Some time ago, Oliver Burkeman, writing in the Guardian newspaper, discussed the idea of implementing “systems” rather than using goals when we are striving toward a new frontier, whether it be in quilting, or better exercise. He starts by quoting the Dilbert creator, Scott Adams:
“when you’re trying to get better at something – a creative skill, such as cartooning, or a habit, such as regular exercise – think in terms of systems, not goals” for “when you approach life as a sequence of milestones to be achieved, you exist “in a state of near-continuous failure.” Almost all the time, by definition, you’re not at the place you’ve defined as embodying accomplishment or success. And should you get there, you’ll find you’ve lost the very thing that gave you a sense of purpose – so you’ll formulate a new goal and start again.”
Systems ideas mean that if you are a person who walks in the morning, you’ll strive to change one small thing about your stride, or improve your time slightly, and incorporate that into your exercise. The trick is to keep it simple and small, much like the kaizen idea formulated in Japan, which means continuous change for the better.
Adams notes that working in a system is “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run,” regardless of immediate outcome. Burkeman goes on to say that “drawing one cartoon a day is a system; so is resolving to take some kind of exercise daily – rather than setting a goal, like being able to run a marathon in four hours. One system that’s currently popular online goes by the name “No Zero Days”: the idea is simply not to let a single day pass without doing something, however tiny, towards some important project.”
So how does this apply to quilting?
If you think of all our words for unfinished goals (e.g.: WIP, UFO, etc.) and look at the number of online “finishing” blogs that give away prizes if you finish quilts on your list, you can see that we in the quilting world might need the idea of a system.
What IF you approached it as having no zero days…or…continuously making one small change for the better (kaizen) by sewing for small increments at a regular basis, rather than trying to do a blitz over a weekend? Certainly how your time is managed for you has an impact, for I recognize that small children, spouses, bosses and health issues can indeed interrupt the time available to you. But what if you had a idea of doing a small part of your project, but doing it daily? Soon your system would bring you to a completed quilt project.
It’s hard to grasp the idea of process, especially if you’ve spent your life thinking in terms of product. We’re very good at beating ourselves up over our procrastination or lack of motivation or our inability to get that quilt done. But I like the idea of leaving behind a “state of near-continuous failure,” exchanging that instead for a series of small, manageable tasks that become a part of my day.
I leave with you a little saying on my bookshelf from a past leader in my church, which, when I’ve overwhelmed myself, helps keeps me centered: