Thirty weeks after the second day of the new year
And that’s the point, Author thinks. Pressure is always there, it’s been around for, what, most of your life? But you still get things done, don’t you? We’re worried about pressure even as we deal with it. We always find a way to do that.
This observation has to do with last week’s post, the one about adjustment, about the dynamic puzzle of time and tasks that is Author’s life nowadays, and Sister’s, too, even more so. You, reader, whether you’re a writer or not, you too contend with your own time-tasks juggle in your life, Author imagines. It is a hectic, fast-paced life in which we strive to do so much that we have to do while still trying to find the time to do what we want, and perhaps, somewhere in between, find a moment to rest, to laugh or to dream, whatever it is that gives us strength and reminds us of what we’re doing so much for.
There’s a pressure that comes with the need to juggle it all. If you look at everything you have to do at once, the pressure overwhelms you and you freeze. You end up either doing nothing or frantically jumping from task to task, not completing any one task properly. This only increases the stress, and you don’t get anything done. Worse, the joy you get from what it is in your life that you love disappears. If you’re a writer—an example Author is most comfortable with, and she trusts that you will adapt her meaning to yourself—your imagination loses its freedom under the weight of the pressure, the stress, the worry, and with it goes your creativity. As Author has told you, she needs a certain mindset to write. Writing this post, Author needs to think about it, to consider what she wants to say to you, to choose her words, her phrasing. She needs to pass her thoughts to you clearly. With a book it’s even more complicated. The writing of a novel-length manuscript means that she has its entire content in her mind, and she needs to be focused enough to be able to look at it from all sides, see every detail in its place. Pressure is detrimental to this process. Whatever it is you do, if pressure is part of your daily life you know exactly what Author means.
What Author strives to do is to let everything have its time. But the idea is not to simply give each task a time slot in your week. That, as Author discussed in her previous post, is not always possible or productive. What she tries to do is to assign time to pressure—delimitate when it is allowed to reign—thus making it easier for herself to set aside pressure-free time. For non-work tasks, she sets specific hours for the daily ones, and for others that are not repeated on a daily basis but need to be done once in a while, say every week or every month, she tries to do these on the same day or days of the week. Doing this creates a routine of sorts in your mind for those tasks that must be done. Not everything can be given the same place in your week, not every duration can be determined in advance, and pressure cannot be easily controlled. But some scheduling of this type can provide a good framework for pressure. A delimiting framework, that can help you set boundaries for where pressure is allowed.
Then there’s the work, and for many, Author and Sister included, work is what fills most of the week. Here too there are varied tasks, each requiring its time, its mindset, its duration. Deadlines, those you yourself set or those dictated to you by the progress you seek in your work or by the outside world. But if you learn to balance pressure, you can balance it in all aspects of your life. Even in your work, you can prioritize, and move things around. You know what tasks make you feel more stressed—say, those that involve interacting with others, or those with a more immediate deadline, or perhaps it’s something you don’t like to do or that you find it more difficult to focus on. Then there are tasks in which you can work in a more laid-back manner simply because you enjoy them more, or tasks where you can work quietly, take you time, with no one and nothing on the outside pressuring you. By reorganizing when you do each work task, you can essentially redistribute the pressure you feel. By doing the former tasks at certain times in the day or week, and the latter in others, you’re effectively creating for yourself pressure-reduced time. A bit of rest for the mind, a duration in which stress can be more easily put away. Again, think of it as a way to delimitate the pressure in the time assigned to it.
And if there is a third class of things that you do—Author won’t call these tasks, because this is the fun class, time you spend with loved ones, a hobby you engage in, whatever reprieve you try so hard to get to in a busy life—redistributing pressure could in effect allow you to allow yourself to engage in a pressure-free time, knowing that pressure was, it will be, but this time you have set out for a duration without it is yours, guilt-free.
For Author as a writer, the distinction in her work is between the creative and the less or non-creative tasks. The pressure may be there for her non-work tasks, and she can even allow some pressure for the more technical parts of her work, but the creative hours, the hours of pure writing, must be unaffected by pressure, or it will affect her work. So she attempts to keep pressure away by giving it its time: it is allowed in the hours of non-work tasks, and it is allowed, though it is carefully dealt with, for some of the more technical aspects of her work. There, she completes one task after the other as she has set these in her mind, as she has told you in her previous post. But for her writing tasks, where she needs to be able to put thoughts into written words, she sets pressure-reduced time. And since she needs an uninterrupted duration for this part of what she does, she tries to set for it several consecutive days if she can, even a day or two, perhaps on the weekend, and on weekdays, where the must-be-done non-work tasks tend to rule, she does her best to clear at least several consecutive hours for her writing.
In her writing hours, Author leaves pressure behind. In them, creativity is set free: she passes the pressure-filled hours knowing the pressure-free ones are ahead. She knows they will come. And this does not only provide a reprieve that is always alive in the back of her mind, it is also a creativity trigger: as she approaches those hours, her hours, something in her relaxes, focuses, and that provides a good backdrop for creativity to be set loose. The pressure gets its time, but so does her writing. The pressure will return, but so will the pressure-free moment. Author too, she will say, is still learning this way of keeping pressure—and the hindering stress that comes with it—at bay. Her hope is to eventually get to where pressure is not allowed anywhere, no matter what happens, no matter the added tasks and surprises that life brings with it.
Author and Sister’s tip for you this week: you know pressure. Whatever tasks have been added to your days, writing or otherwise, are just another kind. Start by dividing up your time to pressure-allowed and pressure-reduced blocks and learn to organize your tasks within these. The divisions will at some point become something you will automatically do in your mind. Yes, it takes time for your mind to “teach” itself to leave pressure behind in its assigned time slots. But it will do you and your writing a whole lot of good to do it. A year from now you’ll be used to it. You will be able to more easily organize tasks time and pressure in your mind, and you will find yourself more readily sitting down for some focused writing, leaving the pressure behind increasingly easily. It’s a useful tool, assigning each aspect of your life the time it needs and the pressure it’s allowed. You can’t eliminate pressure from your life, but you can learn to redistribute it in a way that will allow you to balance it, get things done, and deal better with whatever else is added to your busy schedule in the future. That in itself will reduce your stress and benefit you.