I’m not sure I’m the best person to write about how to eliminate distractions, but I have been working on it. One of my mom’s favorite stories about my childhood is this: She’d send me upstairs to my room for some purpose, and I’d come back down nonchalantly, many minutes later, without having completed the task. “Did you get your shoes?” she’d ask, looking down at my bare feet. “Oh yea!” I’d respond as I’d rush back up the stairs.
My childhood was full of “why did I come in here again?” and “what was it I was looking for?” I was, as most children are, easily distracted, eager to jump right into whatever new opportunity presented itself. I like to think I’ve brought some of that energy with me into adulthood. I say yes to almost everything. I don’t mind starting from scratch. Even though I’m almost positive that I’m more level-headed and responsible, I still find myself easily distracted. This month has been marked by far fewer social media posts, but it’s not because I’m not working. I am. I’m working on several different painting subjects, but I’m also working on finding my focus, eliminating unnecessary distractions, and making better, more intentional strokes with my brush or palette knife.
I’ve noticed a pretty substantial difference in my paintings and my spirit so I tried to name exactly what I’ve been doing differently, mostly so I could be mindful of what works and keep doing it. It turned into a list which I think is worth sharing. For the record, this is what I found worked wonders for me. I’m sure they aren’t all for everyone, but I’m willing to bet at least a few will be for some. I’d also love to know strategies you use to sharpen your focus and eliminate distractions. These are my top five.
eliminate distractions in the art studio- my top 5
1. Turn off notifications on phone. At first my post was going to be entirely about this one because it was the simplest and easiest effort with the most astounding results. My phone would buzz with email notifications or NBA scores or facebook comments at least ten to twenty times every single painting session. And even if the email was just from Pottery Barn and not a potential collector, I’d stop painting to look at the notification, note it wasn’t important, and then go back to my canvas. It takes a few seconds to get back to where I was mentally in the painting. I was doing this over and over again. If the incoming email was actually important, I’d immediately stop painting to answer it. I pride myself on being punctual in all things, but since I’ve turned off my notifications, I check and respond to emails in the morning, midday, and at night–never when I’m painting. No one has yet to complain about my timeliness. In fact, I think I give more attention to my emails now since I’m writing them sitting down with paint-free hands on my computer, not hastily on my phone trying not to get oil paint on the screen. Phone-free studio time has made me think of my practice of painting as something I need to honor and safeguard rather than use as a platform for my day’s most comprehensive multi-tasking.
2. Trade podcasts for music. If I’m addicted to anything, it’s podcasts. When my favorites release a new episode, I’m on a full-speed mission to hit play. I have spent years listening to podcasts while I paint. It never felt very distracting. But when I try to write a blog post or answer an email while one is on, I find myself hitting the “rewind ten seconds back button” again and again. I just can’t seem to listen fully and do the task at hand– certainly my painting was not getting my full attention either. Not to mention, as soon as an episode ended, I would stop painting to put on another, again breaking my focus. This month I’ve been listening to just music in my studio– loud rock when I need a pick-me-up, lighter tunes when I just want to relax into my painting. I still listen to all my favorites podcast. Just at different times- when I’m cooking dinner or driving to a live painting gig. The added bonus is that I still have new ones in my feed when I’m ready for them– I haven’t already torn through them during my painting time.
3. Sleep on it. My old routine was always this: Start a painting, finish a painting, post the painting. Lately, I’ve not posted any paintings that I’ve “just finished” but instead put the seemingly finished painting aside until the next morning when I’m able to revisit it with fresh eyes. Every single time I’ve added strokes that have improved what I thought was a finished painting.
4. Self talk. I’ve written about this before because I find it revolutionary. When I catch myself saying “I have to” do this or that, I’ve learned to quickly replace it with “I get to”. For me “I get to” doesn’t repress valid feelings of frustration or exhaustion, but reminds me that what I’m doing now is something I never could have imagined just a few short years ago. “I get to” feels like it honors the hard work I’ve put in, acknowledges the lucky breaks, and allows me to wonder about the “will get to” just now taking shape from the efforts of today. Mantras have always been helpful to me. This most recent one has been particularly useful
5. Start what can’t be finished. Take this scenario. I’ve only got an hour until I have to pick up my son from school. An hour isn’t enough time to create the painting I’ve got on the docket. So instead of getting started on something I will have to quit, I opt instead to go down a social media rabbit hole or do the dishes. Now, I intentionally start paintings I know I won’t be able to finish. At least not that same day. There might be no greater feeling than waking up on a Tuesday and walking into a studio with an already-started painting on the easel. It eliminates the pain of “what am I going to paint today”. Plus, everything is ready to go– the paints, the canvas all leftover from the day before. I walk in and paint. No setup required.
I say it all the time– I’m a work in progress. I still stand in front of an open fridge wondering which item I’d opened it to retrieve. I still go into my car to get sunglasses and come back into the house squinting but with a handful of spare change. But my painting time? I can say with confidence, I’m figuring that one out.
Below are some of the paintings I’ve been working on. Most are gloriously unfinished.