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Concentration and productivity

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,
Susannah Ravenswing
Jewels of the Spirit
Winston-Salem, NC

Susannah, you have described so well the Deep State that is familiar
to me and very similar to the working mode of choice. I don’t even
like the Process State, want to hurry through it and get into that
magical groove when every filament of my body is in tune and focused
and I have an almost out of body one-ness with my work. It really
would be a challenge for some brain/ chemistry studies. Maybe
somewhere in this list is a relative who could pick up on that. It
was so clear, reading what you wrote, that I’m tempted to print out
something similar and hand it to any new friend or acquaintance who
wants more of my time than I have, and say, “Here, this is where I’ll
be for the next day, week, month. Will let you know when I return.”

Thank you for describing the process that must be a common
experience in most or maybe all creativitiy. We get so wrapped up in
it that we fail to examine those stages enough to name them. And it
takes quite awhile to reach the point of self-analysis while we’re
so busy juggling all the parts of our lives as women, especially. Do
you suppose these states are common in the same degree in both men
and women ? That would be good to know and reassuring as well. I
hope your post will encourage much discussion on this thread. Deep
States to us all, in good measure.


Hi, Susannah,

Boy, have you got it right!!! I identify strongly with almost
everything you wrote. I have learned that my muse isn’t fully awake
first thing in the day, and stays up late at night, though I always
used to be a morning person. Also, the more time in the studio, the
more productive, and creative, the time, as you described.

I recently read a description (here?) of another part of the
difficulty, that I identify with. As children, we’re always told,
“First get all your work done, THEN go out and play”. As adults, our
work is never all done, making it very hard to go out and play
without guilt. And, though it is my job, being in the studio is also
play, and I always feel as though I should be doing something else–
cooking, cleaning, responding to the needs of my (16-25 year old)
children and my husband (who also works at home, and so I feel I
should run interference for him). But just before a show, when I get
to shift into “crisis mode”, then I can shirk all other
responsibility for a while, and it’s so great!!!

I’m an “orphan”, so no pressure from parents. My struggles are 90%
with myself. But I think I’m gaining ground. Plus, since the last
two pieces I sold were for $1800 and $8000 retail (I got half), I
feel more justified being in the studio. Now, if I can just keep
that trend going…

Anyway, thanks for expressing so well issues that I find myself
pondering as well!


More than twenty years ago, Betty Edwards, a college instructor who
teaches art to El. Ed. majors wrote a book called “Drawing on the
Right Side of the Brain.” She had noticed that when she was
demonstrating, it was very hard for her to talk to her students. She
put this together with science research about right brain/left brain
discoveries and developed a system of drawing exercises to help
people get over to the right side of their brain. Basically, the
left side is devoted to language and logic. The right side is
holistic. This is an over simplification and if you want a much
better explanation, I recommend any of her books. If you get over to
the right side of the brain, you lose track of time and see things
in a different way. This is what I think is happening when we manage
to get into one of those very focused states. I’m not doing too well
at that lately. Maybe I need to re read her book or just get myself
away from the computer and everything else and get busy

Marilyn Smith

I have been thinking about this since the first email on the subject
but only when the details come out did I want to answer it. The
issue is control…Serious illness causes many people to want to
control their world and all around it…then they think that they can
control their life… Then add to that the anger that comes from
having the “c”… Now friends and family have choices, a thing that
they frequently don’t realize they have. In a way both of you are
fighting for your lives…your friend with cancer and you for
creativity. It seems as though your friend is saying " do all this
stuff and I will live, don’t do it and I will die and it will be your
fault. And you are saying, I can’t create when I have no freedom of
movement or thought. First you can’t keep your friend alive by good
works, your friend needs to fight for her/his life. Second, when you
need to create more than you need approval you will do it…Love
your friend and love your work. Simple, but so hard to do.


Susannah - The Deep State is meditative and it frequently dissolves
all concepts of time. Does anyone else find that the best way to
achieve this state while working in total silence, or also with
classical music playing softly ? I have a friend who is a
polysomnography specialist (intense study of sleep patterns/brain
activity) and I’ll ask her if I can be ‘wired’ at the lab as an
experimental study sometime soon. I’ll work on an intensely detailed
wax model while I’m connected to the equipment and let anyone who
wants to know know what the results show. She can even have an EEG
expert check the brain activity ! We are a rare breed… and I
value all of your questions, answers, and comments.


Related Topic: "Studio Tunes"


Namaste’ M. Mersky

I believe that it a matter of will and intent! Some cultural groups
use the time spent in meditation to expand their will to a point that
their focus can have a profound effect on other people.

