Are You Pushing Too Hard to Be Creative?

You’ve had days when you’ve really, really tried to be creative – and it’s been a huge struggle. You probably made checklists, thought about next actions, set a timer. The pressure was on, and you told yourself that you were going to get your project done, damnit.

I know I’ve done this. With writing, there are a lot of easy metrics – words written, pages edited. It’s easy to get focused on productivity … forgetting the creative side. I’ve had times when I’ve sat down and written without any enthusiasm whatsoever, just because I wanted to get something done.

But, though I can write under those conditions, it’s not good for the writing. It’s not good for me, either.

Like it or not, creative work is fundamentally distinct from other sorts of work. You can probably plough through your emails or wash the dishes regardless of your energy levels and your motivation – but painting a landscape, designing a game or writing a poem aren’t tasks that you can keep pushing at.

Inspiration, Energy and Flow

Think back to the last time you were really enjoying a creative project. Perhaps it was yesterday; perhaps it was years ago. A particular idea inspired you and grabbed at you. You felt energised; you couldn’t wait to get started. And something like this happened:

  • You lost track of time – perhaps you got a surprising amount done in a little time, or you were astonished to look up from your work to find that hours had gone by.
  • You tuned out distractions. Noises faded away – as did your internal chatter. You were whole-heartedly engrossed in what you were doing.
  • You came up with new ideas or insights. Even if you had a plan before you started, you found better solutions coming to you while you worked.

You probably felt great afterwards, too, even if you were tired or groggy. One of the reasons we love to create is not just to have a gorgeous painting, a paycheck or a finished story – it’s because the process is a lot of fun.

If you’re constantly berating yourself for not getting more done, or focusing anxiously on your exact output, you’re going to find it harder to create.

Why Traditional Time Management Doesn’t Work

A lot of time management advice is aimed at business people – women and men who have a lot of small actions to take and a lot of input to deal with during the day. Much of the work that goes on in a typical office is not creative and doesn’t take much mental energy, focus or enthusiasm.

Processing emails, doing the photocopying, filing papers, typing up notes from a meeting – they might be tasks that you procrastinate on, but they’re not ones which you need to feel inspired in order to do well.

When it comes to creative work, though, making a to-do list or a schedule or a four-quadrant plan probably isn’t going to help. For one thing, creative work rarely breaks down into little tasks: you’ll often be working for hours or days on the same task.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your creativity is to be idle. Creativity takes a lot of energy – and one of the best ways to restore that energy is to simply rest, without worrying about what you are or aren’t producing.

Other times, you might find yourself ditching your schedule and spending hours getting stuck into one particular project.

Yes, there’s value in having some level of routine. If you’re struggling to get into a project – despite feeling enthusiastic about it – then having a particular time of day to sit down and write/paint/code is a good idea. But don’t tell yourself that you have to meet a particular target each time: if you sit there for an hour without touching your materials, that’s okay. In fact, it’s probably a good thing: the work is going on inside.

New Goodies for the Creativity Toolbox

Thursday and I wanted to make the Creativity Toolbox because we know just how hard it can be for creative folks to find advice, inspiration and ideas which really work. We know lots of you are waiting eagerly for the full Toolbox to be re-released. And it’s coming in just a few days time.

We’re adding in several new interviews with creativity coaches – experts who’ve had years of experience working with creative people. They’ve seen all the things which can hold creatives back: like low confidence, blocks, fears and pressure to perform. They’ve seen what works to re-inspire and re-energise your creativity. They’ve got tons of great tips to share with you.

(And we’ve got some other new goodies for you too.)

Want to be the first to know when the full Toolbox is out? Get our RSS feed, or get new posts by email (pop your address in the box in the right hand sidebar) – and you’ll be the first to know when the Toolbox is launched next week.

(Image by Flickr user {Away until inspiration comes})

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