Probably the most common question I’m asked (about twice a week, on average 🙂 ) is whether I ever sleep. The answer is yes! I lose so much productivity when I’m tired that I am religious about getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night. (Lack of sleep can also trigger my bipolar disorder – another reason for being well-rested.)
But I do get a lot done – partly because I do have more energy than most, but also because I’m strategic about both the timing and the content of my activities. I also keep a close eye on my energy level, and if it’s sinking low, I go do something restorative rather than sit and stare.
My strategy for fitting more activities into the day is to arrange them by energy level. For example, working on the book requires a lot of mental energy, so I do it as soon as I get up in the morning – that’s when I’m at my freshest. (If I waited until mid-day, I’d never write a single word.) Threading the loom requires a medium level of energy, so I’ll do it in the early afternoon, when I have somewhat less energy, or the early evening if I’m working all day. Cooking I can do while nearly brain-dead, so I tend to save it for the evening, unless it’s something that requires attentiveness, like jam or chocolate making. And I never cook in the early morning, because doing something low-energy during prime creative time wastes that part of the day. I choose my activities to match my energy level.
Of course, you can’t fit too many activities requiring intense mental energy into the day, because you only have so much brainpower per day. So I try to have a broad range of activities at different energy levels – that way there’s always something that fits.
I’ll also “stack” activities by doing two things at once. For example, for most things I cook, I can read in the short periods between stirring something, waiting for something to boil, etc. So I’ll bring a book into the kitchen and read it. Or, I’ll go to the garage and work at the loom while doing the laundry. I’m spinning yarn while walking for exercise.
In addition to stacking activities, I actively manage my energy level. If I arrive at a point where I can’t do anything except stare, I go for a walk, take a nap, or do something else that restores my mental energy. That’s a lot more effective than spending the rest of the day web-surfing or watching TV – which are both low-energy activities, but they don’t restore mental energy, so once I slip into them, it’s hard to get myself out.
In addition to being strategic about my activities, I’m careful about choosing what to do. Because I work full-time, I don’t have a ton of free time. That means that every non-creative activity I do actively competes with studio time. Since I love doing creative work, that means I don’t do a lot of Web-surfing, I don’t watch TV, and I see about one movie a year. That’s not because I’m consciously depriving myself of activities I enjoy. Quite the opposite: it’s because I enjoy my creative pursuits so much that it’s hard for anything else to compete.
I’m also strategic about my creative activities. I keep an eye on my creative goals. It would be easy to get sucked into an extensive study of origami, or of drawing, or other methods and media. But those are tangential to my primary interest, weaving. So I’m careful not to get sucked in to any larger degree than is needed for my main interest.
(In my younger days, of course, I would have gleefully tried everything – and that would have been totally appropriate, since I hadn’t found an area of focus yet. But as I see the horizon of my creative life getting closer, I want to focus.)
So that’s my secret sauce. I’m strategic about what activities I pursue and when I pursue them, and I manage my energy level carefully. There’s no great mystery about it – but that’s how I “never sleep,” while sleeping 8-9 hours a night.
Thank you Tien, for sharing your way that you use your energy. Very well worth thinking about. A year has passed since you taught a group of us in Ft. Collins, CO. A happy time..
Thank you for these several ideas! It gives a lot to study in my own pursuits towards better use of my time. 🙂