Category Archives: Creativity

Staying Home Update #4

August 10, 2020

Creativity / Culture and Society / Reading Books

It’s been a minute since I’ve written about how I am actually doing as the Coronavirus continues to ravage the US. The obvious setbacks that we are all experiencing are ever-present in my life. I stay at home over 95% of my time, with the exception of getting groceries from the supermarket and the farmer’s market once a week as well as dropping off our household trash and recycling. This means that visiting friends and family, working on a film project with other people, or something as mundane as going to a movie theater to see a big-budget film are simply out of the question.

To delve deeper, I released a short film on my Youtube channel last month that conveys my emotional state since the lockdown began last March.

Here is “The Summer Inside”:

Yes, I am feeling all of what this film communicates, but beyond this low-grade, ongoing depression (and anxiety), my world has opened up in different ways:

  • I have had more time to devote to learning how to play a new musical instrument. Every day, I’ve been learning something new on my ukulele. I never thought that I would enjoy this so much!
  • I have had more time to make my films. As of today, I have filmed, edited, and released 18 short films on my Youtube channel since Easter back in April. I’ve lost count of how many hours of filming and editing this has taken up! I’ve learned so much, and I’ve become a more capable filmmaker in the process.
  • I have been working toward building a personal system of daily actions in my life that addresses self-care and what I need to cultivate for my creative work to keep growing. Specifically, I’ve been reframing my workflow and optimizing each step of the work that I do in the interest feeling healthier, stronger, and more fulfilled.
  • I have been exercising consistently every day. This reaps so many benefits.
  • I have been reading very good books.

As limiting as sheltering in place has been, I have carved out these small ways to keep developing my life. None of this is easy, by the way. All of the above has involved lots of trial and error, research, and fighting doubt, which is one of my longstanding foes.

Like the rest of the world, I have no idea when everything will return to being like it once was. Maybe the world has changed permanently, for better or worse, because of all this. I know that I will continue to nurture the small amount of good that is growing out of this experience. I want to figure out how I can sustain all of this even when Covid-19 someday settles down and the world starts to open back up again.

Until then, I will read my books, write for this blog, create my short films, meander daily on our long driveway in the woods at a slow but purposeful pace, play my piano, strum my ukulele, sing, enjoy fresh veggies from our garden, and keep myself and my loved ones as safe as I can.

Life, in whatever form, pushes forward. In my own way, I am doing the same.

Incidentally, my newest film release, which describes colonialism, is out right now. Have a look at it right here:

The Value of Time-Blocking Your To-Do List

August 3, 2020

Creativity / Culture and Society

As far as modern productivity goes, the standard to-do list has become a primary tool that allows all of us to get several tasks accomplished. Its simplicity is as perfect as its functionality. Not only does it declutter our minds, but it also helps us to remember important tasks that can get lost during a hectic day. Once an item on this list is sufficiently addressed, it can be crossed off with a satisfying slash of a pen. It is practically a work of art in and of itself.

I do not wish to take any glory away from the marvelous to-do list, but I have found that the addition of time-blocking to any to-do list increases its effectiveness exponentially. As an independent filmmaker who makes short films every week, reads lots of books, actively plays three musical instruments, and cares for an entire household of plants, animals, and furnishings, I need the effectiveness that this provides. Time-blocking gives my creative life the space to flourish every day.

Take for example the simple act of meeting up with a friend for coffee. It would never be enough to simply say “Yes!! Let’s have coffee some day!”. A mutual agreement that the meeting is desired does not in any way fully guarantee that it will ever happen. Now, if you commit to a specific time and place for the coffee meet-up to occur, then the value of the commitment and the likelihood of it materializing virtually quadruples.

When you assign a specific time of day and timeframe for a task to be accomplished, you are time-blocking.

To give you a real world example, let’s compare a (highly fictionalized) simple to-do list with one that incorporates time blocking:

Saturday Morning To-Do List:

  • Call Bubba about “The Party”
  • Order pink leggings
  • Dig a hole 4’X6′ in the back yard
  • Buy formaldehyde at corner store
  • Look up Lemon tart recipe
  • Eat vinegar

On the one hand, it is beneficial that all of this written down. A person can simply choose any task at random and just do it. What this simple list does not do is prioritize the more valuable tasks, and it does not take into account how long each task will take. (Digging a hole of that size without a big machine will take a while.)

