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Let the Process Be a Process — And Don’t Forget to Play
When people come to me for advice, certain themes tend to come up time and again from different voices, across livelihoods, and types of projects. Whether it be business thought leaders, writers, or artists, folks seem to have difficulty with the process being a process. “It’s a process” is a way to say: things take time.
Another way I like to put this is “old trees have deep roots.” That's just a way of saying that the way we’ve worked for so long won’t necessarily change overnight, but we can incrementally add in the pieces, in order to change. If we want to change, we may have to come at things from a completely new perspective. And how do we achieve a new perspective? We take the pressure off.
We let ourselves — and hear me out — we actually let ourselves have time for joy, celebration, and a sense of productive play. A client I’ve known for a while came to me recently with a query along these lines. His email is included in a paraphrased form here:
I see [working with Productive Flourishing] as an effort to reprogram my daily process. The hardest part is establishing a longer-term project, and then breaking it down. As an artist, it’s all about what do I do next? What do I paint next? I am transitioning from graphic design and production to fine art. I am also working on how to set up an e-commerce site, and connecting all the dots with social media. I’m working on new art. But hitting that wall of change… Whew!
[There's a ton of] change, and effort involved to create movement in a new direction. This is a personal struggle for me. I am only now just realizing I need to have fun with it. I have the monthly planner filled outm and am working it, breaking that down to weekly and daily levels. I like the process, and believe it just takes putting one foot in front of the other, following through. We humans expect immediate results. I see that and am working on forming new work habits. Also, I need to understand what is acceptable as a good day's work. Am I doing enough? Am I working this correctly? I judge myself and feel guilty if I don't get done what I think I should have. In that process, I am trying to be kind to myself and to find that happy place. That Happy Place has eluded me for some time.
So in closing, I am working this course, trying to stay focused and never giving up.
Thank you for listening.”
My response hit various points, but one of them was: We creatives make changing what we do weirder and more difficult than it needs to be.
I wonder often how things would change if we modified the goal from “what do I do next in art?” — which seems like a big, global change — to what if you could just play with creating differently for a bit? At some point, whatever your current way is, then you are playing with creation, and you could come across something brilliant in the process.
The reality is every time we create a new piece, we’re creating differently in some way. It’s only when we start thinking of it in terms of “changing what I do in art” or “changing how I write,” that we attribute world-changing importance and pressure to it, and make it a Thing.
We often seem to question what is acceptable as change, or even as “a good day’s work.” “Am I doing enough?” we ask. “Am I working in the right way?”
Lots of folks have a strong built-in tendency towards self-judgment (whether we can chart this back to our childhoods, or society at large, the fact remains) and guilt over whether change and production are happening at the right rate. If things are not immediate, people think “what should I have done or what can I do differently?”
What’s most important is actually recognizing what parts of this inner argument are productive and keep us moving forward, and which tend to stall us out, and should be discarded.
Even if you try to follow the path of growth by offering yourself kindness, empathy, and space, comfort in “the process” or along that path can be elusive. We’re all going to have difficult weeks or weeks that feel like negative outliers.
I’m curious how it shifts for people if we change our focus from “a good day's work” (focused on output) to “a good day’s effort” (focused on the process, which might even include some play)? I have found that helpful in my own endeavors. What if the question became “did I spend my two focus blocks writing?” vs. “did I produce a certain amount of quality work?” It seems like the latter is such an intimidating bar to measure up to — or maybe that’s just me? — when clearly what matters most is whether we put in a good day’s effort.
Effort x time x intention = finished work. Keep at it!