Five things that stop you from creating and what to do about them

If there’s nothing else you get out of this article, I want you to remember this one oddly comforting and horribly true thing: Nobody cares. Now, onto the things that stop you from putting pen or brush to paper or canvas, or writing that song or resume–and what you can do about them.

Fear of Failure

I’m not sure what people mean by this, because there are so many ways to fail, it’s almost impossible to count them. I’m tempted to ask, but I think that would just make these people more fearful. That said, there are also countless ways to succeed.

The key is to define success for yourself. This is a necessary step in the creative process anyway, as soon as you set out to do something specific. It helps to have something in mind that you’re aiming for, and it could be something as simple as wanting to create a better one than the last one.

But artists generally focus on an aspect of the work and are much more specific than that. They also set personal challenges for themselves: “I want to get the shading right.” “I want to widen my vocabulary and description powers.” “I want to try poetry.” “I want to write a gospel song.”

See how this is not copping out and going easy on yourself, but actually creating a specificity it’s damned hard to be afraid of? The worst that can happen is you don’t get the shading right. Not the end of the world and public shaming.

What to do: Set a personal success target that has nothing to do with anyone else. What would constitute achievement, a new high mark, make you proud? If the answer is nothing, examine your mindset. If literally nothing is ever good enough, you are probably driving yourself crazy and upset everywhere in your life, not just with your creative projects and art.

Setting unrealistic expectations

Related to fear of failure and defining success, this has to do with imposing expectations and requirements you feel you must be held to in order for it to “count.” Example: first time writer wants to write a runaway bestseller. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting that, and it certainly is possible, having that be your sole motivator is intrinsically disempowering. Whether something becomes a hit or not is at least 50% out of your control (maybe more like 80%) and is a bonus to actually making something of good quality that you will be proud to put your name on.

Fantasizing about being rich and famous because of your work is one thing; using that fantasy as a standard of success is all or nothing thinking, and a set-up for disappointment.

What to do: Break your expectations and benchmarks into much smaller, doable steps. Want to write a bestseller? Sketch out story ideas. Make a reading list. Schedule in a time every day to write. Browse the Amazon bestseller list. Write your chapter headings. Write character sketches. Map out the plot. If these are too big, guess what? Make them even smaller. Clear the space, get the notebook or document file up, and mess around, for a specific period of time.

Fear of criticism

Repeat after me: Nobody cares. Criticism happened when you were in school and everybody had to pass judgement on everybody else, before we were all enlightened and realized that good/bad, right/wrong is old school, and there’s something for everyone, and process and product and purpose are three different things. So shut up. (I may have digressed a little.) What happens when we’re adults and we create something someone else doesn’t like is they ignore it and move on.

If you create something you don’t like, you move on. And if there’s anyone left in your life who’s criticizing you on a regular basis, besides the gremlin that’s criticizing you (and me) right now, distance yourself quickly.

And p.s., it’s really good to know if your biggest critic is you, because that’s so normal. But still ignore it and move on. See of Fear of Failure and Setting Unrealistic Expectations, above.

What to do: Create anyway.

Thinking you should know how to do everything from the outset

Now didn’t I just say you could have an idea of something you wanted to accomplish? And didn’t I say that you could use that as a measure of success instead of whether you went viral because of it? What I didn’t tell you is, you won’t automatically know how to do what you’re setting out to do. This is why it’s a benchmark and a goal. It’s going to force you to grow. Yay! This is not a reason not to start. Stopping yourself here is a form a perfectionism.

What to do: Stay present and as each problem is encountered, do your best to solve it. Research how others do it. Experiment. Realize that it may take you hundreds of tries before you master something. The journey of a thousand miles consists of with one tentative, innocent, misguided and wrong step after another. Wrong isn’t the end of the world. And once you’ve mastered whatever, you will feel as if you’ve actually been to the end of the world, and you’ll want to go back again, as soon as possible.

Thinking it should turn out as you pictured it

Making goals and configuring your idea of success are great ways to get yourself off the starting mark, but by the same token, being too rigid about the outcome can make you judge yourself a failure, a disincentive to continue or try again.

Creativity is a process of making something where there are no instructions–and nobody cares. (Did I mention that?) Give yourself permission to follow the process, be alive in the moment and surrender to the dictates of something wiser than–gasp!–your logical mind. Get to enjoy not knowing, flying by the seat of your pants and all those other things that got you into trouble in school. In the creative process, there are no bad grades, only people who don’t show up.

