on becoming a finisher
The 19th of March, 2020, in my mind, is a line in the sand. We came home from the coast after an excursion, watching the children learn and the world close down, country by country. We drove through the gates, and we didn’t come back out for two months. We’d only moved to the farm 6 weeks earlier, and we were about to get very familiar with our new home.
At the time, it felt like I doomscrolled for weeks before I pulled my head out of my phone. In reality, it was 5 days. Five days of watching as everything change by the hour. Five days to grasp the idea that this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. On day five, I made the choice to make the most of this time. Life had gotten ridiculously busy, in the way that it does with four small people with four different sets of friends and interests. Suddenly, I was being offered the pause, and the time, I had been craving. I wasn’t going to waste it.
When we had moved, the majority of my craft room was packed up into boxes, well labelled to the point of neurosis, with a small selection set aside for working on. The plan, at that stage, was we would only be in the cabin for 12 months. I could work with limited options for 12 months. Many of the included items were long term WIPs. In The Before, collecting WIPs was a hobby in and of itself, and finishes were rare and mostly only happened when I was on a deadline. The archives of this very blog is littered with multiple progress posts of projects that took much longer than the should have.
I sat down, notepad in hand. There’s something so calming about a list. Instead of all the everything swirling around my head, bumping into daily pressers and new restrictions, getting tangled with new processes to keep us safe, they were suddenly neat little columns on the page. Much more manageable. I listed every last thing I had put aside to work on in the cabin, along with a couple of new projects to keep me inspired. Then, I got to work.
Somewhere along the way, I became a finisher. Project after project, until I had to start digging in those labelled boxes. More finishes. More boxes. In the process, I was doing a whole lot of inner work and personal growth. Accepting my quirks and how my brain works gave me the tools to turn the stumbling blocks I put in my own way, into launching pads for progress.
As lockdowns eased, and life became a new kind of normal, I worked to keep the new habits in place. A second lockdown, I went back to my notepad and those tools I’d gained during the first. Sliding into the third year of the pandemic, I started to fall back into old habits, and have been consciously trying to reign it back in.
Last week, a friend started a new accountability support group. I introduced myself as a reformed procrastinator, and the host asked me to share some tips with the group. Ironically, I have been procrastinating on doing so ever since. This week, I’m once again in iso. After 2.5 years of dodge-the-plague, our turn has come. And like the two lockdowns that came before, I’m reaching for my notepad.
This past weekend has been productive in a way 2019 me could never have imagined. I stitched almost all of a gnome. I started and finished a project bag. I spun yarn. I read two books. And so, I thought, it was the perfect time to see if I can narrow it down, exactly how I made the switch, from procrastinator to finisher.
Of course, the below is merely reflective of my own experience. Hopefully you can pick bits and pieces that also work for you, or you find inspiration to explore the ways to hack your own stumbling blocks.
For me, a list is a simple but effective way to see clearly what I have going on. From there, I can generally pick a starting point. What makes a good starting point varies, but once it’s out on paper, I can pick through the options and find one. I keep my project list seperate to my daily to-do list so I don’t lose my place, nor do I get overwhelmed by an over-long list. From there, I often break bigger projects down into sections so I can mark progress on my way to a finish. The yarn I spun on the weekend, for instance, got four boxes – one for each strand, one for plying, one for skeining. Progress is progress, and every little step is another closer to a finish.
CHOOSE A STARTING POINT
Sometimes, there’s a project on the list that makes me excited to be able to work on. Other times, nothing jumps out as exciting, so I go for a project that has the least amount of work required. A quick finish can be all I need to kick start the energy to keep going. It’s all about getting the easiest possible run up to get over that starting hump. What I need to getting going will change by the day and with my mood, it’s all about working it out at the time.
Finishes can beget finishes. If I start with the easiest or quickest project, and keep knocking down those little dominos, I can find myself with the momentum I need to tackle bigger projects, like quilting a decade old queen sized quilt. Once you’re going it’s easier to keep going.
KNOW YOUR BLOCKS
Part of the change meant learning when and why I procrastinate, then finding a way to work around it. I often come unstuck on the last stage of a project, for instance. The binding, or the hemming. When I could identify the points I was sabotaging myself, I could start working on changing those habits and thought patterns. If I find myself getting stuck, I am getting better at picking the reason why. Am I bored of it? Is there something I don’t like about it? Am I in the midst of an executive function freeze? If I know the why, I can start working on the how of getting out of my rut.
This is a huge one for me! A long term hack of mine, when I had no mojo, was to drop into the chat and announce I needed to do XYZ but had no mojo. Guess what? I would no sooner post the message than I would find myself on my feet and doing whatever XYZ I had been avoiding. We spoke in a recent podcast episode about personality types, and The Four Tendencies. I’m an obliger. Accountability is just how my brain works. In the early days of Lockdown 1.0, I started weekly videos, and I credit the accountability of those with a big part of my process shift. For me, speaking my goals out loud is one of my key motivators.
LIMIT THE CHOICES
When we first moved, I only had a handful of projects to work on. To craft was to work towards a finish. I didn’t have the space, nor the access to supplies, to start anything new without clearing out what I already had on hand. While it is somewhat specific to our move, and tiny house, keeping the options tight is something I will continue to do in the new house. I won’t have a craft room, only a nook, so I plan to continue to limit the number of projects I have on the hop at any one time.
Learning how my brain works, and how to hack its quirks, has been an important part of the process. The message hack above is a big one. I often say on the podcast “competition is my love language”, and while I’m half joking, I am absolutely motivated by having someone or something to race against. Craftalongs and group projects are super motivating for me. I also know my brain and creativity works in cycles, and so I now choose to lean into whatever is tickling my hyperfixation bone at the time.
Our brains need a whole lot of different input. I know I tend to need quite a bit of auditory input to be able to focus on handwork. Audiobooks are great – but sometimes I also need visual input, so I will pick an easy show to watch as I craft to keep those sides of my brain occupied. I have been known to have my kindle propped up so I can read and crochet, so my brain doesn’t get the wanders. This is also closely linked to the self awareness point – it’s been a learning curve to work out how and why I find myself seeking certain inputs, but now I can use that to my advantage. Get the input balance right and I can power craft all day long.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Giving myself grace is important. Accepting the quirks in my process allows me to optimise my process, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. Removing pressure from myself to create in certain ways makes me more creative in others. Giving myself permission to walk away from a project that no longer serves me frees up headspace and physical space for a project that excites me. Acknowledging not all seasons are ideal for creative productivity, and that’s ok.
It’s been a process, and something I check in with regularly to be sure I’m not falling back into old habits. I would love to know what helps keep you on track and focussed on your projects. Drop a comment below and let me know!