Today’s Ask Me Anything question comes from John Thomas.
How in the world do you keep focused to do the work consistently with outside pressures of family (spouse and four kids who I want to spend time with) and financial pressures? How do you carve out an habitual practice of doing your work?
PDF Transcript: Coming Soon
Shawn: I have a question here Steve from John Thomas that I think I’d like to take because it’s something that I think we’ve touched on before, but it’s worth going over again.
How in the world do you keep focused to do the work consistently with outside pressures of family, spouse and four kids—who I want to spend time with—and financial pressures? How do you carve out a habitual practice of doing your work?
This is the big, big question, and it’s repeated in many different ways throughout the entire list of a hundred-odd questions here—and, it’s a really difficult one to answer, especially after listening to you talk about urgent and important, Steve. Because, it really is important to spend time with your family, especially your wife and your four kids because every day that your kids are growing up is a day you’re losing really kind of a magical time in their lives, so . . .
The difficult thing is to make sure that you do take some time to do the things that are really important to you as much as your family is. So what I do is I get up early. Some people stay at work a little later or they take a half an hour less at lunch, and what I do is, I take at least an hour, hopefully two hours every morning to work on what it is that I’m writing— the long form piece or a blog post for Steve’s website, whatever it might be . . . That way, when I do get it done early—when I say early, I get up at about 5:00—my kids wake up usually between 6:30 and 7, so that gives me an hour, hour and 15 minutes. My wife gets up at about 6:30, so it kind of works out.
So, that is the habit that you need to get into. It’s literally going to bed a little bit earlier so you can get up earlier. It’s going to bite into time with friends, and if you’re at work and somebody says “Hey, let’s go grab a drink after work,” you have to beg off of those things, and . . . That’s the hard part because sometimes you really do want to go hang out with your friends. So that’s my biggest advice, is to carve out an hour, even a half hour, just a little bit of time every single day. That includes weekends, too.
So, that’s my advice for those of you out there with kids and family and a lot of different responsibilities.
Steve: Very good answer, Shawn. You’re the man for doing that, to get up before all those three kids start doing their thing.
Callie: You have to have a fluid mentality, be flexible, too. Children are unpredictable by nature. After my first child was born, I found myself going into panic mode every time he was sick or a baby sitter didn’t show up. It always seemed to happen when I was on deadline . . . The same for other work interruptions, such as basement flooding after storms, AC breaking on the hottest day of the year . . . That saying, “shit happens,” is true and it’s better to shovel it out of the way than let it stop you all together.
Today, the only thing I know for certain about the upcoming day is that it is 24 hours long and that at some point I’m going to try to tackle both personal and client projects. I have a plan for when I’ll tackle them, but I don’t know if interruptions will arrive and pull me away. Knowing and accepting that interruptions are an option, rather than becoming upset and surprised when they happen, has been a much easier way to live. It’s also helped me prioritize my day. The most important stuff gets done first.
I’ve started getting up early too. I work and go to school and my husband isn’t working and is always in the house, so the only time to get quiet house time is for me to get up at 4:30. I’m also lucky because the Starbucks in my area open at 5a. So at least once a week I leave my house in the dark to go write for a few hours. I thought I’d be the only person there. There are like 20 of us, with kids (I have three) who just need a different atmosphere to get things flowing. The baristas all talk low and the music is mostly instrumental. I grumble about it, but its the only thing that works. I have to be in bed by 9:30, which sometimes bothers my husband because he’s been with the kids all day and wants my attention. But its the only way to feel good about my work, and spend time with the kids and him. When I don’t write I’m very cranky and irritated that I didn’t get this very important thing done.
As important as it is to have a structured plan for getting your work done, it is equally as important to not beat yourself up when it all doesn’t go according to that plan! Gladly, the muses forgive. I write country songs, and as the kids got older and my trips to Nashville got delayed or on occasion skipped…or when I didn’t write as much as I wanted to during a particular week/month due to my day job…I’d get down on myself. Resistance would then hear its cue and chime in with “other writers are working harder than you…you’re an amateur…you gave it a good run, maybe it’s time to hang it up”…etc…etc… When you have the best creative intentions and “shit happens” forgive yourself! Help yourself up, dust yourself off, refocus and write!!!
Yes, this is a perennial discussion, but worth revisiting because the effort to work in solitude requires a boost, a cheering section, and role models. What works really well for me is intense collaboration with my partner, who also works at home. This mutual support has brought us closer in to each of our work routines and daily builds a sense that we are in this together. Before I even knew I had a writing voice to exercise, I wrote in my journal every morning. My partner made sure I had that time even when the babies were little. He’d take them out for a 45 minute walk, ski, bike ride…it became part of his day and remains to this day, with teens, he is the early morning guy. That 45 minutes is not enough to answer my needs now, but we have strong habits of carving that time out for me and making decisions that get both of our professional needs met. xo S
Life and work in the music industry is very demanding. We work with folks that depend on us. I believe family comes first. Work ethic and having a play ethic are important to maintain the the stress levels that are in every part of our lives. Love your philosophy! I practice it everyday and I feel better for it.
This is great advice. I have no problem rising early, I get up at 5:00 AM just about every day. However, I have a young daughter who may wake up at 5:30 AM, or possibly 7:30 AM; I never know. Accepting this unpredictable interruption and remaining fluid with my work has improved my attitude and work performance greatly.
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