Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time Management for Creatives, Part 1

Today marks the start of a new season at my house. This morning all 3 of my kids went back to school. We had a fun, albeit short, summer break together in which we traveled, played and fought a little (like most families). They are quickly growing up and 2 of them headed to high school today, one already in her junior year. As they begin the next level of their education I am reminded that structure is returning to their lives and it should to mine as well. I need and even crave structure and organization probably in large part because it is an area in which I am fairly challenged. I often find myself using the "but I'm a creative person and that's just the way we are" excuse, but today I've decided to take the bull by the horns and seek out some good resources to put me on the right path. So if you're like me and could use a little help in this department, read on...

I began my search in my usual spot--Google--with a search on "time management for creative people" because I'm pretty sure that time management is not a one-size-fits-all deal, where I could successfully employ the same techniques that would work for say, an engineer (like my husband). That yielded 77,800,00 results which is pretty much a nightmare when you already struggle with managing your time...Lucky for me, though, the first page of results brought me to a great free ebook entitled Time Management for Creative People by Mark McGuinness. You can follow the link and read it all for yourself, or you can follow my blog for the next few days as I read and summarize it here for our benefit.
We like to think of creativity as a space for untrammeled imagination, free from all constraints. Yet while freedom, rule-breaking and inspiration are undoubtedly essential to the creative process, the popular image of creativity overlooks another aspect: examine the life of any great artisit and you will find evidence of hard work, discipline and a hard-won knowledge of the rules and conventions of their medium.
I'm a big reader of fiction and can get so lost in a book that the house could practically burn down around me without my noticing, but when it comes to non-fiction I need it broken down into digestible chunks and really appreciate the list or bullet-point approach. Lucky for me, McGuinness presents his recommendations in just this format. Today we'll tackle the first two of his suggestions.

Borrowing from Steven Covey (whom we all know is Highly Effective) McGuinness recommends that you begin by prioritzing work that is important but not urgent. This is not to say that you should ignore those "urgent" deadlines hanging over your head, but to give you permission to spend a portion of each day working toward your own goals rather than those of others (generally what falls into the urgent category). Our creativity flows from a deeply personal and individual place within ourselves and if we are constantly reacting to the demands of others it's easy to run headlong into creative burnout.

Another way to increase your effectiveness is to pay attention to your body's natural rhythms and determine your best time for creating, then take that time captive and use it exclusively for the creative act. For me (but not everyone) mornings are it. If I allow myself to sleep in, I set myself up for failure. Of course, this also means taking those nighttime hours captive and not allowing myself to wallow in front of the television until all hours of the night. When sewing was just a hobby for me I structured my day much differently than I do now. Morning was the time to run errands and do household chores. Only after my household list was tackled would I allow myself the reward of indulging in my hobby. Now sewing is a business and I need to treat it as such.

In addition to the rhythm of a schedule, also cutivate an awareness of "physical triggers" or components of your environment that aid you in your creative process. For instance, music is an important part of my creative environment. When I am sewing I like to listen to my favorite radio station, WYEP, streaming live online, or my Indie Singer-Songwriter Pandora station that I have customized to my own specific taste. However, when I am writing or reading I need either silence or instrumental music. Lyrics will distract me from my own words, yet there are times when I need a still need a soundtrack. My customized Accoustic Folk Pandora station (minus any and all banjo) is perfect for this purpose. For you it might be a certain paintbrush or favorite pen. Maybe you can't possibly create at home but need to go to a coffee shop in the next town to connect with your muse...Think about those times when you've felt "in the zone" creatively and conjure up the setting and tools that were present.

If you've found the time you invested in reading this helpful and inspiring as you embark upon the next phase of your creative day, stop back tomorrow when I unpack the next few points in McGuinness's book.

I'd love to hear from you about your creative environment and any help you've gleaned from this post, so please leave me a comment! Let's share our insights and maybe help eachother out!

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff, Nancy. I'm trying to focus more on the important than the urgent these days. And I hear you about the music. I'm so frustrated right now because my MP3 player died.