If you don’t make time for creative work, you won’t have time for creative work.
There’s always that lingering temptation to wait—to wait until you’re feeling more inspired, to wait until you’ve had the perfect serving of coffee, to wait until you’re less busy. But you’ll be waiting forever. And, if that day or time ever did come, I’m confident you’d find other ways to waste it.
That’s why I protect my Saturday mornings. That’s why I make a standing appointment with myself to work on creative work, and only on creative work, from 8:00 until noon. It’s become so much a part of my routine that I’ve begun to anticipate and plan for it. Before I ever sit down at my desk, I already know what I’ll be working on during those four hours.
Except for the weeks when I want to do more than four hours worth of creative work.
But rather than schedule an additional creative sit-down session, I’ll start trying to squeeze the extra work into the nooks and crannies of my day—a half hour between meetings, fifteen minutes before bed, in the ten minutes it takes the oven to preheat.
This is no way to work. If you force creativity into the odds and ends of your busy day, you’ll never achieve the peace of mind necessary to make progress. You’ll spend half the day worrying about having enough time and the other half worrying about whatever it is you need to get back to.
If you want to do more work than can fit in the allotted time, there are two options. The first is to schedule more creative time. That will eliminate stress throughout the day and create the necessary space and focus required for productivity. The second option is to, quite simply, not do the work. After all, if this is a self-imposed project, there’s nothing stopping you from pushing off what you can’t finish to the following week.
The third option, the one I frequently abuse, isn’t an option at all. It’s a bad habit. When you force creative work into the nooks and crannies of your day, you and your work both suffer for it.
This weekend, I finally watched Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice. It’s an improv movie about the toxic effects of jealousy. To quickly recap, Keegan-Michael Key’s character is the member of a long-running, popular improv troupe, who auditions for and secures a job with Weekend Live (an SNL knock off). [SPOILERS] The rest of his improv team resents his success and ultimately destroys itself. [/SPOILERS]
Watching the movie made me think back to my old improv troupe, which broke up six months ago (although for very different reasons). Like the characters in the movie, I was upset to lose something I’d been a part of for so long. But I took the opportunity to invest more fully into teaching.
But after class the other night, I ran into a former teammate. She asked if I’d be auditioning for a new team next month. I didn’t know what to say. I’d been thinking about it—I do miss performing and being part of a team, but I’ve also filled the time I used to set aside for improv practices and performances. And to join another team would be to eliminate something else I’ve taken up.
In the past, I’d have said “screw it.” I would have further filled my schedule without a second thought. But I’ve come to realize that there is such a thing as too much. You need breaks in the week to recharge. And like creativity, recovery must also be scheduled. It’s not a waste of time. It’s not unproductive. It’s powerful, more so than you realize.
I once dated a girl who read in the shower. Not the bath. The shower. I never saw this happen, but I have no reason to doubt the truth of it. And good for her, I suppose. I’d always like to squeeze more reading into my day. But I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that strategy to anyone else who values reading.
Anything worth doing is worth creating time and space for. You don’t talk to your therapist while texting friends. You don’t cook dinner while watching your kid’s school play. You don’t take phone calls while you’re in surgery. You make appointments for important things and you show up on time. You give them your undivided attention.
Creative work that inspires and energizes you requires the same commitment. Because if you’re living your most inspired life in the nooks and crannies of your day, something’s got to change.
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