Whether you’re a full time creative, working a day job, or running a household, maximizing your creative productivity means you get the most output from your creative efforts. Let’s be honest, output shouldn’t be the sole defining point of doing creative work, but in a world that defines value based on output metrics…there’s a constant pressure to produce, to show earning potential.
These points are not to help show earning potential. They are simply to help creatives get the most out of their efforts. Earning potential will come, eventually, but first find ways to elevate energy, simulate creative flow, and harness the creative power. What you do with it once you’re channeling it regularly is up to you!
Work with your power cycles, not against your natural rhythms.
This may seem trivial, but to an artist trying to make a living, it’s critical. Knowing your most productive times each day and prioritizing those windows means maximizing your output, and not burning out.
For example; my most creative times are 10AM to Noon, 2PM to 4PM, and 8PM to 2AM. The spaces in between those windows are not useless, if I’m on a good roll, I can write from 10AM to 10PM and only get up for bathroom breaks, generally forgetting to eat if I’m really deep in a chapter.
However, that’s a quick road to burnout… avoid burnout if possible.
While scheduling and building a rhythm, I try to slot day to day maintenance and upkeep in those spaces around creative power points. Get up from the computer, get the blood moving, clean the house, garden, do lunches and social time, etc.
This is part of building process, or as creative say, building sacred spaces to keep the distractions out.
I have a whole series on creative process in the queue that I’ll post later, but the point is this. Building a sacred space for channeling creativity isn’t always a physical location. It’s not always a room, or an office, or a meditation spot in the woods. Sometimes a safe space, is just sacred time.
Sacred time = the creative’s holy grail.
Sure, you do need a safe space to work, but that includes uninterrupted time. No phone, no bills, no visitors, and –don’t shoot the messenger—no internet. I know, I know. Facebook is interesting, but it’s also a huge creative time sink. If you want safe space/time…ditch the connections to the information superhighway a couple of hours at a time.
I can’t even begin to catalog the number of times I was on a good creative roll, and stopped to take a breath, check my email, Facebook, etc. then fell down a wikipedia rabbit hole for three hours and lost the creative surge. It was a totally preventable sidetrack, that could have waited until my two-hour writing space was done.
Once I made the commitment to be focused, I started keeping a notebook list of things to look up on the internet AFTER my creative window closed. My chapter needs the symptoms of arsenic poisoning –look it up after. My character needs a date from events twenty years ago—look it up later. My arc needs a historical reference—look it up later.
Save these notes for looking up online later, during the maintenance and upkeep windows. I mark my works in progress with an (x) to come back to. I just keep on writing (x) and know I’ll fill in the blank later. Better that than risk the wonderful and never ending internet sinkhole.
Shuffle creative mediums to keep energy moving.
This isn’t for everyone, but I know I need it for my own personal productivity; diverse creative stimuli. I like to work with several mediums; writing, photography, papercraft, cooking, sculpting, etc. This is my way of keeping creative energy moving through the channel.
When writing gets sticky, characters and chapters slow down to an ebb or trickle—move to a different medium to create.
Design a recipe. Build a scrap album. Take the camera out for a walk. Sculpt. Garden.
These creative outlets take the focus off my sticking point and place it somewhere else while keeping energy moving through, preventing stagnation on one problem or in one area of creative focus. It also helps pump up the energy in your creative reserve for use later.
If I hit a wall completely with a character, story problem, etc., I write it down, set it next to my computer or on my storyboard. Then I go do something entirely unrelated to storytelling or writing. When the focus is removed from the rub, and creative energy still flows through the channel in another form, sculpting, photography or something else—it tends to bump the question loose and creative solutions rise to the surface.
This is why I don’t believe in writer’s block, the boogeyman. (Posts and classes on the boogeyman coming soon.)
The important part is to not dig at the problem, just keep creativity flowing through the channel, and the answer to the problem will wash through with everything else.
Use inspiration when you’ve got it, but don’t sit around waiting for it to strike.
I made this mistake a lot when I was first starting out. I thought I had to wait for the muse to bless me, the stars to align, the weather to be perfect, my coffee the correct temperature, etc.
I know a lot of people who say they only write when they’re inspired. It works for some folks. They’re often the same folks who constantly complain “why am I not getting published?” “I don’t have anything to show for this week’s work?”
I also know people who only create when they’re sad, depressed, or in a strong emotional state. It makes sense, art is cathartic. Some people are only driven to create when they don’t know how to process their emotions otherwise. Again, it works for some people.
Emotional energy is creative energy.
I didn’t start making my writing targets and word counts until I began believing that the muse is always present. Creative energy is always accessible. I just have to sit down with the intention of tapping in, and get to work. Some days are inspired work, and other, just work. Yet my output increased and the body of work surfacing allowed more to pick and choose from in terms of what to keep and continue to improve, and what to write off as practice. I began thinking of it as the more I practiced inviting the muse in, the more frequently the inspiration came when I sat down to work.
I realized then that saying I can only be creative when the muse inspires me is like saying I can only love my partner if he’s looking right at me and telling me I’m fabulous. That’s not how love works, and it’s certainly not how inspiration works.
Inspiration doesn’t have to be looking at you, telling you you’re pretty, for creative energy to be present.
The importance of doing nothing.
It’s counter intuitive to the concept of maximizing productivity, but doing nothing is incredibly important to the creative process. Some of the most prolific and creative people in history scheduled daily naps. No joke.
Daydreaming, zoning out, a Netflix binge, staring into space, surfing Pinterest, star gazing, a day on the couch with a book or two, going for a drive. Lollygagging, loitering in the park, or as my fellows say, futzing around.
Why is this important to maximizing productivity? Recovery.
This tool, doing nothing, is the hardest tool to learn, work with—especially if you’re a driven, busy, or ambitious creative.
Over the years I’ve learned that when a nothing hits me to just go with it until I become restless and itchy with the need to be productive. It’s hard. Especially when I’ve got deadlines, places to be, projects stacked in the queue. The to do list blinks like neon in the back of my brain until I learn to shut it down, and be empty for a few moments.
I think of it as the creative’s oil change, right? When you’re at Jiffy Lube, your car is doing nothing. You can’t go anywhere. Old oil is being drained out, a new filter placed in the engine, and fresh lubricant poured back in. Not only is it necessary to the longevity of your engine, it improves your gas mileage and efficiency.
A silly comparison, but accurate.
When your done doing nothing, you’re more rested, refreshed, and mentally/emotionally geared up to take on more creative effort. Problems are easier to solve, solutions manifest easier, and you can take a pen to that neon to-do list with more vigor.
Nothing time can be scheduled or used as it comes in an organic way. It’s difficult to coach this one to a population of busy, grab and go on the run folks, but it’s one of the best tools out there to keep a creative fresh, and all it costs is a little time.
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