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Creativity

245: Seasons in business

Everything has a season. This includes your business and your life! Learn more about the cycles and seasons of life and business at TaraSwiger.com/podcast245

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What if you are just not getting things done? What if you just can NOT get things done? Before you start beating yourself up, ask yourself: is this just a season of my life?

Today we're going to talk about how to identify the season you're in, and what to do about, to be both as productive and GENTLE as possible.

My aim is to guide you to living an enthusiasm-filled life…which includes doing work you love, spending time with people you love, and feeling GOOD while doing it.

I was recently asked the question on Instagram: I feel like I'm in a season of my life when I can't get a lot done. Am I alone? Can you talk about this?

First, let me preface today's episode with some background: two months ago I didn't have any kids. We became foster parents last September and on December 17th a two year old girl came to live with us, for an undetermined amount of time. And let me tell you – one of the first thoughts I had about my business, when my head came above water, several weeks later was: I can't believe I ever talked about how to get stuff done. I had NO IDEA what it was like to have a 2 year old at home. It is insane. Especially when you have no warning and you're a stranger to the 2 year old, and they've gone through some recent trauma. But even if you’ve been with them from day one, it’s bonkers.

So here's the truth: I have no idea what you're going through. Maybe you have 4 kids. Maybe you have a sick partner. Maybe you just lost a parent or loved one. Every situation is different, and my situation and way of dealing with things is built from what I need, from what works for me (and sometimes it doesn't even work for me!). So you'll have to take what applies, leave what doesn’t, and find what will work for you.

In my experience, there are several different seasons in every business, that continue to cycle throughout the life of your business:

  • Idea/inspiration – when you start to dream and get inspired and slurp up Pinterest and blogs and videos
  • Creation/exhalation – if you inhaled a lot of inspiration, you need to let it out via creation. This is where you begin to turn your ideas into action, into real projects or relationships or products
  • Working away at what you started – After the initial super-creative part of the process a LOT of our projects have kind of a boring “keep going” part. It’s not new and exciting, but there’s more to be done. This might also be maintenance mode. As Kurt Vonnegut said,  ‘everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.'
  • Rest – sometimes you’ll go right from creating to new inspiration and new creation but a lot of time your field will just need to lie fallow. You may just need to rest before you get another breath of inspiration. This is the time that you may worry that you’ll never have another idea and that everything is falling apart. But it’s just part of the process. Fill up your well and keep yourself healthy during this phase.

So those are the seasons in your business, but there are also seasons in your LIFE. Seasons where you’re actually not going to be in any season of creation or inspiration because you’re putting your attention on other projects in your life. It may be parenting, or a relationship, or getting well. That’s ok. That’s part of being a human!

If you are in a season of not getting stuff in your business done, you are NOT alone. I didn't work for 4 solid weeks. And now that I am back to “work”, my working hours are a fraction of what they were. Not only that but now the part of my brain that was free to think about strategy and business plans is now thinking about temper tantrum strategies and did she have any green vegetables today and is that a rash?

Now, I could be frustrated about that, or feel hopeless about it, or freak out about it (my income is 80% of how we pay the bills…so it's kinda important.)

But this is only a season of my life. Yes, she'll only be 2 years old for a short season. And because we're doing foster care, she may only be with us for a short season. But above that, the overwhelming NEWNESS of everything is ALSO a short season. We won't be in this everything-is-new-and-requires-decision-making season forever. Even after just a month of being together, so much has become easier. We have routines, we have go-to meals, we have regular activities to do together. I'm not saying parenting every becomes EASY or that I'll ever get back the huge percentage of my brain I used to think about my business, but the season of it being THIS INTENSE is fleeting.

And let me even more honest with you – before this season of being a new mom to a toddler, I went through a season of deep depression where I could not get my normal stuff done. Everything was hard. It started with fogginess, then things got physically hard, then hopelessness, then there was just apathy. (It’s real hard to get things done when you don’t care about anything.)

Even though that season was SO hard and I never want to repeat it, it was a season of healing. I needed to learn the lessons I learned in that season. It was NOT a season of ideas, creation or working. It wasn’t that restful (although I did rest my body a lot.)

Now that I’m more mentally healthy and I’m moving out of the intense brand-new-kid season, I’m in a season of transition, where I’m trying to find my new rhythm, my new normal. As much as I would love to just hop back to work-mode when I can work, I’m finding that I need to learn how to transition from mom-mode to work-mode. So this is a season of figuring-it-out. I’m not quite to creation, as I just transition into figuring out how to work.

