Observation Journal: Time & self-management aka immoveable moods, moveable objects

Or: a not terribly flattering portrait of the artist.

Every so often I attempt to use the observation journal to optimise my time management (ugh — and perilously close to being introspective). It’s useful because the journal structure contains that urge and keeps the results in one place, so that I can look back and see what has changed (very little) and what approach actually works for me (one thing), and how much enjoyment analysing it brings me (moderate to minimal).

Executive summary: The one lesson that has consistently been helpful is knowing I am that way.

Effective workarounds vary from day to day, some tips and tricks and epiphanies break through for a while. What remains useful is being able to accept that I will react a certain way, and then attempting to remember to account for that (or at least not blaming myself too bitterly when myself happens).

I still wanted to share these pages, because I find it useful to look at the structures around creative work occasionally (if only to remind myself not to spend too much time on it) and because the exercises were useful — just not always in the way I’d expected. (The deviations were, however, consistent.)

Side notes:

  • These approaches have created more grand practical solutions (vs calm acceptance) when I’ve applied them to physical workspaces. See: Space and time and more epiphanies.
  • If you’re into productivity and time management books, you might spot some oblique references to techniques from Dan Charnas’ Work CleanPeter M Ball recommended that to me, and it was very useful for working out how to do the bare minimum to keep on top of the worst of the admin. If you follow or support Peter (newsletter and Patreon links are on his page) he often has good tips and précis on similar books, and details on how he applies them to his own projects.
  • Distractions and interruptions
    • On the first of these pages, I made a list of distractions and interruptions to my work. I then noted how I tended to react, why I react that way, and whether there was an obvious solution.
    • Often there was an obvious solution that was not feasible (for reasons ranging from pandemic realities to the nature of deadlines). Accepting that helped me temper my reactions a little. Knowing my reactions made me better able to deal with them.
    • There were some interesting patterns — resentment tended to be directed at entirely innocent external parties and was due to me running late (sorry everyone); weariness attended large non-creative things I nevertheless wanted; anxiety came from competing equally-weighted commitments.
    • The obvious answer to all of this was to do work regularly early. Isn’t it always? The practical answer was to be aware of how I was about to act out, and rein myself in.
  • Things that work and why I don’t do them
    • The next week I jotted down a few things I know help me get work done. For each I noted why I suspected it worked, and why I don’t do them. (And, occasionally, a possible solution.)
    • I also made a little list of improbable ideals, which is always illuminating, if unflattering. Basically, mine boil down to having someone to whom to outsource most executive functions. (I do in fact know why I am this way.)
    • The most useful part of this exercise has not been these secondary solutions, although I do refer back to them. Rather, since I seem to be committed to a degree of emergency-as-lifestyle, it’s been useful having a conscious list of approaches that have worked, and which I can deploy in an emergency (even if I don’t like employing them consistently).
    • I’d like to revisit this list and look at the reasons behind the reasons I don’t do the “correct” things. I suspect that would be more illuminating, and suggest some… not workarounds, but ways to trick myself into doing decent work while thinking I am having a good time. I learned some very good lessons about this in the first semester of my MPhil, so it is possible.
  • Objections and intentions
    • The following week I tried to pre-empt my contrary nature again. I made a list of things I wanted to try (early rising, etc), my likely objections, and possible workarounds. I succeeded in achieving remarkably few of them.
    • This exercise make me more aware of some of my own arguments against myself. But it confirmed that, in general, the path of least resistance is (where possible) to reconfigure the physical world around my inclinations, rather than the other way around. (Immoveable objects are a matter for another day).


I haven’t written this up as a creative exercise because it isn’t about drawing or writing as such. But if you are interested in looking at your own work habits, these are some interesting questions to lean into. But I particularly recommend asking those further questions at the end: what did you notice not only through the exercise but about the exercise, and how it worked with or for or against you.

Anyway: back to the art and writing!

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1 thought on “Observation Journal: Time & self-management aka immoveable moods, moveable objects

  1. Pingback: July 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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