In this final entry of my three part series on Todd Henry’s FRESH system of maintaining a highly creative life, I’ll explain the H, which stands for Hours, as well as his checkpoint system for whole life planning. To learn more about Todd’s ideas, do visit his website at www.accidentalcreative.com.
The fundamental principle underlying Todd’s advice on hours, or on time, is that we need to view our time as a portfolio of investments in our creative life rather than obsessing about efficiency and how much we can grind out in an hour, a week, or a month. The rampant obsession with tasks, minutes, and widget count is a holdover from early industrialization. It is not a good fit for most creative people whose most valuable currency is ideas rather than output.
Unlike a lot of time strategies promoted over the last decades which can seem very complex- at least too complex for me, Todd’s advice is refreshingly simple. He advises scheduling three things unfailingly into the week: Idea time, Unnecessary creating, and the Weekly Checkpoint.
Let’s take each of these up in turn.
Idea time is one hour scheduled at least once a week at a scheduled time when a person can be alert and undisturbed. This time is not for emptying the head and seeing what floats in. This time is for purposeful generation of ideas, however wild and wonderful, for resolving one of the Big Three problems of the week. Idea time happens with paper in hand or with a white board and white board markers. It is a time to visualize solutions, to identify and reconsider assumptions, to think about approaches that have had gratifying results in other circumstances, and to do free associative thinking about key aspects of the problem or challenge at hand.
Unnecessary creating is engaging in making something for no one other than oneself. This for an artist might be a painting with no thought to exhibit or sell it. To a writer it might be a letter to a loved one long deceased. But unnecessary creating can also be a project in an area entirely unrelated to ones regular occupation. It’s really important to choose something fun and hopefully involving a bit of a challenge.
I will use myself as an example. I don’t write for a living. Nor do I do art for a living. But last year I wrote a novel just for fun. I write, I bake, sometimes I paint just for fun. And I tutor community college students once each week in math who either fell through the cracks in their earlier schooling or have forgotten but want to relearn what they once knew.
These projects are unnecessary creating for me, even if the painting becomes a present for my daughter and the baking a contribution to dinner at a soup kitchen.
The final essential use of time Todd would have us schedule is the Weekly Checkpoint. The weekly checkpoint is the time, perhaps on a Friday afternoon or early Monday morning when the whole FRESH system is launched for the week.
One does the following:
- Lists this weeks projects-in-progress, professional and personal, and the key challenges and bottlenecks in each at the moment
- Identifies the Big Three for the week and writes them on an index card or sign for prominent display in the workspace and maybe a traveling copy for the pocket
- Checks to make sure related projects are clustered in the work schedule
- Checks for meetings with ones circle or head-to-heads and decides what one hopes to address in those sessions
- Looks at the calendar to make sure energy demands, including both professional and personal ones, are balanced for the week and makes adjustments if there are too many high energy demands happening simultaneously
- Asks if anything needs to be pruned to help keep energy flowing well and to make sure energy is available for great work
- Checks that energy-enhancing activities are planned and distributed among draining ones and that study time, a purposeful experience, idea time, and unnecessary creating are due to happen as well
That’s just a summary of the FRESH system. If you are interested in learning more from the author himself, head on over to www.accidentalcreative.com.
And in case you are wondering, I have no relationship with Todd Henry and hadn’t read his book or visited his website until this week. But I find I have followed many of his recommendations for years in my professional life, and I definitely intend to try some of the others.
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