May 292015

How do you take time from your busy schedule to be creative? Whether you’re running from job to job, you have a day job that keeps you so busy you don’t dare take your lunch hour, or you have so many errands to run that you can’t even see straight, the bottom line is that you may feel you have neither time nor energy to spare for creativity. You walk into your sewing room and see the fabrics piled on a shelf a year ago for a project you know will take hours, but you simply can’t spare that length of time. It can be overwhelming to have so many tasks on your to-do list—so overwhelming, in fact, that you don’t know where to start. And then you don’t start at all, and you feel even more tired and discouraged.

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at

For me, the challenge is not coming up with creative ideas, but finding time to explore all of them. So, what’s the solution for finding more time to be creative? Here are a few strategies to help you get back into the creative groove when you’re feeling overwhelmed by other, usually more mundane tasks. At the end of this post are some links to related posts, if you need additional suggestions. Obviously, I need help myself, since I have written about this topic more than once!

Arrange your most frequently used tools and supplies within arm’s reach. This allows you to be efficient and productive during whatever time you may have available, however short that may be. I don’t put away all of my tools after each work session, for example. Instead, I have a basket filled with my most frequently used tools. This is moved to my work space (usually the kitchen table).

Tool basket

Additionally, I use a compartmentalized Oreo cookie package insert for my books and a few supplies that are “in process.” This enables me to get right to work, without a lot of preparation, when inspiration strikes.

This "basket" is actually the plastic insert from a package of Oreo cookies. So many of the items we purchase can be re-purposed!

This “basket” is actually the plastic insert from a package of Oreo cookies. So many of the consumable items we purchase can be re-purposed!

Break down your project into parts, and pull a Nancy Zieman. What do I mean by this? On my bookshelf I have a series of how-to books written by sewing guru and video host Nancy Zieman, all of which suggest setting aside a short period each day to attack part of a project, instead of several hours. A couple of the titles include 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew and 10-20-30 Minutes to Sew for Your Home—both of which point out that when you spend 10, 20, or 30 minutes a day toward a specific goal, those minutes add up. “Like you,” says Nancy Zieman, “I struggle to find time to sew. Yet I find that even on busy days, I can free up 10, 20, or 30 minutes.” Before you know it, your project will be done, and you’ll be ready to begin another.

Nancy Zieman books

Set aside non-essential tasks for another day. Ask yourself if anyone besides you will notice the dust collecting on top of the bookshelf or the piano. Lots of laundry to do? Put if off for an afternoon or a day. In a pinch, you can wear a garment a second day so that you can work on a creative project instead. Better yet, delegate household tasks when you can; things don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to do it all yourself.

“You want to create art,” say Cherie Haas in An Easy Way to Make Art. “You want to express yourself and make beautiful things. It’s as important as any other aspect of your life, because it is who you are. There’s a lot of pressure on us to prioritize our lives, to put other people first, to keep our living space immaculate, to have perfect nails. But when you have a project to create, you’ll find that the household things can fill your day quicker than you can say ‘domestic.'”

Clothes hamper

Exchange favors, or get the kids involved. If you’re a stay-at-home parent who just can’t get personal time away from the kids, offer to trade child care responsibilities with a friend in the same situation. You can take her kids for an afternoon, and she can return the favor. If that’s not a possibility, or you’re simply uncomfortable with an exchange, get the kids involved in a simple art project while you create (something else) beside them. Who knows? Your creativity and theirs may rub off each other. And if you can afford it, hire a babysitter to keep your children occupied while you create.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Work when everyone else is asleep. Set your alarm clock so you can rise 30 to 60 minutes before everyone else, and resist the temptation to do household work during that period. Or, stay up 30 to 60 minutes longer than everyone else. If your children nap, use that time to tackle your creative project: drawing, writing, needlework, or whatever your creative niche may be. Remember that you don’t have to complete the entire project, only make some progress toward your ultimate goal!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Stop the electronic train. Turn off your mobile devices and power down your laptop. If you need your laptop for your creative project, stay away from e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and basically all social networks. In fact, limit the length of time each day or week that you spend on social networks; this is precious time that you can convert to creative minutes. Ask yourself if there is a television show you can live without to scrape up time to create.

