Life gets busy. We can’t always devote as much time as we’d like to our creative endeavors. Short of inventing a time machine (which typically creates more problems than it solves), the best way to counteract this is by making the most of the time we get. Here are a few simple yet incredibly effective ways to make that happen.
1. Set Aside Time to Be Creative
There’s nothing wrong with having a casual, creative hobby to occupy spare time. However, if you’re serious about actually getting something done, be deliberate about it. Make it a priority and set aside time to focus on nothing else. Often, the problem is not how much time we have but how well we organize our time. A solid two hours in which you can gain some serious momentum is better than four hours broken up into scattered, fifteen-minute chunks.
2. Eliminate Voluntary Distractions (i.e., Don’t Try to Multitask)
We all hate unwanted distractions when we’re trying to concentrate. What we might not realize is how often we disrupt our own concentration by attempting to focus on more than one thing at a time. The idea that multitasking helps us get more done is incredibly popular but conclusively false. Time and again, research has shown that it actually has the opposite effect. We are more productive, less stressed and less prone to error when we give one task our full attention.
As you take control of your creative environment, don’t be afraid to disconnect for a short while. Shut the door, turn off the ringer on your phone and close all of those Internet tabs that have nothing to do with what you’re working on. Remember, this is your time. You don’t have to let the world rob you of it if you don’t want to.
3. Take “Smart” Breaks
Taking breaks to refresh and reboot our minds is an important part of the creative process. If we’re not careful, however, a quick break can quickly become a colossal waste of time. Avoid this by taking breaks decisively and strategically. Rather than just letting your mind wander, make a conscious decision to take a break and set a time limit. It doesn’t need to be a long time, either. (Sometimes, just stepping away from the keyboard to get a glass of water is enough to shift my brain back into gear.)
Be careful to avoid “break activities” that might hijack your attention for longer than you intend. In other words, don’t watch TV. Don’t check your email or open Facebook if you’ll feel obligated to respond to every new message and post. Instead, distract your mind with an activity that doesn’t require heavy thinking or any significant time commitment. Listen to some music. Wash a few dishes. Take a walk around the block and enjoy the sunshine. Do anything but think about the thing you’re taking a break from. Even a few minutes of controlled distraction can go a long way toward refreshing your mind and re-invigorating your creative drive.
4. Get Enough Sleep
It can be tempting to sacrifice sleep in an attempt to get more done. (Ironically, I gave in to this temptation while trying to finish up this post.) In reality, just like trying to multitask, depriving yourself of sleep will produce exactly the opposite of the desired effect. In addition, it will take a heavy toll on your overall health and morale.
Sleep is not a luxury. It’s absolutely necessary for proper functioning of your body and mind. Sacrificing one or two waking hours in order to get enough sleep is an investment that will pay huge dividends. With your brain running at full capacity, you’ll be able to get more done in a shorter amount of time. Plus, you’ll feel great and be less stressed while you’re doing it.
5. Learn Your Daily Rhythms
I was skeptical of this one when I first heard of it, so I completely understand if you are as well. That said, putting it into practice has made me a believer. The basic idea is that we’re more effective at certain tasks during certain times of the day. If we can capitalize on those times when we’re “better” at certain activities, we’ll get more done in a shorter amount of time. For me, housework and other mundane tasks are easier in the morning. My optimum writing time spans from late morning to early evening. Evening is when I like to relax with my family and engage in more technical forms of creativity like website development. Once I figured out this rhythm, I found that I was able to get more done and was less stressed throughout the day.
6. Don’t Force It
Sometimes, no matter what we do, those creative juices just won’t flow when we want them to. If you’ve deliberately set aside time to be creative, this can be frustrating—even aggravating—but it’s not the end of the world. Try to use the time for something else on your to-do list. Hopefully, this will free up some time for you to try again later. In my experience, trying to force an unwilling mind to be creative has the same result as depriving it of sleep or asking it to multitask. (In other words, it doesn’t work.)
If you have any additional ideas for ways to optimize creative time, I’d love to hear them! Send me an email or leave a reply below.