Does your priorities match your dreams?


Our creative dreams are often deeply important to us, creative longings of the heart that just won't leave us alone. They are the things formed out of love for a craft and from who we want to be and what life we want to live.

And yet, dreams can be hard to work on. Hard to prioritize in a life filled with other things you want and must do, things with a shorter time frame and a closer connection to your everyday life. 

Dreams can go unrealized because they are so big and your weeks only have so many hours. So how do we do it? How do we match the priorities of our day to day life with our big and scary dreams?

Well, based on what I've found helpful in my creative life, I believe there's three keys to making this work: dedicated time, good habits and facing resistance. 

Separate long term and short term work

Maybe you've heard of the Eisenhower matrix. It's a model used in many workplaces to help people prioritize, but it works just as well in your creative life. 

On one axis you have importance, and on the other axis you have urgency, resulting in four boxes: the important and urgent, the unimportant and urgent, the important and non-urgent and the unimportant and non-urgent.

The very common problem we humans face is that urgency sounds a lot like importance to us. That's why deadlines are so effective to make us sit down and do the work. Which is all fine and dandy, until we realize we're working on unimportant tasks just because they're urgent while making little or no progress on the important non-urgent tasks, like our dreams.

The especially tricky part comes when you have a lot that you care about in your life, and perhaps multiple creative projects going on at once. If one project has a shorter time frame, it's likely that you're going to dedicate more time to that project.

I've found this to be true time and time again in my creative life, where I prioritize writing blog posts and taking photos for Instagram, or doing a semi-big project like the recent redesign of my website, and last in line comes working on my most long-term project, my novel.

It's not that I don't want to write my book, it's just that I put it off for a few weeks to finish up something that feels more pressing. It's easy to fall into thinking that pushing the work a week here and there won't matter because the time frame is so long, but that kind of thinking is what leads to us realizing that we haven't worked towards our dream for the past months. 

What has worked best for me to solve this is to intentionally dedicate time slots to short term and long term work. I used to switch between them every other weekend, now I'm a little bit more flexible. But the rule is that when it's time for long term work, no short term work is allowed to interfere.

The point isn't exactly how you do it, just that you give space for both your urgent work and you bigger dreams in your creative life. You can take one month to get ahead on your shorter projects and then one month for long term projects, or dedicate different days a week for different projects, or you can just block off mornings to one and daytime to the other. Whatever fits you, your projects and your life.

Build up a habit for dream work

Making a dream happen is big work. It's often work that takes a long time, work that challenges and perhaps scares you and work that might at times feel dreary because progress is slow. It may also be the kind of project that has to happen on top of from everything else that is happening in your life. 

While reading The Creative Habit in the Teacup Owl book club, the author Twyla Tharp firmly convinced me of the importance of creative habits. With them, it's be much easier to make time for our creative dreams and work on them consistently.

Habits are important because they both help us get into the right mood, and to make the choice of doing the work an easy one. If we shape the ways we begin into a routine, then the threshold to begin will feel much lower.

I've found that I have great habits surrounding doing general creative work - sitting down at my desk with my breakfast on weekend mornings, making a pot of tea, lighting a candle.

But if I want to write on my novel, I need to switch my work mode. If I don't I'll feel compelled to flip between my novel and other tasks, which is terrible for my writing.

Instead I need to restart my mind with my novel writing habits, mainly including starting a specific playlist. To make the switch even easier, I'm now trying to hone a few more novel specific habits.

Do you have habits for your dream work? Are they the same habits as other creative work, or have you found a specific routine that helps you slip into the right mood? If not, what habits could you shape to make it easier? Could you work on specific times, or in other ways surround your work with a familiar setting?

Face your resistance

Dreams are scary. Not only because they mean so much to us and failure would be devastating, but also because they're often ambitious and big, forcing us to do things we haven't done before and grow as creatives.

These are the kind of creative projects that are the scariest ones and the ones that create most resistance. Even if we've gotten used to creating, even if we've built up decent creative confidence, dreams can still be really hard to sit down and work towards.

The most important thing here is to acknowledge that it is in fact scary and uncomfortable and to catch yourself if you're trying to avoid your desk or easel or wherever your dream work needs to happen. 

It's okay that it's scary, it just means that it's important. Seek out that fear, let it guide you to the work you're meant to do. Make an intentional decision that resistance won't win over you. Stick to your habits, break down your big goals and just keep your eyes on the creative process. 

If you're serious about your creative dreams, you need to show resistance that you are. You need to look fear in the eye and make sure your priorities in life match your dreams. If they don't you know what to do. Dedicate time, strengthen your habits and show your resistance who's in charge.