Two useful distinctions have popped up recently. In her new book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp makes a distinction between commitment and obligation. She commits to a project wholeheartedly. Obligation, on the other hand, usually gives a sense of burden, indebtedness, forcing oneself to do something. She minimizes obligations in favor of commitments.
I like this distinction very much. With commitment, I can still have a sense of freedom. I'm the one making the commitment.
Another useful distinction came from a recent novel. It wasn't even a novel I liked much, so I've forgotten the author and title. But a character in it makes a distinction between strategy and tactics. It's basically a warfare distinction.
Suppose I have a longterm goal. I want to win a war. Or develop mutually beneficial relationships with fine art galleries in major art cities. (OK, winning a war may be easier, but still....) With this goal in mind, I create a strategy. This is the overall approach. Tactics are simply means to carry out the strategy. At the tactics level, it's important to stay very flexible. That's where the distinction is useful. The major goal is the least flexible (although of course that can change.) Strategy is a bit more flexible. Tactics are the "right now" actions that are the most flexible of all.
How does this help me as an artist? It helps me stay flexible even as I pursue a strategy I've chosen. It keeps me from locking into a routine or activity that's only a tactic.
If you've read much by Robert Fritz, you'll remember his advice to distinguish between goals and means to goals. It's easy to get attached to activities that are really only means to goals. Then you don't see options that might be even better means to your goals. The "stragegy vs. tactics" distinction refines this even more. Is X a goal? A stragegy to reach a goal? Or a tactic within a strategy?
Of course, worst of all is a goal that's really only an obligation. Let's cross those off our lists. Along with all the stragies and tactics that went along with them.