Work Rhythm on Sabbatical

(written in February 2018)

I need to revisit work habits and rhythms during my sabbatical. My time on campus fills steadily from one year to the next and it is harder and harder to find meaningful time to compose. I need to reclaim creative time each day and a year long sabbatical offers a perfect opportunity to explore and refine a process that can sustain good work when the sabbatical is over. It is time to restructure, experiment, and pontificate. I’ll revisit this subject as the year progresses. Here are my initial thoughts:

I should push harder to become a morning composer. I worked late and sporadically during my school days. After Kaela entered our life I continued this pattern but quickly found tension with the family rhythm. Eventually I realized that I should write in the morning before my mind cluttered and mental energy was spent on other tasks. This was a good change but creative sessions were still sporadic. It is time to up my game. The new sabbatical day begins at 5AM. There is coffee, reading, a short bit of exercise, a few remarks in a journal, and then composition. I give myself an hour to work towards the composition. All of this happens while the house is silent and the world remains dark. I aim to get in a good 90-minutes of composing before I engage with my family. This rhythm also requires an earlier bedtime. If I am not attending a concert, I should be reading in bed by 9:30PM.

The distraction of the internet must be tamed! My administrative duties on campus create an urgent fervor with my inbox. Life seems easier when I am on top of email and compulsive behavior forces constant email connectivity. Many studies and writings about productivity and creativity identify email as an evil force. A single email can derail focused thought for 20-minutes. I’ve employed the service Freedom which blocks the internet (in whole or in part) for pre-ordained periods of time. This is good but I should take the additional step of avoiding all email and web related activities till late morning. That is my new goal – of which I am currently failing.

Running and exercise started back up three years ago because of a ridiculous bet (to be described in a future post). It quickly became a nice path towards some weight loss. Now it is essential for mental health and focused work. I naturally enjoy running but require concrete goals to make the habit constant. I work towards 25-miles a week and 100-miles a month. This robust number keeps the mental benefits of exercise strong. I alternate between audio books and music during runs, which adds to the experience. Exercise and time outdoors are great for happiness!

I stumbled into meditation during elementary school and spent two years with a regular practice. The practice stopped for more than 25 years. I’ve returned to meditation in the last few years but struggle to make it daily. There is lots of evidence that meditation benefits the creative mind. It centers, calms, promotes good sleep, increases empathy, and helps with extended focus. I want to do this daily.

My natural habitat involves clutter. I make piles, leave things out, move from project to project with fury, and embrace the idea that a cluttered office indicates a great mind. BS. I now believe a spotless studio with wide open work spaces will invite calm and focused work. Walking into a perfectly organized and decluttered studio each morning will propel me into a zen-like state of note making. At least that is the fantasy I am pursuing. Once my studio is in shape I intend to move onto the kitchen, garage, desktop, and other areas of life.

The only habits from this list that are currently in good order are running and waking at 5AM. Everything else cycles through good and bad phases. I’m eager to enact small steps to make these habits solid. I fear returning to academic duties next January without well developed structure. It is easy to lose the creative time when life on campus is full – and life on campus is always full.

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