This can also teach you to focus your intent to a point that your
work is the only thing in your universe for a time, during that time
you are wholly disconnected from superfluous influences.

This is a very cool experience but when it ends, for me there is a
very big let down, however it is worth it. I just wish I could hit
that plane of coconsciousness more frequently. Wow could I create
some nice pieces then

Kenneth Ferrell

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is a wonderful book for
creativity. Also, Creavitve Visualization by Shakti Gawain. Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi has made a life long study of being in a state
similar to “Deep Brain” which he calls “Flow”, although he covers
"flow" in many different cultures and jobs from pro athletes to
assembly line workers and “flow” in everyday life. His first book
was actually titled “Flow” and he has since written several other
related books.

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Betty Edwards
price: $11.87
Media: Paperback
Release data : 01 September, 1999 

This whole question of accessing the Deep Brain state and other
useful states is a strong interest of mine. And the study of such
states is also one of the major components of NLP (Neuro Linguistic
Programming). Various practitioners of NLP have modeled people from
many careers and walks of life to study how they do what they do so
well. And NLP has developed several methods from studying various
people that they believe can help you replicate similar states of
excellence in yourself.

One of those methods NLP has termed “anchoring”. It simply links a
stimulus; a touch, a word, a simple icon or picture w/ the
state/feeling that you want. This is something you all do everyday
but might have never thought about a link of stimulus and
response/feeling/emotion… For example, listening to a paticular
piece of music that helps inspire you, clearing your bench and work
area so you can focus, etc. are examples of stimulus that help you
reach the state you want.

Perhaps you can access that Deep Brain state w/o all those steps
that you normally have to go through, or can shorten the time
period, perhaps you can increase the feeling using those same
stimulus or perhaps you can find other stimulus that will help you
reach the state easier. By taking a little time to study how you
reach your most effective states you might find out which
ingredients in the process of reaching Deep Brain are important and
which are not.

Below are some links about anchoring. I hope they might prove
useful to some folks on the list. 

And for those figuring out what they want to be when they grow up.
I recommend Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Laurence Boldt &
Work as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond


Re: the friend with a longterm (possibly terminal illness)

I agree this case seems to be about control and a fear of being left
or leaving, so I don’t know if this suggestion will work for you,
but it’s worked for me in 2 cases where friends have had cancer. It
helped that these people had done enough personal work to understand
that one person with a family and job would not be able to shoulder
the load of an adult needing extreme medical care without losing the
ability to take care of their own family/business/themselves.

We created a support team for the person who was ill and called it
"Team (the ill person’s name)". The team was composed of friends
and friends of friends (who didn’t want to see the primary friends
get sucked into an untenable situation). We had a phone tree for
emergencies, and e-mail for regular communication, we also met once
a month for lunch and all checked in with the patient- ate good
stuff, did a lot of laughing and some crying, but always felt better
after. At the monthly meeting we made a schedule for the month; who
was cooking, who was delivering food if the cooks couldn’t, who was
taking the patient to chemo, who was feeding the animals on the day
of chemo (since the patient couldn’t move), who was taking the
patient to the doctor, who was mowing the lawn (teenagers got
drafted) and even who was visiting the patient to cheer her up.

In the team we made sure to accept every kind of help offered and
worked to not make people feel bad that they couldn’t take on more.
Help ranged from a university student who volunteered to do laundry
every couple of weeks when she did her own, to a retired woman who
had had cancer and volunteered to do all the driving and waiting for
chemo to be over.

In the case of the first friend, when her cancer became terminal and
she needed round the clock care, the team worked with the hospice
and arranged to have a friend stay over to give our friend a sense
of the “family” (she had no blood family) she had chosen. In the
case of the second friend, she’s doing well and, though she was
resistant to the team idea at first (she didn’t want strangers
knowing her business), she’s now pleased that the team was there and
has a larger circle to call if things get rough.

Fortunately, everyone in these groups lives by dayplanners, so
scheduling everything was second nature.

Good luck! And remember to state your needs also,

–Nora in Tucson where the desert smelled like rain for 10 minutes a
couple of days ago. Monsoon is coming! Monsoon is coming!

Ah, Orchid, you’ve done it again!

I am frquently astonished how often this forum provides exactly what
I need, before I get around to actually asking, and even when I
didn’t realize what it was I needed.

This thread is a case in point. The ideas are familiar, but had not
been verbalized by/to me in quite this way. Yes, yes! Now I
understand why I haven’t been having fun recently! I kept reading
posts from people referring to how happy their work makes them, and
I just wasn’t feeling that, in spite of mostly fairly enviable
circumstances (as long as you don’t mind teetering on the brink of
bankruptcy, a normal state for a eriter and an artist, even when
they aren’t putting four kids through private college).

