I come home. Sometimes I’m so tired I just want to sleep. Other times I have chores to do, things that can’t be put off. Or I get into an argument or stuff myself with potato chips. Either way I don’t have the energy to create anything. No writing, not designing, forget that half-finished prototype.
I know that it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are ways to get started and keep going, ways that let me come home with enough time and energy to actually sit down and create something. Trouble is, they’re the small, easy to set aside things that fall away from my daily schedule when I’m stressed.
Bad idea. Bad, bad, idea.
The more stressed I am, the less I do of my Good Life Actions, the more stressed I become. Negative spiral. I know that I have trouble breaking negative spirals in my life so I created crutches. I wrote down the key points that keep me happy, motivated and able to create. These are the peripheral things that don’t directly pertain to creativity but which tend to govern it anyhow. These are the things that make me happy. I hope they’ll work for you as well.
Working out and keeping fit is important. I’ve found that when I work out on a regular basis, at least once per week and no more than ten days between sessions, and I include a 10 minute cardio session in my workout, I gain about an hour a day of creative energy. That is, I can be creative for an hour more each day without burning out. I also go to bed somewhat later, fall asleep faster and wake up earlier, often before the clock rings.
When I stop working out, when I prioritize other things instead of moving, I start to feel tired around 4 p.m. (that’s 16:00 for all of you Euro-natives) and I can’t be bothered to start working at an projects after 6 p.m.
No-one exists in a vacuum. We’ve got families, friends, neighbors, work relations. And we need to spend some time on those relations. Quality time. It doesn’t do any good to talk to your wife while you’re thinking about that next game. Or try to play with your kids and compose poetry at the same time. You need to give them your complete attention, make them feel that they’re the center of your universe for a while. Attention makes people feel good about themselves, and when they feel good about themselves they’re more likely to help you feel good about yourself.
I’ve found that when I don’t have the time or energy to give my attention to my family they tend to take it anyhow but in a negative way. The amount of bickering increases and the time it takes to do anything, especially for the kids, goes of the scale. But if I focus on them completely for a couple of hours each day I get a a couple of more hours back. And my family – including me – is a lot happier.
Activities then to fill up the time allotted. If there isn’t a deadline we tend to procrastinate, to write a little, check email, write some more, surf the web.
Don’t. Start out by setting your end time. Create your deadline and stick to it.
I find that when I have a deadline I work levels of magnitude better than when I don’t have one. And I don’t mean a “in two years I’ll have a novel” deadline. I mean a “I’ve got until nine o’clock to write, then I’m doing something else”. And that’s when my creative juices actually focus. I get down to business and create, instead of wasting time on excuses.
Decide on what you want to work on and work on that, and only that, for a set amount of time. This is the way to fight scope creep and those new, great, glamorous new ideas you keep getting. Write down what you want to accomplish and stick to it for a set amount of time. And yes, that means turning down that bar-and-movie night with your buddies.
I find that when I decide that this week I’ll do X, Y but not Z or anything else I gain focus and manage to complete things a lot faster and better. The key here is to set a reasonably short amount of time, then review and prioritize. It’s got to be a long enough time to get work done but not so long that it feels insurmountable, that you’ll never get to do anything else. A week works for me, you might need a shorter or longer time depending on your time schedule or personality.
You need time off. No one can work like mad forever. No one can stick with a plan forever. If you try to stick with your plan past the point where it becomes painful you’ll end up resenting it and throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Schedule days for free thought, free creativity or no creation at all. Make sure that you’ve got them marked out in your calendar and know when they’re coming up.
Think of it as a mini-holiday, something that lets you do whatever you please (even if it’s “sticking with the plan”) but make sure that it actually is “whatever you want” and not “whatever you feel you must”. These are rest days, remember? So rest. Do what gives you energy. Fool around with that short story, that side project, that cool new game you’re inventing. Then go back to your grand plan.
For me it works to have unscheduled days about twice a month. A couple of times a year I also throw in a no-creation week where I’m not allowed to create anything. This is a bit like jumping out of a sauna into an icy river – it hurts but it makes everything feel fresh and prickly again.
One of the downsides with this list is that you need to spend time on those activities. Time that you sometime may not have.
And since these aren’t activities that need to be done but extras that keep me happy they are often the things that fall away first when life gets stressful. Then I dig myself a nice little hole of musts and has to and before I know it I don’t create and become a real sourpuss. And then I have to haul out the master list and start all over again.
Don’t let that happen to you; be proactive and stay happy.