It is said that anyone can do something for 20 minutes (thank you WMT – you know who you are) and if that’s true then we’re all in good shape when it comes to finding the discipline for daily creative effort. But discipline takes more than agreeing we could do something for a short time – it takes doing it.
There is a tool we all have right now that virtually guarantees that each and every one of us can apply ourselves for a solid span of time even in the face of our underwhelming enthusiasm.
Before we reflect on this useful tool, however, it helps to recognize why we resist doing the work our creative lives demand of us in the first place. One reason we lack discipline is because of the fear of wasted time. By now we all pretty much agree that art is hard work. From short stories to poems to painting to song-writing we all fear, at least from time to time, that we’re wasting our lives by kidding ourselves about our creative talent. And while there is a whole other discussion to be had about why that thinking is wrong-headed, the fact of the matter is that it exists and we have to overcome it.
Probably the second biggest reason we resist sitting down and getting to work is laziness. Most of us already have jobs that suck up a better portion of our lives, and to add even more focused time and energy onto other projects can feel like one endless pile of chores. Easy enough, then, to overlook the reward of completing a project when the journey of a thousand miles is still only ten miles in.
What we’re really struggling with, however, is one of the great themes of creative expression – time and the inferred (and impending) end of it. When we think about time in terms of the finite, as in the end of our lives, it’s easy to forget that the art we create is permanent, as much as anything is permanent, and the associated feelings of isolation and despair don’t help us when our doubts persist. But the effort of art is worthwhile, and fortunately for us there is a tool we can use to make everything all better.
I was recently introduced to a very simple device that has revolutionized my productivity, and it’s something readily available to us almost anywhere we go: a timer.
Now hear this – the timer is our friend! Once the timer is set things begin looking up. With time counting down we need only bear with our task for long enough to allow the timer to do its thing, for ten minutes, twenty, or an hour. If you think this sounds silly just try it. Try anything, but if your idea isn’t working better than mine then do it. Chances are your twenty minute experiment will double before you actually stop. Some of you might tune out the timer or, finding yourselves interrupted by the annoying alarm, may even toss the thing across the room and keep going. In any case I wager you’ll discover, as did I, that the timer is invaluable for getting started, and that’s all we really need. Once we get past the initial resistance to starting the seas open before us and the sailing can commence.
Try this: set your timer for twenty minutes and get to work. As soon as you’re done come back here and tell us about the experience. Did you go longer? Were you satisfied that it helped get you into your chair and working? Was it a complete failure?
Let us know!