Most creative people I know lament the lack of time they have to pursue their creative passions. “Finding balance continues to be the hardest part for me,” says LeAnn Frobom, a sewist from Nebraska. “Every day is a juggling act, and some days I can’t seem to keep all the balls in the air.”
Sound familiar? In my previous post, A development plan for creatives: 12 simple steps, I discuss how easy it is to be distracted by e-mail and phone calls. Then there’s the lure of Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and dozens of other social networking interruptions. The next thing you know, it’s time to run to the grocery store so you can cook dinner. After dinner, you tell yourself the light is too dim to sew (believe me: I’ve used this excuse!), so you turn off the creativity switch and curl up with a book instead—not that there’s anything wrong with reading, mind you—that is, after all, my favorite leisure activity. The point is that we make it difficult for ourselves to carve out time to be creative by allowing every distraction and interruption to take priority. What can you do about it?
Here are 12 ways to carve out time to be more creative:
1. Go on an electronic holiday. Turn off your phone, computer, laptop, and tablet. Need an hour to create? Set a timer for 60 minutes, 30 minutes, 15 minutes—whatever works for you—to help you enforce the electronic OFF switch.
2. Break up a large task into smaller steps that take less time individually. Work on just one of those tasks. If you have only 15 minutes, then get as much done in that period as you can. You’re not reporting to anyone how much you have accomplished, so does it really matter if all you have time to do is pin a few seams until your next quarter-hour arrives and you can stitch them together? You’re the person in charge of the time you have, no matter how few minutes those might be.
3. Keep frequently used tools within easy reach so you don’t waste creative time, collecting them. Nearly every household I know has too many coffee mugs; re-purpose them to hold your tools. At the same time, have a work space, no matter how small, that you can call your own. When it’s time to start or stop, you don’t want to have to reset your space when you could be creating instead.
4. Take a break from cooking dinner every evening. Consider batch-cooking some re-heatable meals on weekends or one evening a week so you can have relatively uninterrupted creative time during another part of the week. Or buy some pre-cooked foods that don’t take a lot of time to prepare. Make a deal with someone else in the household that you’ll cook on certain days while they cook on other days. This way, you both get a break that you can use creatively.
5. Create an assembly line. If you create items that involve a repetitive process, make multiple items one step at a time, consolidating the process. Yep, we’re talking about production line assembly, but that doesn’t make it less creative, but instead more efficient. If you sew bags, cut out all the pieces at one time for multiple bags of the same type. If you make books, as I do, make all of your covers during one period of time, even if that means you spend several evenings doing the same task. If you paint, gesso your canvases or other surfaces in one batch. Look for commonality, in other words, between one project and another, and consolidate those elements.
6. Clear your head. Take a walk, hop into the shower, iron a stack of pillowcases, mow the lawn, or even vacuum a few rooms. In other words, do something mindless that will clear out the daily minutiae that clutters your mind. Then, when you sit (or stand) to make something, you’ll be ready to fly—creatively-speaking, that is. I find my best ideas while taking a shower!
7. Create a habit of readiness. Always keep a notepad or sketchpad handy to jot down ideas, list reminders or draw models of what-could-be. In this way, when you’re ready to sit down and create, you won’t waste time by trying to come up with something to do. If you prefer to record your ideas, impressions or reactions electronically, smart phones make it easy to take photos, record voice impressions, jot down notes, or use a drawing app to make a quick sketch.
8. Give yourself permission to take time off. The sky won’t fall if you don’t do the laundry on Saturday, order in a pizza instead of cooking dinner, pay the bills on Monday evening instead of Sunday, or any number of other mundane tasks. You probably take a personal day at work to run errands, so why not do the same so you can create? Leave at noon for a half-day of creative play. Are you a stay-at-home parent? If you can afford it, pay a child-sitter to keep your kids occupied while you create. If that’s not an option, provide supplies for your children to keep them occupied while you work on your own project. Or maybe you can trade with a friend; she can watch your children while you create, and then you’ll return the favor another time.
9. Consolidate your errands. Instead of running to the bank, the Post Office, the grocery store, the dry cleaner’s, or the pharmacy on separate occasions, choose one day to run all of those errands. It’s amazing how splitting up the errands can interrupt the flow of your creative time, so don’t allow it to do so! Likewise, consider shopping online instead of visiting brick-and-mortar shops. Yes, you will probably pay shipping charges, but you’ll gain creative time that is priceless.
10. Divide and conquer the Household Management Demon. Let go of perfection, and agree to share ordinary household tasks with other people, such as your spouse or children. If you can afford to pay someone to come in once a week to vacuum, dust, clean floors and tidy up bathrooms, that’s great. Or maybe you can hire a teenage student to take care of your yard on Saturdays when you’d rather be creating. In all cases, you reclaim creative time.
11. Adjust your schedule. Rise a half-hour earlier than everyone else in your household, or stay up 30 minutes longer. You can use this time either to complete household tasks that take up creative time, or you can simply begin creating. It’s your choice. Alternately, identify what time of day you feel most creative, and then schedule that time in the same way you schedule anything else in your daily routine. Discourage interruptions, distractions or cancellations.
12. Don’t try to do it all. Identify your creative goals, and break down your tasks into short-term (today), medium-term (this week), or long-term (in a few weeks). This gives you some breathing space. The same is true for household tasks and errands—determine whether they really need to be done today versus later. It’s all about setting priorities!
If you can think of some other ways to carve out time for creativity, let me know in the comments below. If not, you might also wish to check out the following posts I wrote previously about the same topic:
© 2014 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.