TRANSCRIPT Ep. 293: Rocks First

THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST

Miriam Schulman: The reason why a lot of schedules don’t work is that productivity is not about managing your time. It’s about managing your activities, managing your tasks. Because the truth is, we really can’t manage time. Time is fixed, and if you fill your day with low-priority tasks, things like cleaning out your brushes, for example, you’re not going to have time for the big things.

Speaker 2: It’s the Inspiration Place podcast with artist Miriam Schulman. Welcome to the Inspiration Place Podcast, an art world insider podcast for artists by an artist where each week we go behind the scenes to uncover the perspiration and inspiration behind the art. And now your host, Miriam Schulman.

Miriam Schulman: Well, hello there, my friend. Welcome to the Inspiration Place. This is Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration. You’re listening to episode number 293, and I’m so grateful that you’re here. So today we’re talking all about what to do first when everything seems equally important. But before I do that, I wanted to catch you up a bit.

I am actually doing something I’ve never done before, which is I am recording, or my goal is to record three podcasts in one day. And the reason I’m doing that—I’m recording this at the end of January. I know you’re listening to this in February. Everything has to be done in advance. So what happened is that, as many of you know, my son is in Israel, and he is in the IDF, and he was in Gaza for two months. Yes, it’s been a very stressful time for me and my family. He’s actually part of that crew that was finding tunnels. So, you know, my son is out looking for terrorists. It’s like it’s not been an easy two months for me. I’m laughing only because it’s just like, I can’t even process it. Like people say to me, “I can’t imagine what it feels like.” Um, I can’t either, because I just, I just can’t.

So what’s happening is next week. I got a ticket. Miraculously, the Israeli government actually helped us do this. My husband and I are dropping everything, and in two days, we are leaving for Israel.

And my son is insisting that we stay with him where his host family is in the West Bank. So if you heard my episode a few weeks back about going to Costa Rica and how I was nervous about being on a 12-seater plane, well, that completely pales to getting on a plane to head to the West Bank in the middle of a war. Okay, so yeah, I’m a bit nervous. By the time this podcast airs, though, I should be back in New York City safe and sound. So you don’t have to worry about me anymore. So come say hi to me over on social media and say, “Hey, Miriam, we’re so glad you’re back.” But at the same time, I had to drop everything on my calendar, like reschedule an entire week. And this was in the middle of running one of my boot camps. And those of you who may know, I run these boot camps live three times a year. It’s the main driver, actually, that runs the Inspiration Place business. That is how I make money right now and run my team. I mean, yes, I make money from art and I make money from books. But right now, a big chunk of my income is coming from coaching. And so the overwhelm of all of that, not being able to rely on an abundance of time to get things done, really left me spinning, which is why this episode today is so important.

So I know I talk to you guys all the time, and I know you have the same problems, like you have so little time and so much to do. In this episode, you’re going to discover how to sharpen your focus, reduce stress, and eliminate overwhelm so you can stop spinning and indecision. You’re also going to gain clarity by balancing your creative work with your daily life. Finally, you’re going to learn how to prioritize key projects not only so that you can calm your mind but also bring in more sales and income. Because at the end of the day, that’s one of the reasons you’re doing this. Otherwise, your art is just a hobby.

By the way, just so you know, there is a very detailed productivity system outlined in Chapter 11 of my book, Artpreneur. I called this chapter “Stay Inspired.” But really, it’s about staying motivated and getting the things done that actually matter. I started off the chapter talking about Margaret. It’s not her real name, of course, but she is a real person. This Margaret was just the name I decided to give her in my book, and Margaret was sharing with me that she procrastinates because she lacks self-confidence. If only she were more confident, she thought she wouldn’t do that. I told her that it was the other way around, that you lack confidence because you procrastinate, and every time you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, it erodes your self-trust.

Many artists believe that they lack confidence because of their poor results, and they think that if they had better results, like more sales, they would have more confidence. But the truth is, the real reason that you lack confidence is because you’re not getting things done. It really sucks, I know. Now, you’re not always going to be in control of your results and sales, but you’re always in control of the actions that you take. So that is what we’re going to talk about today.