And I know many of you are in an especially hard season. Maybe it's depression. Maybe you're taking care of a sick family member or partner. Maybe you've recently experienced loss. These are all seasons where your work is just NOT a priority. And hey, that's ok!

We are trying to build businesses that ENHANCE our lives, that bring enthusiasm and joy and connection to our lives, so those same businesses (and our plans for our business) need to allow for that life to show up and take over sometimes.

Are you in a difficult season right now?

If you're not getting stuff done:

  • Is it a season?
  • Is there a timeline?
  • Are your frustrated because you can’t do what you WANT to do? Keep track of your ideas.
  • Stick with the routines that make you feel like yourself (ie, shower, walk the dogs, get coffee)
  • Recognize the season and give yourself grace.
  • Realize when you’re in the NEXT season, and allow the change to happen.

I hope this has helped you navigate whatever season you’re in!

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

228: When you have too many ideas

Every creative person generates a million ideas. And if you have a creative business you need those ideas to keep your moving forward, but sometimes they can get overwhelming. Learn what to do when you have “too many” ideas at TaraSwiger.com/podcast228

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Have you found that whenever you're really busy and you do NOT have the time to work on something, you get a MILLION ideas for it?! I know! Me too!

So what do you do when you have too many ideas? How can keep from losing them? How can you keep creativity flowing? How can you be sure to choose the right one?

When I asked the Starship what topics they most wanted me to cover on the podcast, this came up over and over: What do I do when I have too many ideas?

First, know that you are not alone if you both have times of NO IDEAS AT ALL and ALL THE IDEAS, OMG! That's just a natural part of the cycle. Creativity and business is cyclical, you'll have times of planting, times of harvest, times of a totally fallow field (I grew up surrounded by cornfields in rural Ohio!). The important thing, the vital thing to keeping your creativity healthy and alive is to RESPECT the season you're in, don't try to push it. So when you have no ideas, just rest and get to work on the things you've already planned. When you have ALL the ideas, don't try to squash them down or ignore them.

Now, you can't always work on the ideas you have as soon as you have them! And some projects take a long time so even if you start right away, it's going to be a while before it's finished. So what do you do with all those ideas? You don't want to squash them, but you can't work on them?

The super simple, obvious answer is to WRITE THEM DOWN.

Ideally you're going to write them down in the same place every time, so you can find the list when you're out of ideas!

Here's a few things to keep in mind when writing your ideas down:

  • Put them where you'll find them again!
  • Look at what else you have coming up, and see if an idea fits in to your plan?
  • Does it have a deadline (like a Black Friday Deal idea)?  Does it need you to work on it by a certain time to make it happen?
  • Prioritize what you'll work on, based on what your current goal is, what makes sense for your business, and what you're enthusiastic about.
  • Keep going back to the same list and adding to it, all the time.
  • Review the list regularly! Ideally you'll do this when you're planning and thinking about your goal for the quarter and at the very least every 6 months. Maybe some of the ideas fit with your new goal, or maybe your goal is to implement an idea you still love.
  • Don't be precious about your ideas, you will have a million more. Cross out ideas you're not still excited about!

What I do:

  • If it can be done this week, write it down in my daily journal
  • If I’m not sure when to do it, I add it to a big list in my quarterly planning journal
  • If it has moving parts or a deadline, put it in Asana

That's pretty straight forward right? That's what I thought, so I was confused by the panic that this question seems to elicit in people and I wondered: Why does it upset people to have lots of ideas?

I have a few possible ideas:

  1. It's frustrating to be excited for something and not get to work on it right away. But trust yourself to come back to it, and then DO come back to it, and you'll build up that self-trust, you'll start to believe that you WILL get to what's important, and you'll start to feel less upset about it over time (I can tell you this is true from experience!)
  2. You worry about picking the RIGHT idea. You worry that if you have to pick between your ideas, you won't work on the right one.

I can understand that, but I have a secret for you that is going to totally change your life. Are you ready for it?

There is no right idea. There is no right answer.

I'm serious! If you have an idea for an Instagram Challenge you want to hold and you have an idea for a Black Friday Sale, you know what? Both ideas will go great. Both ideas are likely to grow your business! There isn't a RIGHT choice between the two – pick the one that either makes more sense for your current goal, your current ability and/or your current enthusiasm level. That's it!

One way to look at this is that there is no “right” answer, because no one knows the answer! You have to try it and see!

