Don’t think you have time to do creative work? Think again.

The problem isn’t time – it’s energy.

feet-on-fire

Except in unusual cases, the real barrier to doing creative work is energy, not time. Most people have some free time spread throughout the day. The challenge is having enough energy to do the work during that free time. By planning your schedule and your work to match your energy level, you can overcome that challenge.

Five keys to progress

In order to finish a task, you need five things:

  1. Priority. You need to believe that it is the best thing to do with that moment.
  2. Intellectual acuity. You need to have enough mental energy to solve the problems that arise.
  3. Emotional energy. Creative work inherently contains risk, and it’s harder to face the risk of making mistakes if you’re emotionally drained.
  4. Physical energy. Working when you’re physically exhausted leads to mistakes – or inability to do more strenuous tasks.
  5. Time. You need enough focused time to do the work.

Seven ways to find time

Make creative work a priority.

priority-apples

When you make your daily to-do list, make sure your creative work is represented, and that it has equal footing with other items. If you regard your creative work as something to do in your surplus time, you’ll very likely never get to it. But if you consciously make space for it – prioritizing it above some of the the “daily duties” – you’ll find yourself with enough time.

Fit the task to your energy level.

Any creative project typically involves some portions that are intellectually or emotionally challenging, some parts that require good physical energy and alertness, and some tasks that are mindless handwork. To maximize your studio time, choose tasks that match your energy level. For example, initial designs should be done when you are at your most alert, because they usually take a lot of emotional courage and intellectual acuity. Repetitive handwork, on the other hand – things like sanding or polishing a piece, or hemming a garment, can be done at any time. So reserve those tasks for moments when you’re tired and just need something mindless to do.

Schedule some prime time for creative work.

Clock

Everyone has a biological rhythm, including a time when you are most alert. For some people, that’s early morning. For others, it might be late at night, or in the middle of the day. Identify the times when you have the most energy, and block out some time for creative work during those times. That may mean getting up a little earlier, or staying up a little later, so you can reserve prime time for craftwork. (I’m at my most alert early in the morning, so I get up at 5:30 am. That gives me two hours of undisturbed creative time before I have to deal with anyone else. My spouse, on the other hand, is a night owl and often stays up late to work on his projects.)

Avoid distractions during creative time.

Facebook, TV, and video games are engaging, but they can eat all your studio time if you aren’t careful. Particularly during prime time, don’t go there. Just don’t.

watching-tv

“Stack” mindless tasks with other things.

Some forms of entertainment, such as watching TV or listening to podcasts, don’t have to waste precious creative time. Choose a task that doesn’t take much effort or attention, and do it while you’re watching or listening. This can make mindless or repetitive tasks more interesting. I know a lot of knitters who do the boring parts of their knitting while watching TV – it gives their hands something to do while their minds are focused on the show. Similarly, listening to audiobooks or favorite podcasts while doing boring, repetitive tasks both saves time and makes the boring tasks more interesting.

Do interruptible tasks in “spare change” moments.

Most days contain some “wait time” – time when you’re just sitting around waiting for something else to finish. For example, if you are making tea, you’ll likely find yourself standing around for a few minutes while waiting for the water to boil. Use those moments to do creative tasks that you can pick up and put down quickly. Even a small amount of progress on your craft project is better than none, and those moments can quickly add up.

If you’re not getting around to something, figure out what’s blocking you and fix it.

“I haven’t got time” is frequently code for “I don’t want to do this.” If you’re not getting around to doing something, stop and think about why you’re not doing it. If it’s a boring and repetitive task, how can you make it more interesting? If it’s an emotionally charged section, can you create a calm space for yourself during the time you need to work on it? Think about what is really blocking you and address the problem. Then you can make rapid progress.

Summary

You need five things to make progress on a task. You need enough intellectual, emotional, and physical energy to get the task done; you need to prioritize it high enough that you actually work on it; and you need to find time to work on it.

Here’s how to make those five things happen:

  1. Prioritize your creative work. If you don’t prioritize your creative life, it won’t happen.
  2. Choose tasks to fit your energy level. Work on complicated tasks when you’re most alert. Save mindless stuff for when your brain is fried.
  3. Schedule studio time. Particularly for difficult tasks, a focused block of time when you are most alert will really help.
  4. Avoid distractions during studio time. Facebook is a real killer.
  5. “Stack” mindless tasks with other things. Do the boring stuff while watching TV or listening to podcasts/audio books.
  6. Use your “spare change” moments. If you’re waiting around, do some creative work, however small. It only takes a minute or two to sketch out an idea.
  7. If you’re procrastinating, identify and address the problem. Don’t just wait around until you feel like doing it – that may never happen. Instead, identify why you don’t want to work on it. Fix that problem so you can make progress.

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  1. This is an excellent summary of life as a studio artist. There is always something that gets in the way of opening the Studio door. My resent solution is to whip those task off the slate by finishing them. They are gone – puff. The door to my Studio can now open.

    There are many unfinished tasked in the Studio. I can’t do all of them in a day or probably of week. I am know work on a new list of Studio activities. Each activity will free up physical space. If I do one a day – I will find my Studio. I am experience a “down sizing in place” moment. Do I need every textile book or magazine on the bookcases? The rational answer is NO. Time will tell how this goes.

    PS. I just took 300 plus book to Good Will from 2 bookcases in the family room. They emptied the van. One more task out of the way.

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