In the creative process, there are no bad grades, only people who don’t show up. Click To Tweet

What to do: If you want to get over yourself and start being happy already, download my book, Happily Creative: How To Become a Happy Creative in Just 30 Days! It’s a 30 Day Plan that includes dealing with perfectionism, fear of failure, lack of ideas, the time-space continuum and guides you through the revolutionary process of putting a stake in the ground of your life and saying “YES!” to creating everyday for the next 30 days. Now THAT’S badass.

Yes, I want to be a a happily creative badass!

Understanding the 4 Types of To-Do Tasks for Solo Biz Owners

Healers, Energy Workers and Creatives of all types who’ve decided to make their calling a business are also small business owners. Getting grounded in the particulars can do a world of good for the energy flow of your business.

[Editor’s Note: Today’s post represents a shift in the focus of the Joy Report toward articles that speak to the needs of people in business for themselves in the healing and creative professions. We hope you enjoy it.]

As small business owners, we carry stuff around in our heads in a seemingly never-ending tangle of tasks to be attended to. Having this constant sense of needing to do things to keep our business on track, to grow it, or to just keep up with our skills can leave us feeling drained and in constant fear of failure at the very thing we love the most. (Besides our cats, our coffee and our partners, of course!)

At some point, most of us at least get to putting the tangle down on paper in list form. Which is a nice start, but where to go from there? One key to prioritizing, contrary to how most of us tackle the list, is to understand the different types of activities represented by our long list of to-dos.

Stephen Covey, in his classic “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” created a values-based system, a grid that is useful in understanding why prioritizing can be so challenging: Some items just shout louder, while others silently take up mental and energetic space and never get done. Meanwhile, we find ourselves doing the not important, not urgent things because they help us feel accomplished (or help us zone out to deal with the stress of our list!)

7 Habits Grid

But what if we can’t identify what’s important, because it all feels about the same amount of urgent and necessary?

Another Approach

I’d like to propose a different approach, one that I use, that helps me understand what’s going on with the beast I call my to-do list. In other words, what role do these items actually play in my business? Answering the question ”Why are they there?” helps me to know what to do with them. Once I understand the different kinds of tasks that are all mish-mashed together in my head, I can begin to schedule and plan out my approach for getting them done.

Scheduling and planning your tasks is a much more effective, efficient and calming way to approach your endless list of sole proprietor to-dos. More about that in a second. First let’s look at the four types of tasks, so we can begin to clear the fog in a big way.

Okay, get out your to-do list. As we go along, categorize each task on your list. Some, of course, will fall into more than category. That’s okay!

The 4 Basic Types of To-Do Tasks for Solo Biz Owners

Task Type #1: Business Maintenance

These are the tasks we need to do to keep what’s happening happening. Attending to licensure, insurance, paying the monthly bills, cleaning our office, posting to social media and to our blog (which might also fall into Business Building, below), communicating with clients, scheduling, getting in needed supplies, maintaining equipment, processing payments, billing and bookkeeping.

Task Type #2: Business Building

These are the tasks that relate to getting customers and increasing our business income: advertising, crafting offers, bonuses and incentives, publicity, giving talks, and generally strategizing about how to bring in more clients, how to reach the right clients, and how to communicate about what you do in the right places.

Task Type #3: Business Development

Let’s face it, some of us are tweaking our products and services almost all the time. Related to our business identity, these tasks are about branding, telling our story, establishing a presence in our community, even discovering what, where and who our community is. In this category would fall those tasks that pertain to defining, refining and expanding the scope of your business: researching what others in similar fields are doing, developing or creating a class or workshop to see if there’s interest, experimenting with a new product, learning about whether a new service or skill set would fit into what you’re doing, working on your professional bio, researching local organizations that might be a nice complement to what you do, or might help you with your business, creating a name for your business or a title for what you do, or pricing out an addition to your office space to see if it’s feasible.

Task Type #4: Skill-building

These are the activities that develop and hone the skills you need to perform your business or service or offer your product. Those skills are either directly related to your service (learning a new technique), your product (learning how to make or package something), or are directly related to daily business activities, such as operating your computer, camera or video equipment, learning how to keep financial records, etc.

Scheduling and Planning: Take Control of Your Time

Remember earlier I said scheduling and planning tasks is efficient, effective and calming? Here’s where you can Ninja your task list. Look at your typical week and actually write into your schedule regular times for business maintenance, business building, business development and skill-building. The trick is to schedule these times frequently so that you don’t get backlogged with tasks in any one sitting.

