Managing Time Creatively
When it comes to raising barns and building bridges can be a major drain. We have to fit our dream inside, beside, and often outside of the work we do to pay our bills. Just when we find the time to put forward on our sweetest idea, we also find that our minds and our creativity have been overspent.
In Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi outlined The 10 Dimensions of Creative Complexity, which I call the Ten Paradoxes of Creativity. Each paradox describes the ability to use a repertoire of thought and actions between two extremes — where most people show a distinct preference highly creative people prefer “both and.”
The first paradox that Dr. C reported is that:
Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they also are often quiet and at rest. p.58
What he offered three facts and observations about energy that seem most worth exploring.
- Their high energy due more to their focused minds than their genes.
- They often take rests and sleep a lot.
- Their energy is under their personal control.
Creative individuals learn to manage their energy by trial and error. This highly productive, focus / rest process is something they develop as a strategy to reach their goals.
How to Focus Your Creative Energy to Build that Dream
Managing focus and rest is a high performance skill. Our genes don’t have to align in a certain for us to master it. We start by raising our awareness, seeing the times when our creative energy naturally runs high and when we’re drawn to “a little down time.” Imagine how much more productive we’d be if we got in sync with our personal creative energy?
Here’s some things we might do . . .
- Pay attention to the ebb and the flow.
Granted we don’t have perfect control over our schedules. Still, we often fit ourselves to the work rather than find our most productive times for the kind of work we’re doing.
Are you more creative at night or in the early hours? It’s worth it to get up early to take advantage of what you’ll accomplish if you do.
Watch what you do every day and especially on the weekends. When do you naturally rest and when do you naturally play?
Are you checking email when your best ideas could be coming? Save the boring stuff for when your creative energy is lower.
Do you do better if you put your meetings and phone calls in the morning or the afternoon?
Play with the order of what you do until you find you’re breezing through the tasks that wear you out the most.
- When energy gets low, stop for fuel.
When you feel your energy draining, take a break, power nap, or walk around. Plodding on only moves forward more slowly with less efficiency.
How often do you stop for refueling? A few minutes refueling makes the time that follows more productive.
What sorts of activities recharge your brain? A well chosen activity can supercharge our brains, our creativity, and our resolve. We recover the time away in higher performance when we return.
If you’ve working on the computer with words or spreadsheets, you might do something colorful that requires not words or numbers.
If you’ve been doing design work, you might stop to do a crossword or read a magazine article. Using the other side of our brain can be the best way to refuel.
- Leave your work at an inviting unfinished place. At the end of a work session, we often hurry or push through to finish up something. Try this instead. Choose a point in the work where a part of the project will be “almost finished, but not quite.” When you return, you’ll finish it quickly and move forward with the extra charge of that accomplishment.
- Plan to be creative.
When a project inspires you, plan large blocks of uninterrupted time to devote as much energy as you want. Keep your creativity climbing faster by making sure you don’t have to stop just when the going is good.
Eat well and sleep well before you start.
Set up the atmosphere with minimal distractions.
Make creative work an occasion worth planning.
- Hang with high energy folks..
Spend time with people who energize you. Schedule your “catch up” phone conversations with upbeat friends during hours when you’re mind is lagging.
Ask them about their creative projects. Creativity is contagious. Take advantage of that.
Highly productive creative people focus like a laser beam when they’re working and they take energy from being fully engaged. (See Flow, also by Dr. C.) As soon as they’re not, they rest. That’s how they harness their creativity to produce their dreams.
We can do it too.
When does your energy rise and fall? What strategies can you offer to help us channel our creative energy?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Richard Reeve says
Jung would spend hours playing in the sand next to the lake, making little channels with a stick, like a child. I find freedom of mind while working the land in our gardens, tending to the plants, hands in the soil.
The important thing for me is to find time to loosen the thinking machine and allow for reverie…it’s my opposite to engagement.
ME Liz Strauss says
Loosening the thinking machine … I like way you said that. Walking under a big sky alone, noticing the sand move under my feet delivers the same feeling to me. It’s like offering my thoughts space to breathe.
