15 Tested Tips for Creative Efficiency
Creative pursuits and efficiency don't always seem to go together; in fact, our age-old wisdom tells us that in order to be truly creative, we need wide open swaths of time, unbounded by other obligations like work, kids, and the need to get dinner on the table. (See also: Fun and Cheap Ways to Get Creative When You’re Bored)
Then there's real life, which includes work, kids, the need to get dinner on the table…little things like that which won't go away. Life won't be put on hold while we decide to get creative.
So what's the answer? Unless we've found "being creative" a way to also earn a living, we find ourselves having to fit our creative pursuits around the edges of our day. If you're in a boat like mine, you're trying to do all that and then some: being a mom, while also using your creative skills (in my case, writing) to supplement your family's income… oh, and also carve a little time in to write that novel or book of poems that you don't expect will make you any money but which simply must be written.
I'm writing this right now with my third child snuggled up next to me. He's 2 1/2, and he and the other three kids have been sick for the last week. We're all starting to get better now, but for the last seven days I've not had more than a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep at a time. To say I'm tired is a drastic understatement. My oldest is five. My youngest is 5 months. Also, right now, we're living in my in-laws' basement due to the black mold problem discovered in our house. We've been living away from home for a couple of weeks, running back and forth to get what we need, moving back in once only to find more mold so moving back out again. Needless to say, my life is a bit unsettled.
What I'm trying to say with that long drawn-out story is that life is rarely going to bless you with long open hours to sit around and paint portraits or write songs or write novels.
If you want the time, you have to fight for it. And chances are, you'll win it in minutes and snatches, not in hours and days.
So here are 15 tips I've discovered/gathered/collected from the last seven years of being a wife, a mom, and someone who values creativity too much to let it wait until the kids are grown and we're retired and I have all the time in the world. Which I don't expect will happen anyway (the all the time in the world part, I mean. I do expect the kids to be grown, someday).
1. Create simple routines for your day
Routines simplify the repetitive tasks of the day, helping you to get them done on autopilot so your brain is free for creative pursuits while your body does the routine work.
2. Keep your supplies on hand
Accessibility is a big part of being more creative. If you have to get involved in any sort of major set-up before you can be creative, you're putting up a road block.
3. Focus on one project at a time
It simplifies what your brain needs to do, and allows your unconscious to work on the project and be ready with creativity when the time comes.
4. Do something related to your art every single day
Keep it fresh and front of mind. Even if all you have time for is something very basic, get in five minutes of an activity related to your creative project. For a writer, that could be just keeping a daily journal, or a five-minute creative writing break. For artists, it could be making a sketch, or reviewing your sketches.
5. Have an easy way to catch ideas
Keep a notebook in your pocket or get good at quickly recording ideas on your phone. They don't need to be good ideas, just treat them as valuable and put them in a place where you can find them later. This has a double benefit of freeing your brain up from the work of holding those ideas and giving you a place to start when you're out of ideas, later.
6. Focus on one medium/method at a time
Focus is powerful; it sets boundaries for your creativity, which actually kicks it into gear.
7. Immerse yourself
Read books on or related to your creative pursuit. Read biographies, or watch biographies and documentaries of others in the field. Go to workshops, talk to peers, listen to inspiring music, study, immerse yourself in what you're doing and things related to it. Give your brain plenty of fodder.
8. Think in 5- to 10-minute blocks
What can you do in five minutes? In ten minutes? Think in these terms. It's different than having hours of unbroken time, but that kind of luxury isn't always possible. Five minutes is long enough to write a few sentences, analyze the light in the corner, listen to the line of a song, try a new stitch pattern, match some colors, play with a logo design. It's not enough to do everything, or even much, but it's enough to do something.
9. Make creativity mobile
How can you work on your creative project while you're on the go? Can you listen to related recordings, podcasts, music? Can you jot down ideas in your notebook? Talk about it with a peer or mentor?
10. Eliminate time wasters that eat up your free time
Keep a time log if you're not sure what your time wasters are. You'll find some. Pick one, and get it out of your life.
11. Turn off the TV
It eats your time and your brain cells. If you truly want time to do your creative work, kill it. For that matter, unplug yourself entirely when you're off work and able to be unavailable. Silence the phone, shut down the browser. Give your brain some free space.
12. Train your muse
Do some work every day at the same time in the same place. It trains your muse to show up and be ready.
13. Hang out with inspiring people
Find the people in your life who inspire you to work harder, think bigger, be better. Put yourself around them. Limit your time around the people who distract you with gossip, negativity, same-old same-old ruts of life.
14. Define creative work so you know when you're doing it
There are so many ways to be creative. You probably have a lot more creativity in your life than you know. Cooking, baking, sewing, humming, playing games… define creativity beyond art/music/writing.
15. Use your creative strengths on obligatory tasks
Need to plan a birthday party? Find a way to use your creative strengths. You'll pull off a better party and use the time "planning" as creative time. Try to do that with everything possible: volunteer for things that fit your creatively. Take on the work projects that allow you to use your creative strengths. So on.
What are your tips for creative efficiency? How do you fit creative work into your busy life? Share in the comments so we can all benefit.