How you create your schedule will depend on many factors, such as other commitments, whether you’re doing your business full time or part time, and when the best time of day is to conduct business for your particular business, as well as when you are at your best. Also, you may be fairly lean with maintenance tasks during a lull in business, and this would be an ideal time to schedule more heavily toward one of the other three types of tasks.

An Example: An Everyday Task

One item that shows up on my list often is something like “Email so-and-so about such-and-such.” I might be tempted to lump this into a general category of Emails To Be Sent. Oh joy. I think I’ll get to that right after I pull out my toenails or go bungee jumping. Such is my love for composing and sending 10 emails at a time.

Here’s where it matters whom I’m emailing and why. It might be a client I’m following up with (business maintenance), or someone who’s inquired about my services (business building), or someone who holds a monthly meeting I’d like to attend for networking (business building, business development).

Whichever type of task it is, that’s where the follow-up to the client goes in my schedule. It might be the only email I send during my business maintenance time. Whew. Or, I might actually have 10 emails to send for business maintenance. If I have time bulked out for that every single day, do I have to do them all in one day? Probably not.

Another example: A High Value Task

The more categories a particular task fits into, the more doing that task can potentially do for your business. So, even though it may be labor-intensive, your business stands to gain in multiple ways from doing it. That’s a different kind of efficiency, not to be found in assembly-line types of businesses, but one a small, creatively-based business owner can readily appreciate.

Creating a website is a good example. It’s been on your to-do list forever, right? You’re not sure if you need one, and you definitely don’t know how to create one. If we can break it down into some component parts and analyze what type of tasks they are, we can approach this with a little more clarity and ease. One thing that stops a lot of people from getting a website is they’re not sure it’s going to be worth the trouble and the steep learning curve to actually have the website. What will it do for my business, they ask.

First, there’s the tech (Skill Building) aspect of checking out the many free sites to use for your website and choosing one and learning how to use it. (Hint: You can create an account, mess around with their templates and then decide not to use that site.) If you take 30 minutes for this, you haven’t invested that much time, and it’s enough to know whether you can deal with continuing pursuing the website idea right now. Thirty minutes to save hours is a good investment. If you decide to pursue it, you now have a better idea of how much time to schedule in for this task. (About twice as much as you think you’ll need.)

Then there’s the marketing (Business Building) task of writing the actual content of your site so it accurately represents your business. Working on this also includes deciding which services and products to advertise or focus on and which ones may not be as important to publicize (Business Development). For this website, you’ll need pictures, contact information, and you’ll need to decide whether to publish fees, and perhaps gather some testimonials. (Business Maintenance). By the way, all the content you create for your site can be used again and again on business cards, posters and flyers when you’re advertising specific programs or services at other times and places.

You may find out that you already have all that content scattered around in different places. Collecting it and transferring it to your website gets it all in one place (Business Maintenance).

Another great example of a high value task is getting an office space in which to practice your craft or offer your service. Think about how many decisions you have to make about this, how they relate to your business, and the value to your business of thinking these things through, defining them for yourself, and then actually having the office space.

One Last Thing

Now that you have your to-do list divided into these four categories, or labeled appropriately, you can apply the 7 Habits Grid, or simply prioritize according to whatever makes the most sense for your business.

If, for example, I have a list of maintenance tasks, some of which involve deadlines (such as paying bills), I would obviously to those first.

Tailored To Your Business’ Needs

You now have blocks of time for each of these types of tasks scheduled into your week and a prioritized list within each category. Now you can dedicate 30 minutes one day to investigating free web hosting sites, for example. Once you’ve done that, you’ve accomplished part of your very complex task of creating a website. The trick is, when the time’s up, the time’s up. That’s all you can do today. Also, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by other things. Turn off the phone, shut down your email, and close the door.

You decide how often you need to schedule in business maintenance, development, skill building and business building. Ideally, you should have skill building at least weekly. Maintenance is easier if done daily. Business building and development generally take longer and are a little more complex, so schedule in chunks of time devoted just to them.

You can experiment with dedicating certain days for certain activities: Wednesday is business development day. Or create a target, such as, each day do one business building task. This helps build momentum, especially if these tasks are your least favorite. Saturdays could be skills day, where you get to play, create, explore and expand your craft. Be sure and schedule in time for the things about your business that you love. Also, think about what skills you’ll need when your business reaches the next level and start to plan for how you will develop them.

