Last month I wrote about how my photographic midlife crisis, is leading to chaos in my mind. There’s so much I want to try and do. And I’ve come to accept that I NEED to do it all in order to find my way out of this. I threw myself into it for a couple of weeks. I was productive but still felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. I felt like a classic painter sitting in front of one of his best works and tries to change it into a piece of modern art. I was trying to give existing elements a new function and paint white watercolour paint over red oil paint. This way of working may not be impossible but it suddenly struck me that I would make it a lot easier on myself if I would start to create from a blank canvas rather than turning an existing piece into something it was never ment to be.
I need a clean space both in my office and in my head in order to get going with the new stuff. I realised that there’s way too much ballast lingering around on my hard drive, inbox and brain. In the last year I’ve made a number of life changing decisions. All the big stuff is done but I’m not quite there yet. I am proud of what I achieved in that time and after all the stress that came with it, I just needed to be content with the fact that all the big road blocks have been removed and enjoy to be in a place with less pressure. But before I can move on creatively and business-wise, I first need to clean out the cupboard completely in order to fill it with things that I really like.
Getting through all these things seems like a mountain peak that’s beyond my abilities. I know it’s going to hurt to climb it. I’ve known for a while that it’s there but I choose to ignore it. But if I want to prevent myself from getting stuck in the same situation in the future, I need to put on the crampons and get climbing.
The first thing I had to do was to get an overview of all the work that needs to be done. It has been a painful process because not only it gave me an idea of the sheer amount of work that needs to be done. But also, it’s a confrontation with the fact that I’ve let a lot of unnecessary things slip. There’s the unfinished jobs, most are recent, a few are not. There’s some moving related things still to figure out. Then there’s the hundreds of e-mails that need to be handled and my biggest fear is the piles of paperwork that I’ve been hiding in cupboards and drawers. I can’t postpone it any longer and finally have to start chipping away at this massive pile of work.
I’m having a hard time to make progress in this boring work. There are days when I am productive but there are more days when any distraction can put me off the work for hours. One technique I’ve developed that seems to work (well, sometimes) is to set achievable goals. When I tell myself to handle a certain number of e-mails a day and don’t reach it because two or three e-mails require much more work than anticipated, I feel like a failure at the end of the day. Because I didn’t reach my daily goal it seems outright impossible to ever reach the big goal.
So I’ve started to set my goals based on time. I’m now forcing myself to spend four hours every day doing this boring cleaning up. Four hours of work you don’t like, doesn’t seem much on a temporary basis and for some people it probably isn’t. But for me it’s a big deal. At the start of the day, I set the timer on my phone to countdown from four hours to zero. I pause the timer, every time I do something that is not related to cleaning up my canvas. Even writing this, doesn’t count.
Until now, I did everything I could on the pending jobs. Either they are done or waiting for action from the client before they can proceed. The world doesn’t stand still and new jobs are added. I try to be on the ball as close as I can to keep everything fast and tight. I’m also happy to report that I’ve got my mailbox down to less than one hundred e-mails. There are some pretty hard nuts to crack still in there but seeing the number drop steadily, gives me the courage to tackle them. Knowing how hard I’ve had to work to clean up, makes me more strict on dealing with the never ending stream of new e-mails coming in.
I know I first should have tackled what I fear the most, the pile of paperwork but I just didn’t have the heart for it. Luckily seeing the slow but steady progress on the rest is a stimulation to soldier on.
Our family holiday in less than a month will take us to France this year. My big hope is to have that clean canvas by then. That would mean that I will be able to enjoy the holidays more than I’ve done in the last six or seven years when there would be always some stuff in the back of my mind. I need to reward myself for doing stuff that I hate, this would be the ultimate reward. But I’m not going to be blinded by that ambition. If I don’t make it by then, so be it. As long as I tackle the final tasks immediately afterwards.
To get through these horrible cleaning up weeks, I’ve allowed myself some guilty creative pleasures. I’ll still be posting some snaps on Instagram and I’ve decided to turn my Tumblr blog into some kind of junk drawer that collects ideas, ramblings and other stuff that might make sense one day … or not. Wish me luck, and I’ll talk to you next month.