Finding a Little Time to Focus (Productive Flourishing Pulse #458)
How to beg, borrow, or steal some time for yourself and your creative projects
Sometimes it’s challenging finding time for creative project work, especially during this time of year with so many family, community, and other commitments.
As I mentioned earlier, I did an audit of my own focus blocks for the remainder of the year and I have 11. 11!
I’m not at all happy about that — so few blocks don’t fund nearly what I need to do, let alone what I want to do. Between working with clients, book interviews, events with paying members, and time off for the holidays, my schedule is full of other commitments that are important, too, so my dedicated solo creative work time is limited right now. (I’m still negotiating how much I’ll write over the holidays, but I’ve learned not to commit to or create deadlines for myself during the holidays.)
If you’re like me, just because your creative time is limited doesn’t mean you can’t find any time to squeeze in a little creative work. You’ll just need to be selective in how you spend it and protective of that time if it’s important to you.
I’m reminded of a favorite passage from’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear:1
For most of human history, then, the vast majority of people have made their art in stolen moments, using scraps of borrowed time — and often using pilfered or discarded materials, to boot. (The Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh says it marvelously: “See over there / A created splendour / Made by one individual / From things residual.”)
[Elizabeth goes on to talk about a man and his painted ox, and then finishes with:]
Is this the ideal environment in which to create — having to make art out of “things residual” in stolen time? Not really. Or maybe it’s fine. Maybe it doesn’t matter, because that’s how things have always been made. Most individuals have never had enough time, and they’ve never had enough resources, and they’ve never had enough support or patronage or reward . . . and yet still they persist in creating. They persist because they care. They persist because they are called to be makers, by any means necessary.
This time of year is one for those stolen creative moments, squeezed in around everything else. Here are a few suggestions on how to make the most of your likely limited focus blocks during December:
Do your own focus block audit. How many 90- to 120-minute blocks do you really have between now and December 31?
Using the results of your audit, do a project cagematch for the projects you’ve planned to do this month. Which ones do you still have time to do and hopefully finish? Which ones can you postpone, or even let go of altogether?
For those projects you want to keep in the month (and year), chunk them down to the core of what must get done for you to feel like you’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Think MVP (minimum viable project): what’s the core of the project you can realistically complete in the time you have available?2
Don’t neglect your recovery blocks. If you have a 2-hour focus block scheduled, carve out 30 minutes of that for recovery. I bet you can still get the important stuff done in that 90 minutes, and the time constraint might actually help you with #3.
Set boundaries on your project time, but leave them fluid enough to accommodate moments of joy you haven’t planned for.
Capture wins from the year to fuel your victory lap. Giving yourself a week to ponder “What have my wins been this year?” and capturing them as bullets as you go allows you to savor them a bit more without rushing it as part of some other thing you’re doing. (Like the annual reflection practice we’ll be sharing with premium subscribers in the next couple of weeks.)
And no matter how much or little you manage to accomplish on your projects this month, give yourself the grace of knowing this: you did your best with the time you had available, and balanced your deep work with other commitments (including self-care) that were just as important.
Other News & Features
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Be on the lookout for this month’s premium content: the annual reflection exercise.
Reads and Seeds
This new section is for great reads I’ve found over the last week and post seeds that I may or may not get around to finishing. Let me know if you like it.
In her wonderful post, “How to Succeed on Substack,”said, “So often in writing, people want advice on how to succeed, but they don’t like it when that advice includes a lot of time or a lot of work. You can’t expect to get the results of a person who works very hard at something without also working very hard at it yourself.” While her post is about writing and Substack, we can generalize it from writing to any endeavor.
- ’s distinction between art, craft, and marketing in Sell Out (With Me, Oh Yeah) spoke to something I’ve also been mulling over for the last few quarters, probably from something else she wrote. She’s been on fire this year.
Studies have shown that savoring pleasant experiences can help people with anhedonia, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities. If it works for people who have anhedonia, I suspect it works even more for those of us who don’t or who are in a funk or minor depressive bout. (See point #7 above about victory laps.)
While Elizabeth is a brilliant writer, I preferred hearing her narrate the book versus reading her.
Yes, this is a deliberate play on the concept of a minimum viable product.