Amber Naslund says
The hardest part of the “real” world is that it often tries to cram us all into one model of productivity – one that can be stifling for some of us. I’ve finally found my freedom in being my own boss, if anything because it allows me to follow my own rhythms. I’ve learned that my best hours are from 11 to 11, with very necessary breaks in the midst to rechannel my energy. I’m impulsive, and if I have a thought, I need the freedom to follow it (even if sometimes it leads me down a rabbit hole). Dan Pink’s book “A Whole New Mind” was a Godsend, reassuring me that my patterns of thought weren’t as scattered and foreign as the corporate world would have me think. As a result, I’m more productive and at peace than I’ve ever been.
Todd Smith says
Thanks for reminding me that I’m not the only one with limited energy. Sometimes I think everyone else is an Ever-Ready Bunny! I have a lot of energy and creativity, but it definitely ebbs and flows and I’m learning it’s limits. I get frustrated when I can’t do it all. But I’m slowly learning to do my most important priorities first thing in the morning. I’m also learning to take some free time in the evenings and weekends.
Cath Lawson says
Hi Liz – These are great tips. My best times are usually 4am to 6am.
But I’m on these pills that are making me so tired right now and I’m always oversleeping. It’s so frustrating.
ME Liz Strauss says
Finding the rhythm that suits me was all about knowing how I deal with transitions and conversation. Those shiny bright objects are shinier when I’m talking all day than they are when I start the day getting my writing done first. Productivity for me seems to breed more productivity.
Other folks don’t think in the same order as I do either. 🙂
ME Liz Strauss says
The web can sure put forth the message that everyone else is so much … more everything than I am. I have to stop, breathe, look harder to realize that it’s just the aggregate message that’s overwhelming me. Everybody has their time off. 🙂
ME Liz Strauss says
Boy I understand how meds can screw with productivity and creative energy. Not to mention just thinking in general. Hope you adjust soon. I’m thinking of you.
Hmm.. I don’t know when my creativity is at his best. But I’m still on school, so I don’t need it very much.
But maybe it will be interesting to keep a record, I’ll consider it.
ME Liz Strauss says
Hope you get to take your creativity out just a little while you’re still in school. I’d hate to see it sit there all day.
Sharon Barcarse says
These are such great tips! I, so often, get into the groove when my energy is high and then forget to take a break or to eat. It doesn’t take long for a project to slow to a crawl, once I hit that wall.
Shawna R. B. Atteberry says
My biggest mistake is to waste my high creativity time doing other things, like check email. I really need to create at those times and not distract myself.
My problem is that when I get an idea I immediately want to “start” on it right then. Sometimes I’m not in a position to do so and then it seems as if I’m not as creative. So planning to be creative will be something I have to put in the works.
I also find that it helps to try and NOT multi-task when I’m in a creative mode. It is more of a distraction than it is productive.
Of course my creativity takes out! I think solving a math problem needs some creativity also.
I made a list today, a sort of time schedule, when I was productive and when not. But it isn’t really good, cause I felt tired today. But I will make it again tomorrow!
Janet Whitehead says
My best time is 10pm to 4am. Good thing I finally left the 9- 5 office job, huh? But then, the morning hours were okay for the more dull administrative work I was doing. Liz, your blog is brilliant. I’m a life long advocate for creatives… probably because I constantly have had to affirm for me that it’s okay to be a ‘creative’ and a ‘left-brain’ world! I’m off to link you to my website… I know a lot of creatives who are going to be so inspired by your words!
emdoozie | Michael Anderson says
Wow great list. I think I work best late at night, but have some of the best ideas early in the morning. Problem is forcing my dream around my day job until I can break free. So that leaves me with early mornings and late nights to work with. Here is my problem, I seem to have the best ideas and clarity early in the morning because there are no distractions, yet I hate getting up early. What a pickle?? ;-( But boy can I stay up late like no other…
Todd Smith says
This morning I did things differently. Instead of opening my emails and twitter first thing. I decided to wait until after lunch to start my socializing. Wow! Did I have a productive morning. I did more in a few hours than I often do all day. Thanks for asking me to think about what works best for me.
Liara Covert says
I like this list. Every person has the freedom to explore what works best right now in all areas of life. Change can be helpful. I explore a variety of options in a book called, Self-Disclosure: Changes from Withn. As each person chooses to raise awareness, then options expand.