Here’s the same list with time-blocking added in:

Saturday Morning To-Do List

8:00am-10:00am—Dig 4’X6′ hole in the back yard

10:00am-10:30am—Look up Lemon tart recipe

10:30am-10:45am—Order pink leggings

11:00am-12:00noon—Go to the corner store to buy formaldehyde and call Bubba about “The Party” on the way there

12Noon—eat vinegar for lunch

Notice how the most difficult and time-consuming task of digging that hole takes top billing. Prioritization is a key element here. What I also like about time-blocking is that it formalizes the task into more of a commitment. It also gives you a sense of what you can realistically do given the amount of time you have.

In my experience, there is one caveat that I need to explain. Time-blocking can be difficult to implement if you’re not used to it and can take a lot of trial and error to tweak.

Here are some helpful tips that I have learned as I have worked toward implementing time-blocking in my workflow:

  • Instead of trying to time-block an entire day or workday, do it within smaller chunks of tine. For example, I generally divide my day into two time-blocked ranges. One chunk extends from around 8am to 12noon, and the second chunk extends from 12noon to 5pm. I do not plan out the second chunk until noon. I do this because events can happen during the day that can derail your well laid plans. Priorities can shift, and surprises happen. By delaying the planning of the afternoon, I allow for some flexibility and spontaneity.
  • I use a digital calendar for my time-blocking. I tried using a physical notebook at first, but it got a little too messy when I have had to shift tasks and timeframes around throughout the day. The digital calendar that I use lets me move items up and down along the day’s schedule as well as color code different groups of tasks such as “house chores” and “client work”.
  • Exercise the freedom to be as specific or generalized as you want. For example, you can allot small chunks of time to micro-tasks that would not take an entire half-hour. For example, from 5:10pm to 5:15pm, you can send that text file you’ve been meaning to get out to your co-worker, and then, from 5:15pm to 5:30pm write out your shopping list for your stop at the grocery store on the way home from work. Otherwise, you can just say “house cleaning’ from 9am to 11am and group all related tasks together under that heading without being so specific. I actually do both of these depending on the tasks at hand. If I have a lot of small but important tasks, time-blocking down to the minute has helped to keep my momentum going and to be more detailed and methodical in my approach; however, this is generally not necessary all of the time.
  • Give yourself plenty of buffers. Each big task I assign almost always has at least a half hour of extra time already built in. I might give an hour to a task that only needs a half hour. This gives me more time to finish the task with less pressure and allows space for interruptions. Time-blocking does not have to be rigid at all if that’s what you prefer.
  • Think about incorporating tasks that have more of a long-term significance in your life. If you have a huge project that will take months to finish, time-blocking small parts of your day to work on it will progressively get you closer to finishing.
  • Do not time-block every minute of your life. You can make your evenings and weekends completely schedule-free for example. Make time to decompress without a detailed schedule that incorporates doing nothing, chillaxing with a good book, or anything fun you like to do. Your mind and body will always need a break from being on your “A” game.
  • Think about time-blocking across an entire week or a month. This practice is not restricted to a daily schedule and can be adapted toward long-term goals and dreams.
  • Lastly, be gentle with yourself. I have had mornings that were completely derailed by an unexpected event or with meandering on Etsy trying to find a birthday gift for a friend. Don’t beat yourself up. Simply review your to-do list and re-do the schedule. It’s all good. You’ll still have the satisfaction of getting through your work in a systematic and organized fashion eventually.

I need to reiterate that this might be quite difficult to implement depending on your work style and environment. If you work in an office space that requires constant email exchanges and phone interruptions, this would be extremely tough to carry out. However, it is a worthwhile pursuit to try incorporating this into your day. For myself, it has VASTLY improved my workflow and helps me keep my time and priorities in perspective. Play around with different time chunks, or use time blocking to fine-tune a daily ritual that addresses short and long-term goals.

All of this might feel like extra work, but remember that this is all up to you. You can do this in any way that works for you.

Be creative, but most of all, give yourself the benefit of at least giving time-blocking a try. This is what I have done, and it has given me more control over everything and the life-affirming satisfaction of having a plan for getting my life together in a way that suits all of my needs and desires.

How I Cultivate Creativity Every Day

July 27, 2020

Creativity / Culture and Society

Creativity is a tricky concept. In my experience, it can be both omnipresent and elusive at different times. It is omnipresent in the form of play and free-form art like doodling and improvisational dance. It is elusive when it needs an inspiration and compulsion to drive it.

A composer hears a melody in her head.

A writer envisions a meaningful story.

A manager needs to solve a big problem in his team’s workflow.

