The world is constantly pinging us, trying to rip what sliver of attention we had from one task to the next. Our addiction to “connection” and instant gratification has left us feeling unfocused and unproductive. All it takes is a scroll through Instagram to initiate a mental list of everything we’re not doing, accompanied by a little self-pity.
As I struggled for six weeks to work through my list of tasks to convert a live workshop to a self-paced format, I realized that my patience was out of shape. I had been completing an endless series of 30-minute tasks for more than a year, all of which did matter, but none of which were part of larger whole. They were blog posts and emails and landing pages, all one-offs that had their place. But this endless slog, it left my frustrated.
So as the workshop project remained my #1 priority week after week, it became clear that I was going to need to cultivate patience to recognize my step-wise progress and feel accomplished. Sure I loved the work I was doing, but the go-go-go pace of information and technology had left me unable to discover the quiet persistence I ultimately needed to finish a large project.
If you’ve ever started a big album project, whether to document today or a story from the past, you’ve likely felt this resistance. You can envision the end result, but once the work begins you wish that finishing could be as fast as your Amazon orders. Of course creating is fun, but when did it also get to be so much hard work?
I wrapped up this project today and in doing so came to really see how my slow-and-steady efforts had paid off. There was no rush to the finish, but rather a gentle glide through the last touches and tasks. My patience had been challenged, but I worked hard to build those muscles day-by-day and week-by-week. In this post I’m sharing how you can do the same.
5 Steps to Strengthen Your Creative Patience
1. Create your perfect-fit plan. Putting “work on project” on your list is a recipe for procrastination and paralysis; it’s just too big. Instead, I recommend beginning any larger or long-term activity with a clear outline of steps. As you think through what will be involved, you’ll have an opportunity to avoid some of the issues that may challenge your ability to persevere. When your plain is perfectly tailored to both your values and your reality, checking items off one by one is easier.
2. Quiet the noise. Creating an environment for yourself that supports true focus will also help you strengthen your patience. This could mean literal quiet, but more importantly it should involve limiting new ideas and responsibilities. Nothing gets my panties in a bunch more than an endless stream of new emails and Facebook notifications while I’m trying to make substantial progress. It’s OK to set boundaries (and in multiple zones of your life) that help you remember what you’re doing and to keep doing it.
3. Keep leaning on your “why”. Every project begins for a reason: a deeper yearning to master a subject, gain control of a mess, or craft a legacy. The fun parts help you get started, especially during the shopping phase. However, it’s the underlying “why” that will give you the patience to see it through, that sense of personal responsibility which drives all of us to grow and improve. Turn to this when you just can’t find the motivation to continue.
4. Seriously, quiet the noise. Everyone gets distracted. Everyone has to live life among people who need your attention. Your job is to remember what’s important (see #3), how you’re achieving it (see #1), and keep coming back to the conditions that help you focus and keep moving forward (see #2). When your patience is the thinnest is when you can most benefit from pausing, disconnecting, and listening to the quiet. Be still to find patience.
5. Celebrate every success. Why don’t we only celebrate the last birthday before death? Well, because that would be terribly bittersweet in a mostly sad way. Then why do you only feel accomplished upon finishing a project? While completion is nice, it’s the journey along the way that teaches us the most and connects us to the creative process. Stop waiting to pat yourself on the back and start acknowledging that every milestone or accomplishment as one more step in the right direction.
Do you struggle with patience to complete projects? Which of these steps do you most need to act on? Leave a comment below to share your reaction to this post.