Now, what we’re talking about today is a little bit more granular than what’s in the book, because the book is directed at not just artists, the kind of artists that I coach all the time, visual artists, but it’s directed at all kinds of creative people, and it’s a little bit more of the big picture. In the book, I talk about the concept of the big three for weekly planning. This system, the big three, refers to selecting the three most important tasks or goals to focus on each week. This approach definitely simplifies and focuses your effort on the most impactful activities, and it will reduce the overwhelm of a too-busy to-do list, making sure you have progress on key priorities.

However, what we’re getting into today is going to help you sort out what those big three are. So those big three things we’re going to refer to as your big things that must get done as your rocks. That’s why this episode is called “Rocks First.” This rock concept in productivity and time management is most famously attributed to Stephen Covey, the author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” It’s an amazing book, a very long one, but it is amazing. I haven’t read it now in at least ten years. I think it’s time for me to read it again. So this concept is part of his broader ideas on how to prioritize and manage one’s time and responsibilities. But in this analogy, the rocks represent the most important tasks in your life, which should be addressed first before dealing with less critical tasks or smaller stones.

Let me explain. What you need to do is imagine your day is a jar. This jar, this glass jar, represents your time. Now you have a lot of things to do. We’re going to call them rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. The rocks are your most significant tasks. These are your key creative projects. This is the work that matters the most. These are the things that, if you get them done, will make you more money.

Your other things, the pebbles, the sand, and water, they’re less important. But here’s the problem. If you fill your glass jar up—just imagine like a mason jar—with sand, there’s no room for pebbles or rocks. If you fill it up with pebbles, you don’t have room for rocks. The key is to put the rocks in the jar first, then pebbles, then sand, then water.

So what I want to do, just to help you, I want to share with you an artist who recently took part in one of my boot camps. So I’m just coming off of that boot camp. This actually happened yesterday. I’m not going to share his real name. We’re going to call him John. And during this boot camp, the VIPs get a special bonus this time around. I changed my bonus up every boot camp. I’ve done different bonuses in the past, but this time I did a mindset mastery workshop with me and Shaun Roney who is the resident life coach inside the Artist Incubator. During this Mindset Mastery workshop, John shared this with us.

The reason why a lot of schedules don’t work is that productivity is not about managing your time. Do you want me to say that again? Productivity isn’t about managing your time.

It’s about managing your activities, managing your tasks. Because the truth is, we really can’t manage time. Time is fixed, and if you fill your day with low-priority tasks, things like cleaning out your brushes, for example, you’re not going to have time for the big things.

Now, the reason I wanted to share John’s story is because this is so typical of so many artists. In fact, a lot of people are very creative. But everything seems equally important. And many of us creatives, we’re not linear thinkers. We may be a little bit neuro-spicy; we think in a more circular way. I share this story not to make John feel bad. If you’re listening, John, you know who you are. But because I know there are so many artists listening right now who are their heads are bobbing up and down saying, “Oh my God, that sounds just like me.” And I know that because I talk to artists all day long. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not broken. If this sounds like you, just know you’re not alone. And it’s not your fault. No one has shown you a better way.

So let’s get back to our jar metaphor. Remember, the jar is your time, and you want to fill that jar first with the most important tasks or the rocks. Because if you fill it with sand, there will not be room for those rocks. We want to put the rocks in first. Now, if you put the rocks in first, there’ll be room for some pebbles. And finally, you can fill the rest of your time with the sand and water.

Now when I get overwhelmed, like today, with a perfect example, everything seems so important. I didn’t know what to do. Should I be sending loom videos to the people who are interested in joining the incubator to have a personal connection with them? Should I be sending out my MailChimp emails to the thousands of people who signed up to tell them how to join the incubator? I didn’t know what to do, but one thing that I’m committed to is putting this podcast out every week. Right now, this podcast is my biggest creative project, so I’m going to assume that for you, your first big rock is your sacred studio time. You do not have to sacrifice sacred studio time to make it work as a sustainable artist. The best artists, and by artists, I’m talking about anyone with a creative business. Anyone with a scientific mind, musicians, et cetera, et cetera, throughout history, both men and women.

Research has shown that they’ve only put in about four hours of genius time per day. And that’s it. So let’s assume that you need your genius time for your art. Now, for some people, this is what you’ll want to get done first because you need that decision-making power for your art all day long. As we make decisions, whether it’s, “Do I use black or white? Do I use a big brush? Do I use a small brush?” all day long, when you make decisions, you’ll get decision fatigue as the day wears down, and it makes it harder and harder to make decisions about what you need to do.