The last few days, when I shoved everything else aside to get ready
for my first show of the year, I finally reached the point that I
was in the studio enough to “settle in” and start feeling soooo
happy, even though I’ve been making fairly simple, affordable
pieces. New designs are popping up before my eyes, and just being
there feels so right.

Now I must stop, check my display, document, load the car, yada
yada… and after, do all the stuff I let slide… but, now that
this has been made concrete by the discussion here, I think it will
help me find my way in future more easily.

God (or who/whatever) bless all of you, and this benign entity we
have created that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Walk in


am i terrible? classical music just puts me to sleep (then again,
so does any music playing ‘softly’) production-wise i need music with
words i can sing along to - this ranges from good hard rock and roll
to house/dance music, as long as i know the words and can exert some
physical energy and move around in my chair a bit because sitting
still and doing the same thing over and over again just kills me
production work is very hard for me (meditation makes the ADD a lot
better tho) for designing, meditation or ‘deep state’ anything i
usually learn toward electronic ambient music (again, just me) but
i either have it on really loud (to drown out the sounds of new
york/my roomates) or i’m wearing big monster headphones


    teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, a normal state for a
writer and an artist 

joke passed around at south miami art show: one saturday two
jewelers chipped in 50 cents each for a $1.00 lotto ticket
(florida’s lottery) and - wow - that night they won the $20 million
jackpot. right away a television station found out & sent a reporter
to interview the two jewelers at the show the next day. “tell me
what you plan to do with your $10 million?” the interviewer asked
the first jeweler who spoke up right away, "i plan to build a house
without a workshop and buy a sports car too small to hold any show
stuff. plus i plan to do a lot of traveling - going to places
because i want to visit them not because there’s an art show there."
the interviewer went to the other jeweler and asked the same
question. that jeweler thought for a moment and said, “well,
probably i’ll just keep doing art shows until the money runs out.”


who knows that some of us would do this whether we made much money or

Do you suppose these states are common in the same degree in both
men and women ? 


I am a man and I have the same types of experiences. Dave–whom I
do not know because I am new to this forum–said in his earlier post
that it also applies to him. So far, 100% of the men responding say
that they experience these states (of conciousness–or
unconciousness?). Isn’t it great what statisticians can do with

Del Pearson

Designs of Eagle Creek in South Texas where we are experiencing lots
of rain and thunderstorms.

This is an inspiring thread! The solutions can be as varied as the
people needing them. I had this problem big time, until a very kind
teacher devoted a whole morning to the subject, while I was at art

Many of her suggestions were already mentioned by different people
here, the one that does it for me is this. Always have projects on
the bench in various stages of development. This works for me because
I always have 4-5 things on the go at the same time. Sometimes it’s
just polishing, sanding etc. As that is an activity that lets my
brain free-wheel into the work. When I have to be away from the
studio for longer than just a day, I always leave some work
unfinished just to be able to get back into it later.

Ideas come easier to me when I’m doing ‘no brain’ work! Like when I’m
driving too! (don’t you hate that, when you can’t stop to make a
quick sketch?)

My brain will not come up with anything when I try to force it. I
also use music to ‘space-out’ while I work it depends on the mood I’m
in what that will be, from Santana to Arvo Part. (analyse that!)

Cheers from Oz,

Nora, your Team solution is a wonderful model and an uplifting
story. All of us even possibly faced with such a necessity should
copy and paste and save your model for future reference. It is a
great contribution and example of team effort and cooperative action
at its best. Congratulations and thanks a million for sharing it
with all of us.


Right on Susannah! And for Patricia Hicks, Yes indeedy we of the
mail pursuasion face similar issues. In my neck of the woods it is
very common for wife, children, parents, friends, and so on to
interrupt me with a work in process. I am considered “good with my
hands” and “one who elicits confidence in my ability to solve
problems”. I am frequently imposed upon to save the world because
someone else isn’t up to the challenge of thinking for themselves. I
am a disabled Vet with nothing but time on my hands so I couldn’t
possibly be working on a piece for an upcoming show. I love the deep
state of being wherein I can zone everything else in the world out
of existance, crank up my forge and torch, and create beyond the
realm of language. When I’m there I don’t want to talk or explain my
actions or, for that matter, stop and eat. I’m deep in metal-land
and the only thing I want to hear is some serious classical music
cranked up loud. Due to being superman, superhusband, superdad, and
all those other supers, I rarely get the opportunity to get that
deep. But I love it when I do. Mike

Here’s a funny thing about freeing up the creative brain, for me. I
wonder who else is like this. I like to “watch” tv or at least
listen to NPR while I work. I’ve been that way all my life (puzzled
the heck out of my mother). My interpretation is that I have to give
the left brain something to do so my right brain can work without
interference. I may enjoy the program, but I will scarcely remember
it later.

