What does it take to make me work?

Students' incentive chart

Mommy bought poster-size charts like these and put them up on the wall.

When I was little, my mom encouraged us to do homework and chores by creating a reward chart. She would sit us down to discuss all our obligations, and then she’d write these on the chart and post it to the wall. Each time we did what we were supposed to, we got a sticker on our chart. After we accumulated a certain number of stickers, we could choose a reward. As I recall, the rewards were things like Sanrio stationery or special outings. I found out only a year or two ago that my mom was raised with similar charts, and that’s where she got the idea. I wonder where Grandma got it from?

I’ve never quite escaped the reward-chart mentality. Once I got older, school assignments and teachers’ remarks took the place of my gold stars and stickers, but that meant that if I didn’t have to study to get an A on something, I didn’t bother. All through college and grad school, I still made up lists and charts to keep myself on track, with grades and recommendations to serve as my goals. Then when I left grad school to write and draw in earnest, it got harder to figure out self-motivation, especially without specific goals. Earlier this year I realized that I should be logging time as well as setting goals. This eventually took me back to charts. I made calendars with checkboxes on them (yes, I know, I am nerdy that way; there’s a reason Hermione is my favorite Potter character), and I even tried sticker charts again. It all helped somewhat, but I still felt frustrated at never getting enough done.

Just before we left on our trip, it occurred to me the checkboxes were inadequate because I was giving all my work-related duties equal weight. An hour of painting studio resulted in one checked box, but so did an hour of emailing Open Mic guest artists. They’re both important, but without differentiating between different kinds of work, I had no idea how much time I put into actual art-making. A few nights before we left the country, I scribbled a quick note into my journal: make new chart with different categories of checkboxes.

A couple of days ago I returned to that note, and started to build my new chart. I pulled up a new Word document but it discouraged me to think of making yet another chart so much like my old charts. I started to play around with the fonts, and then decided I could lay the checkboxes out in some different arrangement than usual — maybe something less linear. In fact, I realized, there was no reason it had to be a chart at all… no reason why I had to use checkboxes… no imperative to be text-based. I printed off a sheet with my new categories on it, but then took the page to my desk and began mapping. Ultimately, I came up with this:

New work map

New work map

Sometimes I think I never really grew up past age seven. It’s not a chart, it’s a coloring book… with the different sections corresponding to the various kinds of work. I think it’s brilliant, actually, and very adaptable. Now I’ll be able to see at a glance whether I’ve gotten any studio time lately; if I haven’t, the flowers will still be white. If I’ve done artist dates and other well-filling, the background will be blue. Foundational work like journaling and emails will be green for the leaves and stems. I’m mildly embarrassed that I have to resort to such childlike tricks to get myself to do what I say I want to do, but hey — whatever works.

Here’s what I’ve got so far for October.

October work map

October work map

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