Last week, I wrote about Busyness: how it’s a construct of our 21st century lives to always be running here and there, sometimes with little purpose, almost always with few results.
Today, let’s get real about crafting a schedule that allows your creativity to shine and your goals to turn to action.
You can’t schedule creativity.
Have you ever tried? Have you resolved to work on your latest project at a certain time of day, everyday? Have you carved out a day & time to unplug from your responsibilities and plug into your creative mind?
It’s rough, isn’t it?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried this. I can’t get it to work. And I’ve heard similar things from others.
So I’m willing to say that you can’t fit exercising your creative muscles into a schedule.
But you can schedule other activities that help you get comfortable with your creative mind.
Identifying your creative triggers
Two weeks ago, I joined the gym.
Others wearing spandex & free t-shirts were there doing the same thing. Ready to make a change in the New Year. Eat less, exercise more, take care of themselves. Good-for-you!
I joined for a different reason.
I joined the gym because exercise is one of my creative triggers.
I can’t do my best work all the time and, when my focus wanes, my mind wanders. I waste time. I fill the time with busyness. Whether you love your job or not, I trust you know a similar feeling. You can only be productive so long.
Instead of trying to focus, I’m going to allow focus to come to me. I’m carving time out of a day that already feels full to go to the gym. Running, practicing yoga, and lifting weights allows me to find a focal point: the next step, the next pose, the next rep.
When I’m exercising, I’m focused. Feedback comes immediately (in the form of sweat & muscle exertion). I can feel a sense of tiredness coming and I can simply choose to ignore it. I wrestle each activity to the mat.
Exercise is an autotelic experience.
An autotelic experience, as described by Daniel Pink, is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of an “activity [that] is its own reward.” The experience of the activity fulfills your desire. You’re not waiting for someone to say “good job” or expecting a pay out when you’re finished. The sweat & strain lets you know that you’ve accomplished your goal.
Autotelic experiences are creative triggers. They may not be creative in & of themselves, but they replicate the feeling you get from creating at your best.
Creating at your best is flow.
You know that feeling when you’re creating something you love? When it’s original and fresh and each step sucks you into the next? When time can fly by without so much as a twinge of doubt?
Finding your flow
In flow, goals are clear. You have to reach the top of the mountain, hit the ball across the net, or mold the clay just right. Feedback is immediate. The mountaintop gets closer or father, the ball sails in or out of bounds, the pot you’re throwing comes out smooth or uneven.
— Daniel Pink, Drive
I doubt there is one creative person alive who wishes to experience less flow. It’s a bit like a drug – you could always have a little more.
The thing is, you can plan for autotelic experience. You can nudge it into your busy calendar. You can schedule a break from 3pm – 4pm and go to the gym. You can decide that you’ll cook dinner at 5pm. You can get up 30 minutes earlier and journal. You make time & do the activity.
With creative flow, it’s not so easy. Flow will hit you when you least expect it. Ask my husband who wonders where I’ve gone for an hour & a half when all I needed to do was “check my email.” A simple task triggers an hour of cascading creative flow.
There may be times when you feel more or less productive but that intoxicating, mind-altering state of flow doesn’t fit into day planners. Creative flow happens in the spaces. Between scheduled activities, between responsibilities, between necessary tasks.
You can’t force flow. You can’t schedule it or plug it into your calendar.
To achieve flow, you need to prepare yourself for space.
That’s why I joined the gym.
You might spend an hour baking cookies. Or writing stream of consciousness in your journal. Or taking a walk through your neighborhood. Or climbing a tree. Or stringing beads. Schedule those types of activities and see if your “spaces” don’t spark & fizzle & shine with fresh ideas and productive action.
Get in the routine of these activities and you’ll find your flow more often. It will last longer. You’ll get more done.