Most Neglected To-Do: Scheduled Time Off

One last point about to-dos and scheduling: Schedule in days or times off from work. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have times when you’re off the hook for accomplishing things. For example, I have an outside job in my original profession that I do two mornings a week. Those afternoons I have off from business tasks. I may end up doing business-related things, but it’s not a requirement. This has reduced my stress 100% on days when I already have to get up at the crack of dawn to go do something unrelated to my business.

Making time to read, take a walk, throw a frisbee, or take in some local culture can do more for your business than the leanest list of tasks ever.

Did I miss anything? Want to pitch a question to our esteemed panel of experts? (That’s you and me.) Comment below and let us know your favorite way of turning to-dos into ta-das or the snarliest snarls in your creative solo biz!

Notes: The idea for this post came from a mentor of mine, Brendon Burchard, creator of Experts Academy and other wonderful tools for entrepreneurs.

Make Space In Your Life For You

If “Where do I begin?” is your creativity quagmire, start here.

photo by nacu
photo by nacu

Your time is your life. Give yourself permission to use it the way you really want to. Here are some suggestions for getting a handle on it. Once you get into the habit of setting aside time on a daily basis and get a handle on your physical space, you will know where to begin, I promise. It’s waiting to have a clear idea of what to do before setting aside the time that makes us never actually get to doing anything.

photo by Melodi2 on morguefile
photo by Melodi2

There was a time when we left our phones at home. Attached to the wall. We even went into our bathrooms without them. We didn’t know it, but we were living on the edge.

The best thing to do is put the phone in airplane mode or leave it in another room. Your mind will come up with a million must-do things, including stuff to look up online. Breathe through these urges until they pass. Then:

photo by JPPI on morguefile
photo by JPPI on morguefile

Set aside 5 minutes.
I like to use a timer. This lets my mind and body relax. I know, I know: your timer is on your phone. If you can’t have it in the same room with you and not check it every 30 seconds, use a different timer. Or just watch the clock. Better yet, forget about time until someone knocks on your door. Then:

Do it every day.
You know that time and place you just carved out? Do it again the next day. But make it longer on day two. See if you can put a fence around 30 minutes for yourself. Play around with the time and place until you hit on something that works. Then:

Do something fun, different and goal-less.
Here’s a list of things you might do during your you-time:

Take out your dusty guitar and play around on it.
Write a journal entry
Listen to music lying on your back
Take a walk with a camera
Go for a bike ride
Savor a tall glass of water or cup of hot tea
Take ten deep breaths
Find wild mint
Forage for berries
Listen for as many different bird calls as you can
Walk without a destination
Sit under a tree
Light a candle
Plan a garden


Reclaim the Rest of Your Time, Too
Now that you have a handle on 30 minutes, take a look at the other 23 1/2. Just for one day, keep track of how you spend your time. If your schedule is different every day, you might opt to do this for a whole week. It’s easiest to do it right in the moment. Just like tracking money, if you leave it to memory you’ll probably forget something. We go unconscious all the time. Keeping track of your time can help you pinpoint the time sucks in your life. You may think it’s the time you spend helping your partner find his keys, but actually it’s your after work shopping stops.

Just write the facts and see what you find out about how you spend your time.

If your inner critic starts piping up with what a lazy, no-good, time-wasting bum you are, laugh. That’s right, laugh! Know why? Because your inner critic’s fly is open and there’s spinach between her front teeth.

What’s your favorite way to zone out?
We tend to do our zone-outs during transition times in the day. It’s late afternoon and almost time to start cooking dinner or wrapping up your shift. It’s 9:30 and you’re good for nothing but not sleepy yet. Whatever it is you do, I’m not going to bother suggesting you stop doing it. I’m going to say this: Could you take one of those and turn it into a mindful, deliberate, intentional time just for you? Because, clearly, you need something during those times.

Before you turn on the device, open the fridge, or get into the car, take five minutes and breathe. Really. Five whole minutes of breathing. For extra credit, drink a tall glass of water. Seriously. Then see where you are. If whatever it is has lost its appeal, then maybe it’s time to do something else. Then:

photo by Julio Ottoboni
photo by Julio Ottoboni

 What else is taking up your mental space?
Besides getting a handle on your time and the things your do to waste it and zone out, it can be illuminating to know that physical things can create mental clutter.

Look around your space right now. Are you surrounded by stuff that makes you feel good? Do you like it? Love it? Do you have a happy living space? Is it too cluttered? Is it easy to get around in? Does it lend itself to the things you like to do the most? Is there a space that’s just yours, that you can do with what you will?

