Up until recently, my ever-long quest to find the right balance of work and pleasure had been unsuccessful. I’ve started a novel that I never have time to work on. I work late, come home, and work some more. After doing some chores around the house and having dinner, I do grad school work, check Facebook, do more house chores, and try to fit in some family time. By 11:00, I’m winding down with a book or looking to have some creative time to write. The thing is, I’m too tired to be creative at 11:00 on a school night. I might make it through half of a paragraph in a book I’m reading. All right, my quest is still not successful, but I’m working on it, okay? 😉
Strangely and unexpectedly, a grad school assignment helped me find the balance I was looking for. I was tasked to read a book about literary citizenship/finding creativity, and I chose to read Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind. It’s a superlong title for a book that packs a punch with tips for making the best of your limited time.
The book begins with giving some inspirational stats about some successful and famous creative folks. Did you know that Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words per day, no matter what (23)? Also, Stephen King has an impressive morning routine that involves taking his vitamin and listening to music before he starts typing away at his latest horror story (28).
Aside: I wonder what music he listens to for inspiration? I’m thinking Marilyn Manson, maybe?
Here are just a few amazing tips the various book contributors give for those of us struggling to find the time to be creative:
- Post-It Notes: If you’re a list maker (…like me. I freaking love making lists! Who wouldn’t like to make lists when you can make lists on these?), make your daily to-do list on a 3×3 Post-It.
Doing this will keep you from trying to pack in too much in one day, which you’d never get done anyway. It will force you to determine the most important things you need to do (28). Also, if I’m on your Secret Santa list, these make me happy. I LOVE Post-Its of all varieties. But not the cheap ones; they don’t stick for crap.
- “Establish hard edges in your day” (29): Set your routine. Contributor Mark McGuinness suggests to start with an hour of the day you wake up and the time at night when you should be in bed. Fill in the in-between with the appropriate time needed to do the required part of your day. For example, I’m not a morning person. At all. So, my during-the-school-year (not a game night) routine would be something like this (and this definitely needs to get amended!):
- 6:00 wake up and get ready
- 7:00 breakfast
- 7:15 leave for school
- 8:00 work
- 4:00 leave work (except this NEVER happens. I’m usually there until at least 5:00.)
- 4:00 (5:00) come home and finish work
- 5:00 chores
- 6:00 start dinner
- 7:00 eat dinner
- 7:30 clean kitchen
- 8:00 family time
- 9:00 kids getting ready for bedtime/chores
- 10:00 grad school work
- 11:00 (or 12:00) read/creative time
- Write frequently and routinely (33): Contributor Gretchen Rubin suggests that we write every day, no matter what, even if it’s for 15 minutes. Sometimes we don’t feel like writing or being creative, but we can’t afford to wait for when we feel creative or have epiphanies. We. Just. Must. Write. The. End. Rubin suggests that writing frequently “makes starting easier, […] keeps ideas fresh, […] keeps the pressure off, […] sparks creativity, […] nurtures frequency, […] fosters productivity, […] is a realistic approach” (34-36). I’ve tried this over the last week and a half, and I must say that I am beginning to see a difference in my product. Some times I can think of nothing to write, so I just write words and word associations, but at least it’s something. It’s more than I was doing before.
- Build Renewal into Your Workday (49): Contributor Tony Schwartz says that “the challenge is that the demand in our lives increasingly exceeds our capacity (51). Can I get an amen? This is the story of my life. This is why, when I’m trying to write an awesome blog post or write an essay for grad school at 11:30 p.m., I just stare at the screen. I’ve got nothing left. I’m full (but I feel empty). I’m done for. Schwartz says that there are several ways to combat this issue during the day so that you can have sustenance throughout the rest of your waking hours, become more efficient while you’re at work, and have energy and creativity left over for when you’re back at home:
- Match your routines to the natural rhythms of your body (52).
- Take a 5-10 break at midmorning to talk to a colleague about something other than work (53).
- Take a 30 minute walk during lunch time (53).
- Find time to focus on creativity (74): Contributor Cal Newport says that in addition to the routine that you’ve set for yourself (see #2 above), build in focus time. He says to start for one hour a day. From there, build in 15 more minutes at a time until you get to a good chunk of time that works for you. However, he says that there can be no distractions. At all. If you sit down and start to focus and you check Facebook quickly, then scratch it and start over. Everyone knows the black hole Facebook will suck you into. And I admit, this is my biggest fail. This is the one thing I will have to overcome: The Facebook Fail. Later in the book, contributor Dan Airely says that we should be aware of our compulsions so that we can avoid them (92). I clearly know what mine is. Do you know yours? Newport also recommends working on an isolated task at a time and varying up your “focus locale.”
- Multitasking is multi-dangerous (81): Okay, so I’m paraphrasing a bit, but contributor Christian Jarrett says that people can only multitask with “automatic behaviors like walking” (82). It makes sense, then, that if you’re being creative, you’re using complex thought. Therefore, we should shut out any distractions that would cause us to “task-switch.” Again, with the Facebook suckage mentioned above, checking social media is NOT multi-tasking because it is counter productive to your mission. Also, check out what author Jonathan Franzen did to eliminate distractions when writing Freedom.
- Unplug (113): Contributor Scott Belsky says that we should be aware of how much time we spend connected to the intertron. When we are constantly online and being bombarded with information, we limit our own brainpower. He says that we should limit our time online each day and recognize when we are online for superfluous reasons (This is a repeating suggestion throughout the book).
- Also, did you know that there was such a thing as screen apnea (153)?!?! Oh my goodness, just breathe, people! Your computer isn’t worth dying over.
- Unnecessary Creation (174): Contributor Todd Henry suggests that we need to create just to create, that the mind needs it and craves it, and it comes freely with routine. It allows us to follow “impractical curiosities […] and take risks and develop skills that can be later applied to on-demand creating” (174-175). I wish I had the physical space and the time to create for creation’s sake. Maybe after I’m out of grad school and/or have a new house, my creative life will bloom.
- Letting go of perfection (203): Contributor Elizabeth Grace Saunders says that you should never be plagued by the desire (and/or expectation) of perfection. If you’re stuck at the start, Saunders says that you should understand that there is never an ideal time to begin something, so just do it. If you’re lost in the middle, prioritize what’s important and go from there. If you’re stuck at the end, finish the minimum and be okay with being done for a while. All of these ideas spoke to me because I want things to be perfect all of the time, with everything that I do. At times, it causes me to be immobile. I plan to reflect upon these as I continue to move forward for writing.
- Getting unstuck (213): Contributor Mark McGuinness says that there are a few ways to make progress if there are some barriers in the way:
- Inspiration Drought: one idea is to take a break and come back later.
- Emotional Barrier: write in private for now, with no intent to publish until you feel it’s right.
- Personal Problems: use your creative work as an outlet.
I’m always feeling stuck, so these are important to me, and I thought they might speak to you as well.
This book is packed full of ideas and examples, for creating and maintaining a creative lifestyle. These are just a couple of ideas that stood out to me and that I plan to come back to later.
My big takeaways are to know what time of day my brain is most creative, eliminate distractions, unplug from the internet, set a routine and stick to it, and muddle through the product no matter what.
I feel refreshed and ready to get back to writing my novel. But first, I need to get my schedule straight.