So that’s why today, I prioritize getting these podcasts done. Because for me, this is like the hardest thing that I have to do. It requires the most genius of my time. Some of the other things, like I mentioned before, sending out a loom, sending out the MailChimp, those are maybe less important, even though they make me money, but they don’t require as much of my brain power. So the podcast, like this first podcast that I’m recording, it took me two hours to do. And I think the next two podcasts, I’m going to have to figure out a way to make that happen a little bit faster. But the podcast is my rock at the moment.

Luckily, I only have to normally do one a week, but since I’m leaving the country in just two days, I promised my team I would finish all of February before I left. So that’s three episodes that I have. In other words, two more than this one. And my team is so sweet. They offered to put an encore episode in for me to save me time, but I know I already did two encores in January, and I really wanted to give you some fresh new content to keep you inspired, especially for my listeners who come back week after week. I’m very grateful to you, and I know you’ve listened to the encores already, so yeah, I wanted to give you something new.

Okay. Next come the admin tasks. Some admin tasks might be rocks, but most admin tasks are pebbles, and some are sand. So after the biggest things are done—example, the podcast—the next question I’m going to ask myself, “What is the one thing that if I do it right now, will make me the most money?” So in this context, for me personally, for what’s happening right now, if the boot camp, I would probably say it’s sending out the MailChimp emails because they reach thousands of people. But almost as important would be those looms, like reaching out to those people who showed up on my live streams this week, John, not his real name, of course. I’ll probably reach out to John via loom and talk to him about why he would be a great fit for joining my program.

So those are the kinds of things. Now, since many of you listening are not business coaches, I’m going to talk to you about what these rocks look like for you. What are these key activities? So there are five key activities that make up your rocks. Let’s talk about them. `

Number one, planning. Ooh, yeah. You know what? The planning comes before the art. So when I’m overwhelmed with a lot of things, the first thing I do is I take out a planner. And by that, I mean physical. Now, it doesn’t have to be a fancy planner. It could literally just be a piece of paper. You don’t have to plan this a week in advance. You don’t need your organized brother to do this for you. Just a piece of paper and just start writing down some of these rocks. Writing these things down will immediately alleviate stress. So I make a checklist of all the things. I put a little square next to it, and I have the satisfaction of checking things off. But what I have to do next is figure out what are those rocks? So for me, my three things on the checklist were the podcasts, uh, finishing the emails and sending the looms.

And then underneath each of those three big things, those three big rocks, I actually had subtasks. So for the podcast, I had three episodes: the one you’re listening to today for February 13th, the one for next week, and the one for the week after. But when you write it down, it immediately alleviates stress. We’ve talked about this in the past. This was something that I learned from David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done.” He said, when you have something you have to do, whether it’s sending an email, doing your taxes, creating your art, if you don’t write it down, what happens is every time you think about having to do it, your brain imagines you doing it. And the problem is with our brains. I don’t know if this is necessarily a problem, but one of the things our brains do is when your brain can’t tell the difference between imagining something and it actually happening. So if you were to imagine slicing lemons and squeezing lemons, your and me just talking about this right now as you’re imagining those beautiful, ripe, juicy lemons with the sour juice, your mouth might start salivating. Mine is talking about it because I’m really imagining it, trying to describe it to you. So when you’re imagining thinking about having to do your taxes, it causes you stress. When you’re imagining having to send an email out or having to finish something that’s not done, it causes you stress.

When you write it down, it tells your brain, “Oh, she’s got me. She has a plan for getting this done. I don’t have to keep imagining this thing to remind her.” So that’s why the number one thing is putting everything on paper. Identify what your most important things are and what you can do either later or delegate.

Number two, art. So we already said creating art is your most important thing. However, in the context of rocks, you want to give a higher priority to projects that will make you more money. For example, maybe it’s finishing a commission. Maybe it’s getting something ready for a big project where you have a deadline and if you finish it, you’ll get paid for it. So even within the art making, you may want to sort out is this a rock or not? I mean, cleaning out your brushes? Probably not a rock. Okay.