The other way to look at this is that EVERY answer is the right answer! Taking action, at all, in your business is better than NOT taking action. EVERYthing you do, if you pay attention and learn from both the successes and failures, is going to be progress.

Remember, there are very few things you need to do in your business. They are, in this order:
Have enough products in your shop (that are priced right)
Show up consistently, communicating with your community (where your buyers are)
Reach out to new audiences (like doing a craft show, getting in shops, etc)

Within those areas, you're going to have a goal or a focus – pick the idea that aligns with that current goal.

And above all, trust yourself!
You are going to have more ideas!
You are going to implement the really great ideas.
You are going to move forward.

Don't let too many ideas keep you from taking action. Take action, and you'll get more ideas.

How to listen

  • You can subscribe to it on iTunes (If you do, leave a review!)
  • You can listen to it using the player above or download it.
  • Subscribe or listen via Stitcher (or subscribe in whatever you use for podcasts – just search “Explore Your Enthusiasm” and it should pop up!).

Find all the podcast episodes here.

It’s time for the contractions

In Do More Great Work, the author describes the creative rhythm as expanding and contracting, imagining and doing. I think a lot about the cycle of creativity, the flow of inspiration + doing, followed by a time of quiet not-doing…but I've forgotten the rhythmof every creative endeavor, the rhythm of expansion and contraction. Of breathing in inspiration, ideas, big dreams, and then breathing out, narrowing in on the things you will do.

We creatives LOVE the expansion part. We soak up inspiration, we breathe in dreams, we acquire ideas. Magazines, classes, pinterest…it's all one big inhalation, one glorious expansion of all possible things, zooming infinitely outward.

But the exhalation, the contraction, the doing…well, that's not as glorious. Not as tweetable.

But if anything is ever going to get done, if you're going to write that book or finish that project or launch that line, there has to be a point where you stop inhaling and you start exhaling. You zoom in on what you will do.

In narrowing your focus, the outer stuff, the stuff you decide not to do gets fuzzy and eventually falls out of the frame.
And while this doesn't look so exciting, exhaling and contracting can be  filled with enthusiasm, an inner propulsion that glides the project out of your head and into the world.

I'm here.

I've inhaled inspirations, stories, examples, and dreams. It's time to exhale, to breathe out the last bit of the book. To hand it on time. To contract narrow my focus to only the book and the Starship* (for the next few weeks).

 

Are you inhaling? Is it time to exhale?

 

*This means you won't be seeing me on the blog, in your inbox, or anywhere else (except for Instagram, and the Starship) until February 8th. 


The Map-Making Guide is my personal exhalation process. Turn dreams and wishes into measurable milestones and do-able to-dos. The Starship will be starting the map-making guide together, with weekly check-ins, this Wednesday. Join us here, if you like.

The Cycle of Creativity

I have a theory:
Creativity is cyclical.

In my own work/life/business, I have these crazy full-of-ideas periods, followed by amazing get-stuff-done periods, followed by…today.
Stuckness, tiredness, I-don't-wanna-ness.

The cycle affects individual ideas (let's make a Learn to Knit kit!) and my  general, day-to-day creativity.

It starts with an idea, then a flow of ideas, then I get in the flow of making the ideas happen. This revving-up is my favorite part of the cycle. I would live here if I could.
I would camp here and do nothing but generate ideas and journal and plan all day long.
But then I get anxious to DO, to implement.

At the apex of the cycle is not just the flow of ideas, but the production, the work, the actual doing. In other words, creating.

But after that apex, as the projects continue to roll forward and the rush of ideas turns into a rush of details, sometime in the midst of doing, I slow.

And soon, the slowing is the overwhelming characteristic. No longer creating the thing, I'm either brunching (introducing the thing to the world) or I'm slowing down in the middle of the thing.

Following the slowing, comes the fallow period.

Despite being raised in the agricutural heartland, playing in cornfields, my days measured by the height of the corn: I haven't recognize or respect the fallow period until recently.

What does fallow even mean?

  • cultivated land that is not seeded for one or more growing seasons
  • undeveloped but potentially useful

I tried to ignore it.

Who wants to be “not seeded”?
Who wants “undeveloped”?

I tried to go right from the slowing, back to the doing.

But something in me resisted.
The ideas dried.
The inner pushpushpush halted.

I thought about napping.
I read for hours.
I baked, cleaned, strolled.

Before I recognized that this is a stage in the cycle, I kept pushing.
Pushing to get ideas.
Pushing to work on projects.
Pushing to work work work.
Pushing to get out of the un-doing and back to the doing.

