Managing Creative Chaos

2014 - 07.10 - #12  - Managing Chaos

This is one of those blogs where I don’t have the answers. And believe me I’m looking for clues.

First a confession: I’m not a member of the clean desk club. Not that I’m against clean desktops – I like them a lot. I had one on Saturday, May 17th, 2013 at 9:15 pm. It was a wonderful moment.

But I look at my desk today and see an old laptop battery (what to do with that?), a HUGE stack of recycled paper (keeps building up), a video case with the DVD from my recent monologue, a stack of papers with the e-book I’m writing, a bottle of lens cleaner, a tax document I don’t want to forget, a little memento from a colleague in Santa Fe, and a pile of books that I’m reviewing… you get the drift. It takes time to figure out what to do with all that stuff.

And mostly, I always have something I want to do more than clean my desk. Sometimes it’s an urgent work project. Other times, I’d rather garden when the sun is out, or write a poem when it’s not. My desk waits patiently for me to find just the right moment (maybe the next time the power goes out) when I will step away from projects and attend to it.

I’m not touting this as a way to be!

I remember a boss who was running a start-up, and couldn’t understand how I could be Yale educated and yet tolerate chaos. Little did he know! He wanted my desktop to always look organized.

Silly man. He didn’t get that my stacks and piles were a sign that I was deeply engaged in a project.

When I was most creative, my desktop looked chaotic. The “happy-clean-desk-look” meant that I had either finished a project or really hadn’t been doing anything productive and polishing the desk was amusing. (Oh, the days of having people pay you to clean your desk!)

He kept his desk super neat – but the company tanked.

But sometimes the chaos gets to me. Have any ideas?

Here’s where I’m looking for help:

1. Understanding learning styles.

Maybe you’ll call it a cop out but it helps me to know that I’m not crazy – in fact, given my learning and personality styles, I’m pretty normal. One style-ometer that I really like is the Gregorc Learning styles instrument which tells you how you perceive and order your world. In the Gregorc system – you are either random or sequential, and either abstract or concrete. I’m abstract and random. My random side is creative but never remembers to place the same thing in the same place twice. My abstract side gives me the ability to be very intuitive and see invisible possibilities. However, sometimes I don’t see the stuff right in front of me – which is why my husband harps at me when I’m cleaning up the kitchen. “Look at what you’re doing,” he says. He doesn’t understand that I’m busy strategizing the future.

The good thing about knowing your learning style is you stop using those righteous time and self-management systems that were made for obsessive concrete-linear people.

2. Reading David Allen and his Getting Things Done website.

One big idea I took from David Allen is to WRITE THINGS DOWN. I used to keep a lot in my head – so it was as if my mind was constantly on and constantly spinning. Even my computer would complain of such treatment. By writing things down I can close some of those open-ended do-loops in my brain and start organizing things in terms of purpose and projects. David has a lot of great information on his website and blog.

Note to self: write that down!

3. Using Evernote.

Finally, I discovered a place where I can write down all my random thoughts: Evernote. I know that I’m late to the party discovering this web-based software but now I’m a zealous convert!

Evernote let’s me write notes about all the stuff that’s been floating around my mind or my desk: quotes I want to use some day, ideas, deadlines, or the synopsis of a phone call. Those slips of paper floating around my desk can get added right in. And Evernote’s so search-able.

4. Grooving with Jennifer Lee.

I’m just discovering Jennifer Lee and her uber-fun right-brain business planning. She uses color and visuals to organize and plan which seems cool although I haven’t actually done it (no time!) I’m hoping that she’ll have the right-brain approach to de-cluttering my desk.

There’s more to share but I think I’ll hold right now and listen for YOUR ideas. I’m sure you can help. Besides, my handlers tell me that my blogs shouldn’t be too long, and I have a lot of papers to file!


Spark Your Thinking by Going Visual

Patty Dobrowlski at work on a visual goal

My artistic career ended in third grade.  In fact, after I received a B in Mrs. Potter’s art class, I figured that I had no talent at all.  “Stick to writing words”, I told myself.  That self-talk lasted fifty years.

More recently, I’ve recanted and acknowledged some artistic things I can do – such as create Ikebana flower arrangements– so it’s not over for me yet. But the fact of the matter still remains: I can’t draw.

This didn’t matter at all to Patti Dobrowolski, whom I heard at a recent evening event on Visual Goal Setting.  Patti is a former actress, business consultant, creativity consultant, visual strategist, visual process facilitator, and captivating wild woman. With great enthusiasm, she reassured us drawing drop-outs that we would do fine just sketching stick figures.

One of the purposes of drawing our goals was to activate the power of the right (imaginative) side of the brain, which, fortunately for me, does not do critical evaluations of artistic talent.

I was sitting next to my friend and collaborator Claire Bronson, who had introduced me to Patti’s work a year ago. Claire is herself a visual facilitator who can turn a flip chart into a work of art, and make even a word look beautiful. (see her words at  I made a mental promise: don’t even think of comparing my drawing with Claire’s!

Developing visual goals

 Patti gave us copies of templates for her visual mapping process and we began. Step one in her process is to reflect on current reality – “what’s going well in your world and what’s challenging you?”  She asked us to capture the essence of our thoughts and feelings in one-word statements. “Don’t make a list,” she told us because lists belong to our left-brain organizing, linear self – not to the creative, knowing, more random right-side of the brain that we were to encourage in this exercise.

Putting down words wasn’t hard for me because I’m pretty aware of what is working in my life right now and what I’d like to change –  so I scattered words that described my current life: “Mariah the wonder pony” (captures my heart); “Great group” (love my current leadership program clients); “Fear of the future” (yikes, this economy???)  I then struggled to think of images to go with the words and mine seemed pretty tight and constrained.

Patti kept reassuring us that drawings don’t have to be good to communicate to the right side of the brain.

We then shared with a partner what we observed in looking at our map. I noticed that Patti’s process had already included three modalities: thinking in words, drawing images, and sharing out loud – all ways of reinforcing the power of the exercise.

Our next step was the most fun for me: highlighting our intentions for the future.  Patti invited us to go on a creative trip and let our imaginations rip.

I’ve been working hard re-visioning my business and I have a lot of energy about the future, so this part was fun. I dropped my “am I doing it right concerns?” and lept into creative mode. I quickly came up with ideas and images (still not so artistic, but I didn’t care!), about the future I wanted to create.

I allowed myself to be surprised. An airplane became an easy symbol for the international work I plan to do. A circle showed me how much I value collaboration.

This time, I loved the process of drawing. I was playing full-out and my desire was pulling me forward. I was connecting with intuitive wisdom  – and putting it on paper where I could see it, reflect on it, and act. Patti again asked us to share our reflections with a partner.

Bridging the gap between current and desired reality

The final piece of this action-packed session had us think about how we would move towards the futures we saw in our drawings.  We were asked to identify three bold steps that would help us bridge the left side (current reality) of our maps with the right (desired new reality.)  I noticed one of my tablemates stalled at this point, but I was on a roll.  “Link arms to a wide community,” “Write a bolder truth,” “Speak the passion through great presentations.” I couldn’t wait to go further and look at what each of these might entail but, alas, we were out of time.

Patti encouraged us to keep working with our maps, and invited us to download the free map template she has on her website: Up Your Creative Genius. Just to feed my imagination and keep going with the process, I bought a copy of her book Drawing Solutions: How Visual Goal Setting Will Change Your Life that describes this process in more detail (complete, of course, with great illustrations.)

Many thanks to the Pacific Northwest Organizational Development Network for organizing this evening. I just wish I could get back together with everyone in six months and celebrate our progress creating that new bold reality.


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