I have heard that the Chinese call the part of the mind that is very
verbal and never shuts up the “drunken monkwey”. I relate to this,
and my drunken monkey is a bit of an engineer, so it can come in
handy, but must always be kept busy.

The clearest example of what I mean happened some 18-20 years ago. I
was still a potter then. I was decorating a porcelain platter with a
complex landscape when the phone rang. I was home alone, so I
answered it, tucking it under my jaw and continuing to work. It was
my sister-in-law, who wanted a phone number I had upstairs. I said,
“sure, I can get you that!” and kept right on working. I swear, my
experience was that one part of my brain said, “OK, guys, we gotta
go get that,” and the rest of me said, “You go, we’re busy.” Sadly,
it doesn’t work that way, so all of me had to stop and go upstairs,
but most of me was really pissed off to be interrupted. That was
when I realized how much disconnect is possible.

So, any more like me out there?


There is a very interesting article on this very topic in my
newspaper today! It is a Knight Ridder newspaper article, titled
"Insight in the light" by Faye Flam. I don’t know whether you could
find it online somewhere or not. Apparently some professors are
studying insight and creativity, including John Kounios of Drexel
University and Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University. They are
using an EEG and fMRI (whatever that is!) to record brain data. The
EEG measures “when”, the fMRI measures “where” by taking a picture of
the brain. They have found that the EEG records a burst in the right
hemisphere about a third of a second before insight occurs. They say
insight happens best when people “relax and turn their focus to other
things”. This would correlate with several comments about having the
right music on, or beginning with rather rote jobs - which give the
brain a chance to go to work on its own.

Very interesting, and interesting that it came out now when we are
discussing all of this!

Beth in SC who is in danger of growing mold from all the (much
needed) rain

  I have heard that the Chinese call the part of the mind that is
very verbal and never shuts up the "drunken monkwey". I relate to
this, and my drunken monkey is a bit of an engineer, so it can come
in handy, but must always be kept busy. 

Goodness, the “drunken monkey” hit a nerve with me. I felt like I
was being diagnosed. I was just talking about this to my dad
recently, and it caused him to ask me some pointed questions. For a
second, I think he was afraid I was hearing voices. I also like to
listen to NPR while I’m working; maybe that’s why. My monkey feels
compelled to fill the silence if it’s not on. She’s more of a writer
and commentator than an engineer.

I have always been more verbal then visual, but have become more
balanced as I have gotten older and have spent much more time in
visual pursuits. Nevertheless, I seem to always have two tape reels
going in my head al all times: the “action reel” and the “distraction
reel.” Nowhere is this more obvious than when I am pursuing my
favorite athletic pastime, tennis. I may be waiting to receive serve,
but half of my brain is rattling on about the bird on the fence that
just won’t shut up, going back over the point just played, wondering
if my left shoe is too tight, etc. The more I can turn down the
volume on this reel, the better I play. I can’t even believe how good
I am on those rare occasions when I can bind and gag this voice
almost entirely for a couple of sets. It is the zone.

I am quite positive that the zone is there for the finding when I am
doing almost anything else, including making jewelry.

There’s a book called “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy
Gallwey. He talks about quieting the part of the brain that feels
compelled to instruct, to edit, to criticize, so that your muscle
memory and instincts can do the job they know how to do. Every now
and again I pull the book back out and start from the beginning like
I’ve never read it before. (He has has gone one to write about the
inner games of golf, skiing, music and work.) I would rather have a
small, aesthetically pleasing volume control placed on the side of my
head somewhere (I’d probably turn it up only when writing), but until
that technology becomes available I’ve got my tennis book.

Courtney Graham Hipp
cgHipp Jewelry Designs

Noel –

I really enjoyed your post – I could have written the first two
paragraphs myself. The only thing that I find is that if the story
on NPR is really good, the work slows down and the concentration
shifts to the coming in. Then I can forget my plan or
where I was on my piece !! A recent “Fresh Air” show interviewing
David Sadaris is a good example. His stories of why he writes and his
current fascination with spiders was so intriguing that I had to stop
and do something more mindless (hand sanding) so I could focus on the

My husband and I are fairly active in our community and occasionally
an issue comes up that needs a lot of attention and thought. I have
discovered that when I have something like that to focus on I need
music in the background when I am working on jewelry. Can’t have the
talking in my head and on the radio. Guess that says there can be
only so many “drunken monkeys” in the studio at once !!

I predict there’s lots of us…