stop and do now to sort of "like make myself feel better?" And sometimes, it's literally, like, I'll complain to my partner that I'm feeling really overwhelmed, and then I'm like, "Oh wait, I just need to write those things down. "They're floating around in my head, "so I'm gonna go grab my notebook and write them down." Or if I don't have my notebook, I'm gonna put them in my phone or email myself, so that I can remember to put them in later. A lot of people have task lists on their phone. There's lots of great apps for capturing information. So, so much of the time when we're stressed out, it's because we're worried that we're out of control or things are out of control. And sometimes making a plan for how we're gonna get control over those things can help us to relax. I mean, not always, but I do think that is a big part of it, is just like, making a plan for how you're gonna deal with the thing that feels overwhelming, and then hopefully, you feel better, yes. All right, so on that note, you can do this. And know it will take time and practice, as I mentioned. This isn't something that you can adopt tomorrow and necessarily, like feel like you've been doing it for five years. And again, I keep saying this over and over, but if you discover a twist to my system that works better for you, use it, be innovative. There've been a lot of questions, like, "What about doing it this way?" Or "What about this way?" And my answer to all of those is yes, yes, yes. I think the one exception is, I think I said, when somebody was asking about working on one thing all day, you still want to allot time to deal with your email and admin because that will start to pile up, so you want to get through that every day, even if the rest of the day, you're working on one thing and taking breaks. The only way these systems work for you is if you use them. So that's another thing. Like, don't complain to me in a week that this isn't working for you, unless you're actually doing all of the parts. Working from big to today and this week, and then, what am I gonna do this hour? Remove the distractions. Reward yourself for successful completion of tasks or time blocks. Celebrate. And I do believe that is it, thank you. (laughs)