Image courtesy of smarnad at

Image courtesy of smarnad at

Take the long view, and record your progress. To encourage yourself to follow the suggestions in this post, keep a record of what works. Keep a diary that acts as a creativity time clock—record the minutes and times of day you are working on a project, and what you have accomplished. Add up the minutes each month, and pat yourself on the back. Or, keep a journal of completed projects, filled with photos, such as the beautiful one below by Kalona Creativity. You’ll be amazed by how much you complete, when you tune out the distractions. Reward yourself at intervals by buying yourself a gift: an inspirational craft book, a new set of pastels, some specialty beads, or ribbon trims or threads in your favorite colors.

Journal by Kalona Creativity

Journal by Kalona Creativity

Need some other suggestions for carving out time for creativity? You may find these previous posts I wrote helpful:

Do you have other ideas for finding time to create? Share them in the comments below.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Aug 272013

I watched an amazing story on the news the other night about an ad agency in Minneapolis that gave its employees the gift of time—to be exact, 500 hours of time—to “Figure out what you’re passionate about, and go do it.” Last spring ad agency Barrie D’Rozario Murphy took advantage of a cyclical lull in its business and paid its 18 employees to take the summer off. One person took on a monumental landscaping project, another volunteered at a shelter for neglected and abused horses, one individual wrote a cookbook, a father spent time with his kids, and another employee made a sculpture that incorporated the figures of her two daughters.

“”Honestly, my big hope for this is now that they’re back,” said Stuart D’Rozario, “people realize the things you wanted to do, you could always be doing and find a place for it in your lives.”

When I heard this story, it occurred to me that the real lesson here is that time is all that prevents anyone from doing what is really important to him or her, and finding time is as easy as the next tip, trick or tool around the corner. There is an entire industry built around time management, in fact, if you just look around you. Items designed to save you space or help you locate things easily are often time-savers.

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In a previous post I wrote, Finding time to create, one of my readers pointed out that finding time is often a matter of giving it away first. How? By volunteering, you change your perception of time, feeling as if you actually have more time. Thanks to Heather Geiger for this great tip, on which a study is based.

Sometimes, though, you just have to realize that some things take time, and that realization frees you from the pressure of a deadline, making you feel as if you have all the time you need.

If someone gave you the gift of time, as Barrie D’Rozario Murphy did for its employees, what would you do? I’m starting my dream list now.

© 2013 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jul 292013

Armed with your sewing pattern, you visit the fabric store and carefully select a beautiful palette of fat quarters. You pick up thread and other notions, pay for your treasures and then drive home, intending to start right away. Once you get home, however, the wait begins. Oh, you take the time to pre-wash your fabric and press it, but then you wait for the perfect moment to begin your project. You wait for there to be enough time to pin your pattern to the fabric and cut it out, and you wait even longer to sit down in front of the sewing machine because first you have to clear away working space, vacuum the rug, sort the laundry, dust the furniture in the living room, and pay the bills.

“If only I had the time,” you moan, “I’d sew more.”

Before you know it, you’re standing in the cash register line at the fabric store, your shopping cart filled with more fabrics and notions for another project. You know the drill. Any excuse you can find before you begin your sewing project presents itself and you latch onto those excuses eagerly, knowing absolutely that you have a good reason for not beginning your creative project. You’ve convinced yourself that you would sew, write, paint, fuse glass, throw a pot, sketch or weave if only you had more time. Eventually your tools and materials collect dust, you forget about them, you give them away to others, or pack them away in cartons.

