I’ve followed with interest the recent discussion of the challenges
that self-employed craftsmen face in getting others to take our work
time (and chosen careers) seriously. I agree that having clear
personal boundaries helps with this, and that a lot of these
problems occur because we allow them to.
As a woman, I’ve struggled with the cultural programming to be
accommodating and helpful and the pressure to place my needs and
work after those of my family and friends. I also got lots of
parental messages about “getting a real job” (although I admit my
dad stopped with that when I was commissioned by his alma mater to
create a Collar-of-State for their Chancellor!) I’ve worked at my
craft for over thirty years, most of them out of a home studio.
During a few I actually had a retail shop for my work. During part
of that time I raised a family and was very active in several
Time and self-observation have taught me a lot about my work style
(by this I mean what it takes for me to get focused, shift into
productive mode and work smoothly and effectively) and what
conditions I require for optimal creativity and productivity.
Recognizing my style and accepting that I have concentration and
distraction issues (I’m very right-brained and ADD like a lot of
creative people) has allowed me to make the most effective use of my
time and energy as well as giving me permission to set clearer
boundaries around my work. I need this structure, just like I need
good light and the right tools.
I don’t know whether anyone’s ever done studies about the changes in
brain waves and chemistry a craftsman goes through during work, but
I’m very aware of having several levels of focus, some of which are
more fragile than others. I’m hypersensitive and normally very
aware of everything going on around me. I’ve learned that I require
a “Centering” period when I first sit down at my bench. This helps
me to begin to narrow down my focus, and usually involves getting
some music turned on, adjusting my lights, putting away the tools
and bits from my previous day’s work and playing around with a few
sketches or ideas, and typically takes me about half an hour. If I’m
especially stressed or know that I’m likely to be interrupted by a
delivery or important call, I find it difficult to shift into what I
call “Deep State”, the place of intense focus and concentration
where time is meaningless and I do the most technically challenging
and visionary work. Instead, I hang out in “Process State”, a state
of light concentration where I do the repetitive, no-brainer sorts
of jobs like making bezels and other findings. I can move in and out
of this level pretty easily, answer the phone, go to the door, etc.
“Deep State” is precious and often hard to access, although I find
the more frequently I can get there, the more easily I can shift
into it. My husband calls it “Studio Brain” and knows that when I
start shifting into that state (like in the weeks proceeding a
show), he’s on his own for dinner and heaven forbid I have to make a
decision about what to cook or what laundry needs washing. In “Deep
State” I find I often accomplish an amazing amount of work in a
short period of time and sometimes even come to with pieces on the
bench before me that I have no idea how I did. “Holy cow! Where did
that one come from?!?” In order to access “Deep State” I’ve learned
that I must have long blocks of time (4-6 hours) without
interruption, and that having several of these blocks in a row
creates a synergy that allows me to access that state more easily
each time. As a result, I find I work in bursts lasting about 6-8
weeks, starting shallow and gradually working deeper, ultimately
turning our a huge volume of work in the final two weeks. Then I
take a couple of weeks off, do other stuff, and recharge.
Once I learned that others took my time and work only as seriously
as I did, I became much more assertive about my boundaries. As
others have commented, this is what answering machines are for.
Figure out why you feel uncomfortable saying “No.” to the demands of
others. Figure out what you require to concentrate and produce.
Creating a working environment that feeds your creativity and
productivity is every bit as important as having the right tools and
materials, and this means being able to limit and control
distractions if they are an issue for you personally.
I’d love to hear whether others experience the different work and
concentration state I seem to, and what helps you slip into you
personal “Deep State.”
Walk in Beauty,
Jewels of the Spirit