There are no right or wrongs here, but there are right and wrong for you. You may not understand at first why some of the answers to the above questions are what they are. For example, you may have been thinking all along that you like being surrounded by your great Uncle George’s railroad memorabilia. Yet when asked if your living space makes you happy, you wanted to answer no, not really. Good information. You may not have what it takes right now to change it, but it is good to know.

So there you have it. Daily private you-time, conscious use of all your time, and keeping a physical space that’s pleasing and conducive to your flow. All that without addressing the things we traditionally blame for our lack of creativity: other people, circumstances and lack of inspiration.

Try it for a week and let me know what you learned. I’m curious to know how this works for others. I have depended on these three things for years.

Until next week, I hope you’ll check out my new free pdf articles, consider joining my mailing list by using the links to the right, subscribing to this blog via email, also to the right, leaving a comment, and  sharing this or other posts that have touched you.

photo by mrmaco4
Wild Mint photo by mrmaco4

With love,


Thirty Days of Joy ~ Day 29 ~ My Completion Thing

by Phyllis Capanna © 2012 joyreport

 I have an old thing about completing things. I don’t like to do it. I find ways to back out, forget, and otherwise flake. The worst episode of this was when I was in college the first time. After completing two years, I went ahead and registered for classes for the fall semester of what would have been my junior year, then proceeded to fizzle academically, even forgetting I was enrolled, until I received my grade report, an A an F and two Incompletes. (The A must have been in a class that accepted papers in lieu of attendance. I was a master of the all-nighter-the-night-before paper.)

I skulked out of B. U. with two full years complete and that one semester hanging in the air like a wet flag.

I also have a preemptive ending thing, which goes like this: I think you’re about to dump me, so I beat you to it and dump you. I’ve done this with jobs, relationships, friendships.

There’s also just not showing up. The worst of these was probably reconciling with an old friend over the phone, which led to him inviting me to a small dinner party in celebration of his birthday, followed by my not showing up.

I’m not proud of these, so I’m not boasting. I’m reflecting on how difficult it is for me to take responsibility for what I’ve started and see it through to a conclusion that leaves no loose ends.

Why am I bringing this up in the Joy Report?

First off, this is the next to last essay in the Thirty Days of Joy series. Secondly, I feel it coming up again: I don’t want to complete the Thirty Days! I feel like kind of pretending it never happened. A good way to do that is to leave the end unraveled, like finishing a knitting project by just removing the needle. You can pull on the end of the thread, and the whole thing comes undone.

Don’t finish, and maybe it never happened.

But you know what sucks more than facing an ending and feeling whatever about it?

Standing around at a party and hearing yourself say, “I did this thing that I almost finished but couldn’t because I contracted encephelomuddle disease and had to put it down.” Everybody knows what really happened. Everybody knows you could have stayed up writing despite your fever and boils, if you’d wanted to.

You know what it is, really? It’s being chicken. Not only of endings, but of successes. Part of me recognizes this completion as a success. If it’s not the billboard kind of success, the sidebar in Time Magazine kind of success, or even the feature in the local daily paper kind of success, it’s not a real success. It’s a little success. And little successes are embarrassing.

Please do not, whatever you do, tell people I wrote an essay a day for thirty days and the world went on.

Not to mention the dreaded “What’s next?”

There is a what’s next, but I’m not sure what form that will take. Maybe I have to actually finish to find out.

But I do know this from my Thirty Days of Joy exercise: Writing every day for publication, no matter how humble a publication, feels good. Finishing an essay every day feels good. There is a satisfaction where there used to be a nagging feeling of wasting my life on chores and eating.

I’m reminded of the time management story about putting in the big rocks first, then filling in with the small rocks, and thereby “finding” enough time to do the things that are the most important. The thing that got displaced during this project was my sleep schedule. But in the perfect (and, yes, fearful) symmetry that is life, I concurrently lost most of my hours of work, so that getting up in the morning wasn’t as much of a necessity as it usually would have been. So, I stayed up way too late, writing, no doubt drawing on my all-nighter skills.

Some nights I cursed. Some nights I agonized. Some nights I knew exactly what I wanted to say. Some nights I watched in fascination as something coherent emerged from my tap-tap-tapping and my listening.

My writing muscles are stronger. My editing ear is surer. I’ve delighted myself, surprised myself, and inspired myself. I’ve dipped my big toe into the world of blogging and have started to seriously learn about self publishing. Some very old, very dear dreams are resurfacing, and just like with an old friend, the conversation picks up where it left off as if no time has passed at all.

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