Today, I am addressing that elusive form of creativity that results in a desired work of art or a clever solution to a difficult challenge.

How does one get into the necessary headspace to come up with new solutions and techniques?

As a songwriter, I think of an idea for a song and eventually end up with the actual song in a finished form with music and lyrics. This same process has happened with blog posts and the short films I have made. I have done this often enough that I have developed my own ways of cultivating my creativity. My methods may not work for everyone, but they have yielded satisfying gains in my life.

In no particular order, here are some of my keystone practices:

    Unless there is an actual deadline to meet, I am the kind of artist who lets ideas percolate and gain momentum along their own time. I have written songs that took a year to coalesce. For a documentary film I completed last year, I spent several months just letting the whole concept of it bounce around in my head. I have found that forcing art to happen in a way that applies too much pressure on getting a specific result is a recipe for a finished work that is noticeably contrived. When I allow an idea to germinate slowly across time, I get the chance to delve deep into the roots and nitty gritty of it. In this sense, the process, beyond even the actual piece of art itself, becomes more surefooted, and the learning grows much deeper.

    There can be important progress in times of stillness. In the mornings, I sometimes lie in bed awake before getting up. I may look like I am staring up at the ceiling like a zombie, but internally, I am working out a problem in my head or mapping out the workflow for a film project. At my desk in my studio, I quietly sip my warm morning coffee as I mull over a concept in my head. The best thing about mornings is the freshness with which I feel my brain approaches anything I throw at it. Sure, there may be an initial groggy fogginess, but beyond that, a rested mind forges a path toward clarity and focus. My mornings also tend to be quiet. The lack of noise pollution opens up expansive fields of contemplative space.

    Every day, I go on a solitary walk for one hour or for 3 miles, whichever suits my schedule best. This is not one of those frenzied power walks that looks far too ridiculous. My walks are often slow, meandering forays along the remote country road that leads to and from my house in the woods. While my legs move, my mind wanders even further to see shapes and forms that cannot be seen inside a room of four walls. I take in the glorious trees that surround me and the blue skies above. I listen to the sound of birds communicating. I pay attention to my breathing. I have made tremendous breakthroughs in my creative work on walks like this.

    I make a concerted effort to read more books than news articles and blogs. They are a vital source of inspiration for me. The long-form nature of any book allows a reader to delve deep into a topic or narrative. This forces my brain to make connections and to conceptualize ideas along a substantially lengthy thread of complex abstractions. Reading a book is exercise for the brain. This activity summons internal visualizations, questions, and emotions. Each book is also a window into its author’s brain. Each page conveys a separate set of sensibilities and inclinations. A book offers a dazzling panoramic view of someone else’s perspective of the world. This is sustenance for a creative mind.

    TV and many forms of digital visual entertainment do not offer as much depth as reading a book. It’s called entertainment for a reason. Certainly, the escape from reality and the visual feast that it gives can be enjoyable and fun, but it leaves little room for contemplation across time. In a half-hour sitcom, a conflict in a plot gets resolved. In a two-hour major motion picture, everything gets neatly wrapped up before the end credits role. The engagement is too passive because everything has been given to the audience quickly. There is far less to grapple with. Of course, there are incredibly powerful and wonderful films and tv shows out in the world, but they are not as common as one would hope. (I tend to favor foreign films that follow structures and pacing that diverge from the immediacy and flashiness of American-style filmmaking.) More often than not, digital entertainment is addictive and adds up to precious time lost over something sparkly and inconsequential.

    Because we make mistakes and bad decisions, it becomes difficult to trust our intuition. However, I have learned that it is through our mistakes that we can fine tune our sensibilities and inner compass. We have to be willing to make a lot of mistakes and to give ourselves the space and time to question them, struggle with their consequences, and decide how to deal with similar situations in the future. Like anything in life, the more we try, the better we get, even if the gains are microscopically incremental. A gain is still a gain regardless of its size. I have learned through NUMEROUS mistakes to trust myself even more. Learning breeds instinctual acuity. The more I learn, the more I know—this makes most decisions much easier to make. I make every effort to trust myself and my abilities. Any mistakes along the way will only benefit me in the long term.

You are welcome to try any of these techniques. None of them are based on exact science but have been culled out of my own creative pursuits. I live a life in which I write for this blog, make short films that I release every week, and play music every day. I actively replenish my creative energy in any way that I can. I do all of the above with consistency and a whole lot of patience.

PS. If you have not seen this week’s film release, here it is. I unbox and review my brand new aNueNue tenor ukulele. Check it out: