Choose systems that move you.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: structure can be liberating if you let it.

It can be as freeing as the TARDIS, bigger on the inside that it appears on the outside and capable of taking you anywhere you want to go.

It can be as beautiful and complex as a tree, built from the repetition of small and simple – yet equally lovely – shapes and actions.

The structures we choose for ourselves also determine the pace and focus of our days – how we experience flow.

It was Jennifer Louden who sparked my thinking about this with a comment she made on her blog way back in March in one of her Wednesday Wiry Fankles.

“I’m thinking of systems as banks on a river. You need banks or you just have a big flood that trickles into nothing.”

But many of my students are attracted to metaphors for time that involve water, so this keeps coming up – and I’ve kept thinking about it.

When it comes to flowing water, if the riverbed is shallow, the water will cover a wide area and the current will have a meandering pace.

If the river banks are high, the water will run narrow, deep and fast.

How you structure your time and activities will determine the speed at which you move.

Many of us resist using systems and structures, fearing they will be constricting.

Yet just as many of us are frustrated by our own meandering.

Boundaries and guidelines – our chosen river banks – are what shape what is otherwise a twisted, wandering trickle into a current that can carry us places.

Not that I’m against slow meandering. If you’ve ever gone whitewater rafting, you know it’s nice to have some spaces in between the rapids to catch your breath.

But without the rapids, it wouldn’t be much fun.

A little constriction allows (and requires) us to focus. And focus creates flow. A flow allows us to get stuff done. You know, the good stuff.

  • Having a set time in which to accomplish something is part of what helps people to finish tasks during Bite the Candy sessions.
  • When I offer a class, following a check list of necessary steps – from the first announcement to the final lesson – helps me deliver a great course and concentrate on my students, instead of getting sidetracked with its administration.
  • Creating guidelines for your day (I won’t call it a schedule) – helps you move easily through transitions and not waste energy on moment-to-moment decision-making.

But there is a point at which constriction no longer creates the sort of flow that is useful or enjoyable.

When we hold ourselves to doing too much. When we impose limits that stifle our creativity and harm our well-being.

When our chosen river banks are so high that we find ourselves in a dark canyon shooting down class 6 rapids.

In a word: scary. And dangerous. These are the structures worth fearing.

Choose your river wisely.

Make sure it has wide, relaxed places where you can enjoy the warmth of the sun and dangle your feet in the cool water as you float lazily through a beautiful landscape.

And make sure it also has narrower, tumbling-over-rocks places where you can feel the spray on your skin and laugh and shout with the quickening of your heartbeat as you confidently navigate the rushing water.

If you choose wisely, structures are that much fun.

• • • • •

If you’d like some help choosing your river, you can learn more about how to structure your time -or- establish your systems. Fall courses begin September 14.

• • • • •


6 Responses to “Choose systems that move you.”

  1. 1 JoVE August 6, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Good argument. I think I’m still in meandering mode but slowly building up some river banks. I think part of my problem is indecision about what kind of structure would be useful.

    My daughter also struggles with this. When I propose structure for her education she balks. And yet at times when things are unsettled (like now with the move, or a few years ago when we travelled around Europe for 3 months), she recognizes that some structure makes her feel “at home”.

    The trick is striking that right balance.

    • 2 Cairene August 18, 2009 at 11:20 am

      @JoVE –
      Ah – “at home” – good structures make you feel at home. I love it. What a nice way to think about it.

      I find it’s helpful in that moment when I first notice I’m meandering to ask myself what I need – what small structure would help me stay on course. Nothing big or fancy or complicated – just what one little change could I make that would help me not to wander off in a direction I don’t want to go. So instead imposing something rigid, perhaps you could ask yourself what would make the doing more comfortable … more homey? -C

  2. 3 Jennifer Louden August 6, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    I love your blog and what you are doing here. I love the call you lead at the Comfort Cafe and I read every one of your posts. I continue to work with structures and see how important they are… thank you for your wise help on the river! (And I love love love rivers!)

    • 4 Cairene August 18, 2009 at 11:06 am

      @Jen –
      I’m so pleased you liked this and found it useful – especially since you inspired it!
      Yay for rivers! – real and metaphorical. -C

  1. 1 An invitation to experiment. « How THW Gets In Gear Trackback on December 1, 2009 at 4:00 pm
  2. 2 Luck favors the prepared. « How THW Gets In Gear Trackback on December 1, 2009 at 4:07 pm

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Third Hand Works

from overwhelmed to ready for anything | organization and time management for people in their "right" minds | administrative guidance for independent creative professionals [more info]



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