But pushing got me nowhere.

Inexplicably, inexorably, unequivically the ideas came back.
First, just a trickle, then a stream and then a rush and I am back.
Back to doing, to planning, to creating.

Whether I push or not, my creativity cycled.
And, as Teresa said on Twitter today:

When you stop pushing it creates a vacuum that will fill back up with better ideas than you'd been pushing for!

When I recognize the fallow period, when I respect it, when I rest in it, I create a blank space, a well that is soon filled with ideas and energy.

Today, this week, I'm in a bit of a fallow period.
But it's ok, it's just part of the cycle.

Beginning a-fresh

Starting a blog always feels like an Anonymous meeting:

Hello, my name is Tara, I am a creator.

I have entrepreneurial aspirations and a degree in French.

But my current passion is creativity. It's a word that's used so much, maybe overused, but the concept fascinates me.

As for my own creative and entrepreneurial endeavors, in July 06 I launched Blonde Chicken Boutique. I started by selling handpainted earth-friendly yarns on my website. I limited my suppliers to those who could assure me that the yarn was created from either recycled or organic materials because it's important that my monetary choices reflect my beliefs.

In the last year, Blonde Chicken Boutique has went through some changes:

I focused more efforts on spinning than on dyeing and have researched eco-friendly yarns which are still incredibly hard to source. When I’m looking at a yarn, I consider it’s impact on the environment in it’s creation (the sheep’s environment or if it uses recycled material) and in it’s distribution (if it has to be shipped from across the globe). This has led me to cut back on the whole “sourcing” thing and focus on finding local resources and low-impact dyeing.

During this period of research, I stopped selling dyed yarn online, for a few months, in order to properly keep up with my local orders, as I was asked to sell handpainted and handspun yarns at the local art gallery and supply shop. In conjunction with this, I held knitting and spinning demonstrations at the monthly gallery nights in March and April. Just last week, I posted some yarn online for sale, on our Etsy site.

Personally, I’ve gone through some changes too. We opened the shop just 15 days after moving to a new state and a new life. In the interim, my husband has become a full-time student. I changed ‘careers’ (if you can call 2 years out of college a ‘career’) and now work in an office: 8-5. I’m employed by the University that my husband attends, and as a benefit I can to take classes for free. I’m currently enrolled in Pre-MBA programs and am researching the possibility of entering an MBA program next fall.

More than all that, I’ve spent the last year searching and pursuing a definition of what it is I want to be doing with my life. I went through some times of deep confusion and real frustration. I spent much of my free time reading and writing and talking, and my knitting, spinning, dyeing and designing all fell behind. After all this, I still don’t know what I want to be ‘when I grow up’, but I do feel a real sense of purpose before along with a bit of clarity about what I want from BCB and from this blog.

Which brings me to what I’m doing here tonight:

The clarity I reached came unexpectedly. After over a year of reflection and confusion and anger at all the unknowns in my life, I had calmed down, told myself to be more zen, to take what comes. I was laying in bed on a Sunday afternoon, reading A Whack on the Side of the Head, reading about the various ‘creative geniuses’ of the world have had vast interests, specialized in nothing, learned about everything. Reading that being creative was putting together a lot of disparate concepts into one new idea and it was then, reading this silly book, that I felt a whack of my own (well, maybe it was a slight tap). I’ve spent a lot of time trying to ‘narrow my options’ and figure out what one thing to commit to. Every time I come close (yes, I’ll be a French Professor or yes, I’ll own my own business) I get distracted by something else (ooo, fiber art or ooo, theology). My interests are simply not narrow and I don’t enjoy trying to limit myself to one thing. All of my other interests center and circle around one (or two) concept(s): Creativity. And Learning New Things (what would you call this? Knowledge…Wisdom…Education?)

Literature, Theology, Language, Art, Craft, History, yes: even Business: they are all about humanity’s innate desire to be creative and to express one’s view of the world. The activities I enjoy also reflect this desire for learning and expression: creating (spinning, knitting, writing, dyeing); researching, analyzing, talking. The area of Business may not seem to fit in, but trust me, it does: what is an entrepreneur doing but creating something that acts as a reflection or extension of herself?

So, my new mission is to stop obsessing over what I’m going to be doing, what I should be doing and just start researching the things I love, analyzing what I find and sharing it here. I hope to share the books I’m reading, interview people who’s creative careers I admire, study some history of creativity and the history of crafts.