Adapting Strategy to the Task

If you read the last blog on energetic awareness, then this sort of follows on that. This arose from my thinking about the different stages of the creative process. In my own case, I’m in the process of writing a PhD thesis on the transformation of the hero. One of the initially challenging aspects of the writing experience, is dealing with the pressure to produce work (whether this is self-imposed or coming from a supervisor), and being ok with where you are at any given time on your own creative cycle. There are times of high activity with lots of writing and clearly visible ‘progress’ and there are long periods in between when you don’t make much visble progress but you are doing a lot of reading, thinking, and the rest of it.

Each phase of the write-up has its own energy as well. And it is important to develop awareness of this in order to refine strategies that are appropriate for each phase. Earlier this year for example, my focus was on writing my first draft. This didn’t have to be pretty. It just had to basically say what I wanted to say in a more or less developed form. Most of all, it required getting words on paper, and actually tackling the material in some detail. This was a high energy period. And my goals were very much about completing certain sections in a given time, and meeting and beating an average word count on each writing day over a certain period of time. I gave myself a fairly short time period for this draft and was able to meet my targets by reminding myself each week what my objectives were for the week, and by watching my word-count grow.

Moving into the next stage though, the energy is entirely different. The emphasis is all about structure, clarity, and improvement. Words are a low order priority. Rather than watching how much I write each day, I’ll be focused on refining a chapter over several weeks. The emphasis is now on quality rather than quantity. Where during the high paced first draft period, I would crash every second week with tiredness, this phases is all about managing energy wisely. I often change my approach at the gym to align with wherever I’m at. So, now, rather than trying to run faster and faster times over short intervals, I’m walking at a steady pace for a longer time. The net result is that I cover more ground without running myself down. When I started making the change I thought of Aesop’s tale of the the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise wins the race.

Doing this is good because even before I start, I know that I am increasing the available hours in every day and week. During high intensity periods, I create a lot in burst of roughly 5 hours for about 5 days (25 hrs over 2 weeks), then the next five days I’m mostly recovering. Even with this pattern I was able to produce a lot in a short time. Now, I’ll be able to up my hours to a minimum of 7 per day for each day of the 2 week cycle, making at least 70 hours available. This is appropriate though, because as I said earlier, the nature of the work is now different. The tasks are all slower and require more time. And more time is precisely what I have by observing and working with the energy shift.

In both phases, maintaining health and wellness generally is a high priority. Enough sleep, good diet (low on refined sugars, high in nutritious fresh fruit & veg), lots and lots of water, regular exercise, and time for play. I know that if I don’t make taking care of myself my number one priority I’ll jeopardise my chances of completing the task to the best of my ability. The more you work the mind, the more important rest of the mind becomes. For this reason, no matter how busy I am, I leave my work at the office and I do my best to shift my mental focus then as well. The evening is about spending time with my wife. It’s about home and friends and having a life.

This separation is really important and it’s something that I used to be very bad at doing. This meant that I never gave myself or my wife a break from whatever I had my head in. This went on for several years, but it was unsustainable.

By any measure, I’m an ambitious person, and there is always something or several projects that I’m passionately pursuing. But I used to be unable to put things aside properly, mostly out of fear, and an unwarranted feeling of being behind. It was also because I lived for a long time thinking, that my dream life was always around the corner – it was always after I’d achieved this or that. Then a couple of years ago after the death of a friend, it finally started to sink in that this is my dream life right now. It’s never tomorrow, it’s always now and so I had to start living in the now, appreciating it, and appreciating life. This meant that I pretty much stopped living in constant fear. I realised that I wasn’t playing catch-up and that I was always precisely where I needed to be in that moment. This changed my feeling of time completely.

I know it appears that I’ve strayed from my original topic. But have I?

It was only when I really started living in the now that I became more sensitive the needs of the moment, and thus started developing more appreciation of the need to be flexible with my strategies. I’m still not perfect at this. When I’m on a roll, I want it to continue, and I will still get every last bit out of it, but then I’ll accept that I’ve actually move on to a different phase and just enjoy that too. It’s kind of like being at the ski slopes. I love going down hill really fast, but I appreciate the rest that the ride to the top gives, and it’s always a chance to socialise, and enjoy the scenery, unless it’s a whiteout!

Enjoy the journey. And remember, you’re living your dreamlife now. If you don’t like it, accept your part in creating it, and realise that you have the power to change it. This is the awareness needed for a good strategic mind.

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