Two years ago, when I started my creative life, I wanted to do so much. I wanted to start a blog, write for online magazines, write short stories, finish my memoir and write the first draft of a novel.
I also wanted to sketch, paint, and make rock mandalas. And I was committed to starting an online business.
So I embarked on all those projects straight away. I made plans. I bought courses after courses. I scheduled my day so that I can allocate time for each project.
I had worked as a project manager during my working life so I knew how important all that planning was. But I was missing one big thing.
I was the only resource.
There was no way I could do all that I was allocating myself to do in a day.
I was in a deep sh*t and had no idea what to do.
One day I was listening to a YouTube video by a young artist by the name of Struthless (real name Campbell Walker) who went through the same agony as me.
In his early days, he was into many things, songwriting, poetry, drawing, animation, video making, etc., etc. Like me, he wanted to pursue them all.
He had a mentor Marc Schattner. Marc and his wife Gillie make dog and rabbit face human sculptures, paintings, and sketches.
That is all they make.
Struth was in awe of their work and constantly whined to Marc. I want to be as good as you. When will I be able to get to your level?
Then one day, when Struth’s complaining got to an all-time high, Marc sat him down and gave him some tough love.
You know what your problem is Struth, one day you write a song, the next day you write a poem, and the third day you do a drawing and none of it adds up to anything. All you are doing is laying a single brink of million different houses and hoping one day it will magically become a mansion. It’s not going to happen.
Marc’s advice hit Struth like a ton of bricks. Marc had identified correctly. Struth was scattered.
So was I.
I was doing several things and making zero progress with anyone of them.
We live in a world where there is too much to entice us. Spoiled as we have become, we think we can do everything. But the reality is that we have only a limited amount of time.
I am a multi-passion creator. I get excited easily. A soon as I hear something interesting I want to do it. But how can I choose which interest to pursue and which one to park for the time being?
It is not an easy decision. At least not for me.
So I came up with three questions to ask myself to help me make a decision.
Will it enhance me, or will it diminish me?
You got to have a guiding principle in your life. Mine is growth. So this is the first question I ask myself. This thing I am going to commit to, will it just make me happy or will it make me grow.
Oliver Burkeman, a journalist and writer framed it perfectly:
We are terrible at predicting what will make us happy: the question swiftly gets bogged down in our narrow preferences for security and control. But the enlargement question elicits a deeper, intuitive response. You tend to just know whether, say, leaving or remaining in a relationship or a job, though it might bring short-term comfort, would mean cheating yourself of growth.
— Oliver Burkeman
That doesn’t mean I don’t do anything for pleasure. In fact, all the things I do are for pleasure. But the pleasure I get from doing the things I enjoy is much deep-seated.
What it means is that I don’t choose anything that doesn’t give me pleasure. The activities we enjoy are also the activities that make us grow.
Still, there are so many things that I enjoy and most of them can lead to self-growth. That leads to the second question.
Do I have time for it?
We have somehow led ourselves to believe that we can fit everything we want to do in a day.
A mentor of mine Sean D’Souza has a theory. He calls it Chaos Theory. It works on the basis that sh*t happens in life on a daily basis. Praying that sh*t doesn’t happen, doesn’t work.
Instead, you need to make time for sh*t.
I have started following the Chaos Theory. I now leave enough time in my day to deal with day-to-day happenings.
So the second question I ask myself is, Will adding this new thing will leave me enough time to handle the daily sh*t?
If the answer is no, then I ask the third question.
What will I give up in order to take it on?
When my children were young they wanted to do all those after-school activities their friends were doing — swimming, basketball, piano, dance lessons, chess, netball, the lot.
But I didn’t have time to drive them around to everything. Both my husband and I worked.
So I made a rule.
They can join two activities at a time, and when they have made their decision, they will have to stick with them for six months. They can’t just pick and let go of activity as soon as they decide they don’t like it. The rule worked beautifully for all through the school years of both my daughters.
Now I apply the same rule to myself.
I work only on two projects at a time.
The next one can only start if one finished or six months have passed and I have no intention of pursuing it.
Applying 3 question strategy has worked well for me. Earlier this year I submitted the first draft of my novel for workshopping.
Now I am writing an article a day and drawing a sketch a day.
I am getting faster and better at both.
In six months’ time, I will evaluate whether to replace them with a new project or continue with them.
- Focused energy moves mountains. You have to say no to a lot of random things to be able to say yes and focus your energy on things that matter.
- You only have enough time to concentrate on one or two things at a time. So just pick two.