I’ve been feeling called to make more art lately. I can’t stop thinking about potential ideas for animated Pens, that have no purpose but to be looked at/and or hovered over. I’m being held back from following through on my ideas not only by my lack of time, but the feeling that I need to “clear the decks” before I can engage in such an activity.
I keep thinking that when I have connected with my kids and partner, put a sufficient day’s work into my day job, completed my essential mental-health-maintenance activities, attended the extra-curricular and social commitments, made sure I’m up to date with life admin, arrived on a plan to feed the family, made some progress in the endless battle against the house devolving into a mess, then I can indulge in a little creative coding.
The problem with that approach is that by trying to get everything on the todo list done before I start the fun stuff, the day has either run out of hours or I have run out of energy.
In Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman suggests the answer to this predicament is to decline to clear the decks at all.
What’s needed instead in such situations, I gradually came to understand, is a kind of anti-skill: not the counterproductive strategy of trying to make yourself more efficient, but rather a willingness to resist such urges – to learn to stay with the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed, of not being on top of everything, without automatically responding by trying to fit more in. To approach your days in this fashion means, instead of clearing the decks, declining to clear the decks, focusing instead on what’s truly of greatest consequence while tolerating the discomfort of knowing that, as you do so, the decks will be filling up further, with emails and errands and other todos, many of which you may never get round to at all. You’ll sometimes still decide to drive yourself hard in an effort to squeeze more in, when circumstances absolutely require it. But that won’t be your default mode, because you’ll no longer be operating under the illusion of one day making time for everything.
I agree with Burkeman intellectually, but internalising and integrating the advice is hard. I understand that if I want to dedicate time and energy to art, I have to be okay with not being entirely on top of all of my responsibilities. I’m still figuring out what that looks like and how to be okay with it.