Obligations and Focus
When it comes to ordering your priorities for creative output, or even just life in general, I find it helpful to consider what things are obligatory, or unavoidable if you want to maintain your health, sanity, happiness, and integrity.
These obligations will change according to where you are in life. For most people they break down into:
- Creativity and Purposeful activities
- Leisure and Hobbies
- Social time
- Life/household Maintenance
You can’t really avoid any of these totally. You have to have money to live. You have to take out the trash at some point. If you eat twelve boxes of donuts a day you will die very early. All of these things are also interrelated.
However, just because they are obligatory does not mean you can do all of them at maximal capacity. I’m writing this on a laptop at my kitchen table, which is covered with mail I haven’t thrown away and condiments I never put back up, while my 9 month-old daughter sleeps and my son plays his allotted time of games for the day.
My house is messier than others, but I also write books and put out lots of videos. I sacrifice being excellent at my home upkeep in order to work. Likewise my wife would rather spend time with me or my children than clean. We still clean the house, just not as much or perhaps as thoroughly as others. I also spend less time at the gym compared to when I was single, opting to run for 30 to 40 minutes a night most nights to save time. My car is also quite dusty.
This is the self-knowledge part for us. For both of us, our family is the number-one priority. Everything else comes after meeting that obligation. Family is where our focus is, and we are happy to sacrifice a messy house, a little income potential (I stay home during the day and she only works 4 days a week), and (for me) some social time in order to give the family the attention it needs. I sacrifice those things as well so I can have the time I need to write and produce video content.
We meet some obligations minimally so that we can meet others maximally.
As the focus intensifies, other things become blurry.
Those who attempt to be great at everything are probably just mediocre at everything, and that’s the unfortunate truth.
What really matters to you? Is there something on that list that wasn’t even on your radar? What feels more like a chore than a focus?
In my experience, most distress comes not from being unable to order priorities for effectiveness and efficiency, but from attempting to order priorities in a way that goes strongly against your true personality and your mental and emotional needs. You can force yourself to do something that you dislike for long periods of time, but I don’t think it’s realistic to try to force things into becoming natural priorities.
You have to know who you are. Are you a person that can’t stay away from the gym for more than a day, or a person who loves working toward the next triathlon? Great, that means fitness and health are a top priority. Sacrificing your gym time to do something else will probably distress you. You need to accept that creativity is a lower concern, and enjoy it for what it is.
On the flip side, if you’re somebody who hates physical exercise, forcing that to be a top priority will probably cause you distress, even if you achieve the body you are looking for. More than that, you’ll probably be upset at your lack of progress as other things distract you and keep you away from your (unrealistic) fitness goals. That doesn’t mean you should ignore fitness, it just means you need to be realistic about what kind of time you are truly willing to devote to it, and what time you really can devote to it and still meet your primary obligations.
Interested in what I actually produce creatively? Check out my most recent short fantasy novels: