5 Steps to "Mind Like Water"

I thoroughly enjoy the process of making, and sometimes that's reason enough for me to sew a quilt, carve a woodblock, or cut a paper design. Getting lost in the flow of creating something is a wonderful thing all around - body, mind and soul.  At other times, a project starts off with an intention (a gift for my niece,  a tutorial to market a sewing project, or an illustration for a book jacket), and that's a wonderful thing as well -  to be able to send something I made off into the world to fulfill it's purpose.  I love taking the time to make something by hand so that it's unique and special. I love giving handmade gifts, and I love being able to earn an income by doing something I want to be doing regardless.  For all of this, I feel lucky, blessed, and fortunate.

Sometimes though, in the middle of all this making, my mind becomes cluttered.  I feel overwhelmed and distracted, and start to lose focus and direction with my work. At this point I stop what I'm doing and look around... my workspace is usually in chaos: the floor is littered with scraps of paper, fabric, wood or linoleum carvings, so that it's difficult to walk across the room.  My tools are lost amongst the piles of paper that cover the work surfaces, my computer is stuffed with large files and keeps crashing.  My e-mails have accumulated and my to-do lists and calendar need updating. The chaos around me mirrors my state of mind.  Cluttered, confused and crashing.  

At this point I need to step out of the studio and take a break, that's for sure.  But when I go back inside, I take a series of steps to clear my mind. I got the idea for doing this after reading Getting Things Done, an amazing book by David Allen which has really helped me organize my life.  What follows is my version of what he calls a mindsweep, which is basically gathering up any loose ends that might be occupying your thoughts and sweeping them out. The result, what David Allen calls mind like water, refers to "a mental and emotional state in which your head is clear, able to create and respond freely, unencumbered with distractions and split focus."  Here are the 5 steps I take to achieve mind like water...

1.  Clean up any projects in progress.  Even if I want to work on something later in the day, I still put all the art supplies and tools back where they belong. Trash any unusable scraps of paper or fabric, and stash the usable. Only the actual project can be stored on a work surface.

2.  Sort through the piles.  Piles of sketches, finished art, articles, contracts, notes. Everything has a place where it belongs, whether it be my inbox, a flat file, a hanging file or a binder, I file it away until all the piles are gone.

3.  Organize computer files.  While I'm working on my computer, I tend to keep things on the desktop so I can access them easily. I might have multiple versions of an illustration (some greater than 500 MB each), scans, stories, logos or photos. I'll file them all into the appropriate folders, delete multiples and unwanted versions, then rename and label what remains so that it fits in with my filing system.  I do this until nothing remains on my computer desktop.

4.  Sort through e-mails.  This means dealing with every e-mail - responding, scheduling, filing, until my inbox is EMPTY.

5.  Update to-do lists and calendar.  Calls to make, supplies to buy, projects to finish, projects pending.  Cross off what's been done, rewrite what remains, star priorities. If somethings been on a list for too long, it's reassessed and either moved off the list for good or filed for future review.  Anything that needs to be done on a certain day is put on the calendar, anything that needs to be done at a certain time is put on a reminder list on my phone with a reminder alarm.

After taking these steps, I'm left feeling like a new person. My studio is clean and orderly. My lists are made and I know what needs to get done. My priorities are set, I have a renewed sense of clarity and focus, my head is clear, and I'm ready to get back to work.  This is an amazing feeling!

After running through these 5 steps the other day, I was inspired to share . If you happen to stumble across this post and are in need of a good mind clearing, try this, it really helps.  Let me know how it works for you, and if you have any comments or questions I'd love to hear them.