 

Number three, grant writing and applications. So planning is number one, art is number two. Grant writing applications will make you money. So if that’s part of your business model, preparing applications for grants, residencies, other funding opportunities that can provide financial support. Yeah, that could be a rock for you. For some people, it’s not a rock. If it’s not part of your business planning. And then this grant writing might really be a pebble for you. Because I’m going to tell you what number four is.

Number four, commission correspondents; in other words, one-on-one email. So for me, this is like the looms. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about with looms, I’m not talking about a weaving machine. I actually have a tool where I can record a video of me looking at somebody’s website. What I do is, when I’m reaching out to potential prospects for my Artist Incubator program, I love to show them like, “Hey, look, I’m looking at your website right now.” So those are the looms that I send out. But basically, in terms of what you need to know, number four is one-on-one correspondence. This is communicating with potential clients for commissioned work. This includes negotiating; this is important for your client relationships and income. So this is important. But sometimes this comes after actual art creation. Does it make sense? Just like me, I prioritize first completing the podcast, even though I know I have some one-on-one correspondence to do. And here’s the thing. Like I said before, these podcasts take a lot more brain power than writing people back on emails. Some of that stuff is a little more rote. I don’t have to think about it as hard. I’ve done it a lot. Podcasts, this is original content here. So I’m writing, I’m talking, I’m performing. All those things take a lot more of my energy.

Number five, sending a weekly email, and notice I didn’t say newsletter because nobody wants newsletters. Newsletters are so 2000, not 2020. For we’re in 2024, and by email, I’m not talking about three times a year. It’s not a newsletter with a million sections in it, but one email per week. I promise you this will make you the most money. We talked about this last week. Email is literally the cockroach of marketing, and it’s going to outperform every other kind of marketing. That’s why, as soon as I’m done with these podcasts, I’ll be writing those emails to you. So, I’ve shared this before, and I’ll share it again. I know many of you may have doubts in your mind whether or not this is going to work for you, which is why I want to share with you.

So now we’re going to talk about pebbles. So in the context of the rock concept for artists, pebbles represent tasks that are important but not as critical as the rocks, your major creative projects. And by the way, I just want to share something with you. I did ask ChatGPT what he thought were rocks, pebbles, and sand, and I completely disagreed with him, and I had to rearrange things. There were things he thought were rocks that I said, no, no, no, that’s a pebble. And there were things that he thought were pebbles. And I was like, no, no, no, that’s a rock. And there were things that he thought were sand. And I was like, uh, no, that’s even more important than anything else. So we’ll talk about that. Just so you know, I did ask ChatGPT. I did not agree with the robot. All right. So what is a pebble? Pebbles are tasks that will support your career and will contribute to their success. But they’re not exactly rocks. So let’s talk about them. I identified nine things. Is it nine? There’s actually only eight things.

Number one. Tasks that support critical deadlines. So there are lots of tasks that you have to do that support your deadlines that are not necessarily creating the art. So what I mean is a rock would be you have a commission, you have to finish it. You have an art project, you have to finish it. But now there are other things that support those deadlines or support those commissions that are important. But these things might include things like framing the art or labeling your art with prices, things like that. So those would be more like pebbles.

Number two. Networking and relationship building. So these are very important. Your network is your net worth. One of the five success secrets for artists is surrounding yourself with other artists. So it is important attending art shows, exhibitions, industry events, connecting with other artists, connecting with galleries, connecting with potential clients. All those things are important, but definitely a pebble, not a rock.

Number three. Professional development. So this is something like attending my bootcamp, listening to this podcast, doing the artist incubator. In other words, doing the things to improve your skills or learn techniques. So this is important, but not as urgent as actually creating the art and making the money.

Number four. Marketing and promotion. So this is a big area that would be a pebble. And the robot said managing social media accounts. You know, I’m not even sure that’s a pebble anymore. I kind of feel like it’s sand. But there’s other things like updating websites, creating portfolios, writing content. So these are all tasks. They are essential for your visibility and selling art, but they’re definitely secondary to actually creating the art. And here’s the other good news my friend. All these things in number four marketing and promotion. They don’t have to be done by you. They can be done by somebody else. Like a business babysitter, like a studio intern, like some teenager who comes in two hours a week and helps you with these things. They could probably do it much more efficiently, because I know I have artists in my community who are graphic designers who then decide to focus on their art, and so they can spend a long time changing the colors and the fonts and creating a logo. Not a rock, not even a pebble.