photo(1)Books about creativity are filled with stories about procrastination and how to overcome this block to creativity. According to Jill Badonsky of The Muse is In: An Owner’s Manual to Your Creativity, “You don’t need to take a class, build an art studio, get a desk, go on a retreat, or break up with your boyfriend and move to New York, to begin.” The solution is to simply begin. Got writer’s block? When I took creative writing classes decades ago, my professor told me to slide a sheet of paper into the typewriter and simply begin typing about anything that came to mind. Does it work? I think so. As I sat down to write this post, for example, I knew that I wanted to write something about the process of creating, but wasn’t really sure where my post would take me until I wrote my first sentence. When you want to create something, you need to put one foot in front of the other, and simply follow the path that opens up. Trust your muse, and let things happen.

In her book, Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art, Ricë Freeman-Zachary advises artists to forge a relationship with time. “Make a list of things you do where you lose track of time,” she says. She points out that most artists completely lose track of time when they are deep into the flow of their creative project. Your goal should be to incorporate into your day more of the things that make you feel that way. Freeman-Zachary suggests you draw a “time line” for a typical day, any kind of graphical representation of a timeline, and make it thin in the parts of the day where time seems to fly, and thicker in the parts of the day where it seems to slow down. Jot down notes about how these times of the day make you feel, and locate the time(s) of day that are conducive to your brand of creativity. For me, for example, time seems to slow down when I take a shower, when I iron fabric, or when I crochet. These are times my mind wanders and generates ideas. I’ve learned to take advantage of these times to record my ideas so that when I have a few minutes to be creative, I don’t have to waste time coming up with an idea; it’s a matter of choosing an idea already listed in my notebook or on a flash drive.

In the summer 2013 issue of Artful Blogging, blogger Natalie Pirvey of Crème de la Craft talks about how she can’t remember a time when crafting wasn’t part of her life, but how the routine of daily tasks gradually made her crafting time take a back seat. She cut out magazine pages with crafting projects that she hoped would inspire her to create, but instead ended up “with a big pile of papers and no craft project to go with it.” She began blogging as a creative outlet and discovered that sharing her ideas with an audience gave her the motivation to follow through and complete craft projects. Every day, she takes a few minutes to write down one creative idea in a journal. By the end of the week, she has seven ideas to choose from about which she can blog. At the end of two weeks, she has 14 blogging ideas—and 14 project ideas. One creative project leads to another. The lesson here is that the act of creating is its own solution to the problem of finding time. Establish a creative habit, and it sustains itself.

photo(2)There is conflicting information about whether deadlines help us find time to be creative. What do you think? In Increase Creativity—Set Deadlines!, Deborah Watson-Novacek writes, “Have you noticed as you get closer to a deadline, you become more creative? Deadlines cause our thoughts and imagination to become active, giving us ideas to get the job done before the deadline.” But a study described by Keith Sawyer in Do Tight Deadlines Make You Less Creative? suggests that in an employment scenario, as deadlines approach, employees become less creative unless employees are open to creating under time pressure and also work in an environment that is supportive of creativity. Ricë Freeman-Zachary would argue that to make time to create, you need unstructured time to play. “One of the things I hear over and over is that people wish they had permission to play. They want to play—to make stuff without thinking about the results, to try new things, to experiment—without the pressure of rules or goals or time limits—but they feel guilty when they do it, as if they’re cheating by doing something that seems to have no purpose.”

My own observation about creativity and deadlines relates to Destination Imagination, the creative problem-solving program for which I’ve volunteered for more than 13 years. In this program, student teams solve open-ended challenges over a period of several months. When the students set their own deadlines, the level of creativity seems to be higher than when deadlines are imposed on them by others. On the other hand, the students practice Instant Challenge, solving on-the-spot problems with imposed time limits of 5 to 8 minutes. Are their solutions creative? For those that practice the process frequently and consistently, the answer is yes.

In the end, when it comes to finding time to create, I guess I subscribe to the advice of Austrian writer Bertha Eckstein-Diener: “The only way to have time is to take time.”

© 2013 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.