Couch designed by Michael Rowe from the Noun Project

Couch designed by Michael Rowe from the Noun Project

In Manage Your Day-to-Day, Seth Godin tells us: “Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it.” So how do we do that? Michael Nobbs — who suffers from the debilitating disease Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome — tells us how it’s done:

Slowly, over the past decade or so, as I have built up a creative career, I’ve learnt that the way to have a sustainably creative life takes three basic things:

  • Working little and often (perhaps for just 20 minutes or less a day)
  • Focus
  • Recognizing what has been achieved

It’s amazing what can be achieved if we embrace these three things. It’s a little like making the decision to put one or two drops of dye into a bowl of water on a daily basis. If you commit to it every day, slowly, very slowly, the water will start to change colour.

Michael’s three tips allow us to make progress even when we’re low on energy or unmotivated. For sure, even a little bit of time every day can add up quickly.

Learn more about being creative even when you don’t feel like it, and see the value Nobbs places on recognizing his achievements over on his blog.

  • Aqeel Fikree

    The three basic things mentioned shows quite an insight. I take baby steps, and when I look back at the things I’ve achieved in a week, or a month or a year, those little steps add up to a mountain of victories and achievements.

    • tannerc

      You nailed it Aqeel. It’s by taking this small steps and occasionally stepping back to see what’s been accomplished that can provide just enough momentum to keep going.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • venkyiyer58

    I didn’t quote get the “working little and often (perhaps for 20 minutes or less a day)” part. How does 20 minutes a day-even if you do all 365 days a year-make for “often”?

    • Mia

      I agree. What? 20 minute sessions fine, but 20 minutes a day? You’re having a giraffe!

      • tannerc

        See Micah Andrew Hasty’s comment above. 🙂

    • Micah Andrew Hasty

      I believe Nobb’s is referring to specific projects. Likely if you already have a “creative career” you’ll be working on multiple projects at once all with separate deadlines. His thought of 20 minutes a day speaks more to the idea of “biting it off in small chunks” or “baby steps”. If we work at least 20 minutes a day on a project that is brick-walling us we can make a greater impact and move forward in the project.

      • tannerc

        I think you got it right Micah.

        Nobb’s is simply stating that the 20 minutes we set aside a day for a single project that we may be struggling with is often enough to not only make good progress after time, but to also get us to a point where we don’t feel stuck with the project anymore. It’s a nice trick to essentially propel us forward!

        Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • venkyiyer58

        Yeah. What you said makes sense.

  • Sherri Shoemaker

    I agree…small steps are better than no steps 🙂

    • tannerc

      Yeah! Especially if you want to “get” somewhere with your work. The only way to move is to take steps, big or small. Thanks Sherri.

  • James Swan

    Totally agree…but wonder how best to apply this to ongoing creative projects. Maybe it’s time for me to re-evaluate how I approach my daily work. Wonder how smaller bites will impact my finished product. Will I be more energized or more frustrated by the perceived slower pace. Stay tuned…..

    • tannerc

      It’s all about testing what works and doesn’t work for you, personally. Maybe breaking up your work into smaller increments will help you actually achieve more, but it might also hinder your momentum.

      The only way to find out is to experiment! Let us know what you find out James.

  • Berm Lee should be the link under “tells us how it’s done.”

    • Sasha

      Good catch!! Fixed. 🙂

    • tannerc

      Thanks for catching that Berm!

  • Lee Truesdell

    Really appreciate this discussion. My path has been very similar to Nobbs’ – a decade of unraveling a life-long pattern of PTSD and its attending symptoms. My progress has often felt glacial, truly, and these three steps have been essential for me as well. And, not incidentally, what I’ve learned about the process of change and the nuances of how it works are helping me immensely in my healing arts and coaching practice. I can share what I’ve learned to help my clients move forward with greater ease, and that makes it all worthwhile!

  • Michael Nobbs

    Hello Tanner, thanks so much for talking about this.

    I can see from the discussion that there is some confusion about what I mean by working just twenty minutes a day on a creative project. I would like to clarify for your readers.

    Over the last decade and half there have been plenty of days that I haven’t been well enough to work for anymore than twenty minutes. I learnt very early on with this nasty illness that the way to keep my spirits up was to feel as though I was making some progress with my creative life however small that felt or appeared to the outside world. I found that by changing how I worked (I used to paint large paintings) to something much smaller (making tiny drawings) meant I could finish something in just twenty minutes. Usually even on bad days I could manage that.

    Working this way meant I could build up a body of work reasonably quickly. The drawings became part of an illustrated blog, then a illustrated journal. Yes sometimes I worked more than twenty minutes, but not often.

    These days my health is much improved but there are still days I can’t do more than a few minutes work. I’ve learnt to focus on what I can do and generally work on projects that can be moved on in twenty minute chunks of time. Some days there will only be one chunk of time in a day, others more.

    The important thing is that it is possible to keep things moving by just focusing for twenty minutes. Obviously the more twenty minute sessions the faster I will move, but better to make some progress then none at all.

    At my lowest times I have still been able to draw, blog, write and podcast (not all at the same time!).

    Last year my book Drawing Your Life was published by Penguin. I made that book one page at a time and in largely twenty minute sessions.

    It is possible to have a creative life (and even a career) by working for twenty minutes a day.

  • Denise

    As a person who also suffers with CFS and Lupus, I really appreciate this and knowing I am not alone.

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