Number five. Financial management. So these are things like budgeting accounting studio expenses. They are important for sustaining your art process, but they’re not directly related to your creative process. And keeping up with it won’t necessarily make you money. However, I do have some tools that I want to recommend, so I use Intuit to manage all of my, um, bookkeeping tasks. And I also use another tool called Gusto for paying people. You probably don’t need gusto, by the way. I’m just figured I’d mention it because I know I do have a few people who listen to this podcast who might be a little bit more advanced. So Gusto does direct payroll for me. It helps manage my employees taxes. It’s it’s great. Uh, like there was just a click of the button for me to send 1099 to all my employees, things like that and Intuit, same thing. It links all my accounts together. It keeps track of everything I spend and everything I make so that at the end of the year, I just have to click a button and it gets sent to my accountant. Whereas years past I used to be there with spreadsheets and every receipt. Oh, what a waste of time.

Number six. This was the part I disagreed with the robot. So he had two different things, and I’m not sure if maybe one of the things he considered considered a a different category. And I said, no, this is a pebble. So it’s planning and organizing exhibitions and also medium terme project planning. So planning it’s a definitely a pebble. It’s now. There was the critical planning I said in task number one, which is really just like, well, what am I doing today that has to be done first? But every Monday I plan my whole week and every quarter I plan all my promotions. And this is something that I talked about in the goal setting workshop. I showed the artists exactly how I plan, how I put my important dates on the calendar, how I work backwards. So all these planning activities, they’re very important. This is what keeps you from spinning. It’s not necessarily about creating a schedule per se, but you do have to identify what are those key deadlines for you. And put them on the calendar. And then what are the subtasks that need to happen that support those key deadlines? So what are those sub deadlines. So doing that organizational work. Definitely a pebble. You don’t have to do that every day though. But once a week, it’s a good amount of time to do the weekly planning and once a quarter do your quarterly planning.

Number seven. Research and research was something that it kind of can be a slippery slope. So you do need to spend some time exploring new themes, concepts, looking at art history. But this is definitely a slippery slope because we know we can spend a lot of time procrastinating, researching, procrastinate, learning. So be very mindful about whatever research you’re doing. And most likely not a rock, a pebble, maybe even sand. Okay. That was number seven.

And finally number eight. Number eight has a lot of overlap with some of the other tasks we talked about. But number eight is about reviewing your portfolio and or updating your website so regularly, reviewing what you have, what you’re displaying, what you’re presenting, making sure it reflects your current skills and styles. This is important for those opportunities. But again, doesn’t need to be done by you. Does not need to be done by you. You can get somebody very cheap to do this for you. You can hire somebody overseas where the exchange rate is in your favor. Or you can hire a teenager who’s very happy to do it, who maybe is not old enough to, uh, work at McDonald’s. So is very happy to work for you for $10 an hour. Maybe a 13 year old who lives on your street. Who’s very happy to do it. Who maybe is not old enough to do babysitting yet? A business babysitter. Okay, so while pebbles are not the primary focus, they do play a supportive role in your career, and effectively managing these tasks makes sure that those rocks your core work can be prioritized and given the attention that they deserve. So now let’s talk about what the sand and water things are, the less critical tasks.

So number one, here’s another place I disagreed with the robots. So they said excessive media browsing. No, I’m not saying that browsing is important, but I would even include creating excessive social media content is less critical. So yes, social media plays a vital role for promotion, but spending too much time creating content for the Zuckerverse. Not good, not good. And unless you’re engaging constructively with your pupils because, like, you know, I do that I talk to all of you all’s on my DM’s. Um, if you’re not doing that when you’re on social media, it can be a time suck. And you know what kinds of things you do that like maybe you’re looking at your competitors or other artists. How many likes are they getting? How many followers do they have? Not useful spending hours to create a reel. Also not useful. I had a client who told me she had over 25,000 views on a reel, and it only led to a handful of new followers and no sales, so it’s not important.

