When I began writing professionally over 20 years ago, my son was a toddler. Even though it was difficult to find the time and the space in our small apartment to turn out articles and short stories, I was a single mom and my desperation for money drove me to be resourceful.
Now that my nest is empty, I have dedicated office space and fewer demands on my time. Ironically, I find it more difficult to find time to create. The phone rings. The new book I bought beckons. I convince myself I absolutely must make a run to the office supply store for more gel pens although I already have a drawer full of them.
I’ve found my own complaints about not having time to create have more to do with self-discipline, organization and motivation (or lack of it) than with external demands.
The tactics below helped me to boost creative productivity without sacrificing my life on the altar of art. Chances are they will work for you.
Follow your natural rhythms. Books on time management routinely advise readers to set the alarm clock an hour early each morning in order to find more time. If you’re a morning person, that strategy will work. If you’re a night owl, all it will do is make you cranky. Pay attention to your circadian rhythms and arrange your schedule to free up time during the part of the day when you usually feel your best. If early morning or late night creativity time, don’t work for you, consider creating during your lunch hour or early in the evening when the rest of the family is watching television.
Respect your need to create. If at heart you believe you are not really a creative person or that you don’t deserve time for your projects, these hidden beliefs will affect the attitudes of other people in your life. No matter how vehemently you insist that you need two hours of solo time in order to finish a project, they won’t listen. Neither will the Universe. Do the inner work necessary to strengthen your belief in your creative abilities and the importance of your creative acts. Time will open up for you to create.
Set priorities. Examine the myriad of things you do in your daily life and eliminate time wasters and tasks that aren’t absolutely necessary. The world won’t end if you don’t clean the blinds this very minute, if you make sandwiches for dinner or the grass in your yard is an inch taller than your neighbor’s. Write creativity high on your to do list in large letters.
Take care of business. Some daily tasks do need to get done without question. Putting them off leaks both energy and time. If I put off writing checks and mailing my bills, a task that takes 20 minutes, I waste hours (two minutes at a time) thinking about how I should pay my bills. If I procrastinate investing the minutes necessary to take my car to the fast lube for an oil change, I struggle with worry about what will happen to the engine instead of plotting my next book.
Just say yes — to projects and activities that are meaningful to you. If a creative endeavor doesn’t resonate for you and won’t further your career, don’t agree to take it on. Too often our egos drive us to constantly do too much in order to feel useful or competent. If you struggle with too many demands on your time, try to focus on the one creative project that you feel the most passion for instead of scattering your energy.
Establish the practice of creativity-to-go. Sometimes you may need long blocks of time to work on a project, but you can accomplish other steps in short bursts. Research magazine markets in the doctor’s waiting room. Sketch ideas for your next painting or shop for paints on your lunch hour. Combine taking nature photographs with your daily walk.
Contrary to popular opinion, creativity and real life aren’t mutually exclusive. When we mindfully work to put the two in balance, each enhances the other.