Number two. Minor administrative tasks. So these are things like organizing your workspace, sorting emails. Maybe it’s organizing your drop box of full of files. Um. Labeling supplies, I don’t know. So while these things are necessary, they’re not going to be directly productive in terms of creating your art or making money for you. And yes, all the things I just mentioned can be outsourced. So like I said, find a studio assistant, find a business babysitter two hours a week, maybe just 20 hours a week. We’ll sort this problem out for you.

And then number three is non-essential chores or errands. And by non-essential chores, I would also lump in there chores that are essential but don’t need to be done by you. So what are things that could be delegated? What are things that could be batched? What are things that could be scheduled more effectively? Maybe it’s time to hire a cleaning person. Maybe it’s time to sign up for a meal delivery service. One of the best things I did was I signed up for a vegetarian meal delivery service because after I went vegetarian, I found myself eating peanut butter and jelly all the time and I felt terrible. So, yeah. Doing things that will help you save time in your day may help you make more money in the wrong in the long run and keep you healthier. So when I first started doing that meal delivery service, by the way, I was doing five days a week, three meals a day, and now I found that’s not necessary. I don’t I don’t need every single meal prepared for me. So now I only have three days a week and only two meals a day. And I share those meals with my husband, and the rest of the time I fill in with maybe mixing up tofu or something.

And I think I talked about this on a podcast earlier this year. I’ve actually lost weight this year because I don’t eat the entire meal. Sometimes I split it in half. So yeah, if you eat less, you’ll lose weight. So yeah, I was overeating. Anyway, that is a definitely on the side side. That’s not our topic for today. And I think I misspoke. I think I said I had three sand/water tasks. They’re actually four.

The fourth one that I’d put on the list is procrasti-learning. So we had research as a pebble, but that’s kind of a slippery slope. I do think that excessive research. So seeking inspiration learning it’s important. But you know, when you’ve gone, gone down that rabbit hole and it’s turned into procrastinate learning instead of actually doing the things that matter, doing the things that will actually move your art career forward and make you more money. I even tell my Artist Incubator clients, hey, we have a ton of resources here, but your number one thing is not watching the videos. Your number one thing is maybe watching one of those a week, but putting what you’ve learned into action. And my most successful clients, that’s what they did. They only focused on one topic a week, and they put into action what they learned before moving on to the next thing.

Now for you artists. Yes, it’s important to strike a balance. And while the sand and water activities are part of daily life, and sometimes it can provide a necessary break, maybe you’re having trouble making a decision. So you’re in the middle of a rock, and you maybe do one of these less important tasks in order to, you know, support your mental health. But they should never overshadow the rocks. Now, one of the other places that I definitely disagreed with the robot is they put self care into the sand water category. And here is the thing. Health and self care activities like exercise, meditation, eating right. These are things that keep your body and your mind keeps you physically, mentally fit. That will directly impact your creativity. It’s not only your rock, which is why I didn’t talk about it. It’s actually the glass jar. If you don’t take care of yourself, if you don’t take care of your health, you have no jar to put the rocks pebbles, sand, water into. So definitely disagree with the robots on that one. All right, my friend. Um, I hope you were super inspired by today’s episode. We do make that boot camp available as an on demand service, but we do actually charge if you’re if it’s not during one of our live promotions. So if you want to catch up on that boot camp, or maybe you’re listening to this during the time of year when I am doing it live, doing it live.

Yes, you get the most value out of doing it live 100%, but we do make it available on demand. So you can go to SchulmanArt.com/bootcamp and sign up for the on demand version of it. I’m not quite sure which pieces of that of the boot camp gets included in there, but if you go to that page, you’ll see what you get as part of the boot camp and you get some of the value that way. All right. We’ve included links to everything we mentioned in the show notes, which you will find at SchulmanArt.com/293 next week. We are talking about Sleeping Beauty Complex and you’re not going to want to miss it. So make sure you hit the follow on your podcast app. And if you really like today’s show, do me a favor, take a screenshot of it and share it on the socials. I’ll be sure to re-share it with you. All right my friend, thanks so much for being with me here today. I’ll see you the same time, same place next week. Until then, stay inspired. Bye bye.

Speaker 2: Thank you for listening to The Inspiration Place podcast. Connect with us on Facebook at facebook.com/schulmanart, on Instagram @schulmanart and of course, on SchulmanArt.com.

 

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