19 January 2006

Time of the Essence: Scheduling for Creativity

So many people in my circle of friends and in my working life are experiencing signs of being overworked and underpaid. Many of these folks are quite well-educated with advanced degrees and long years of experience in their careers. But somehow they find themselves working so hard, that the anxiety generated by their jobs prevents them from living their dreams and from becoming more creative.

Some people who lead workshops and write about creativity recommend making a "date" with yourself to spend "creative time." Julia Cameron, author of The Arists' Way series of books, advocates "morning pages," a series of exercises to get your creative juices flowing every morning. Other authors have called the practice of regular scheduling of creativity time "artist's dates." I actually like to call this time "Open Space." I believe it's vital for any creative person to get out her/his pen or pencil and mark in her/his calendar the hour or two that s/he will set aside to be free and to pursue creativity. Once "Open Space" is on your schedule, let nothing bar you from meeting that appointment with your own destiny!

Most people to whom creativity is important find themselves saddled with complicated jobs or family situations or volunteer commitments. Afterall, it's common for creative folks to be expressing their creativity by nuturing others or by giving time to the people who they love or to the goals that they value.

Although I am currently working "part-time" in my day-job as an events planner for a non-profit organization, I often find that there aren't enough hours in my schedule to fulfill all of the tasks given to me. Tasks come not only from my supervisor, but also from many other department heads and individuals in the organization. I don't always have a say in how my time is spent. When it comes to my private life, on the other hand, I do have many choices. If I'm asked whether I can stay late at work, I can tell my boss that I have a firm "date" to take a class, or visit a family member out of town, or go to the doctor. So, in the perfect world, I should theoretically be able to be just as firm about my personal schedule for "creative time."

Now, I happen to work for a very enlightened boss, who has long years of experience both in graduate school and post-graduate school of juggling a complex work schedule. She probably works harder than I do on any given day: If I work 110%, she is likely working 125%. She realizes that her staff needs to maintain their morale or we would not be good employees. Not all bosses are that way! Many of them would say "Tough luck!" or "You're fired!" if you tell them you have an appointment with yourself to be on a personal "vision quest," "retreat" or "creativity break."

My advice to those of you who don't have a boss like mine, is to be firm about the fact that you need to make a date with yourself to have time to be creative. Don't allow friends, family members and other social acquaintances to talk you out of your creative time. If you were caring for a sick relative or a young child, you probably wouldn't agree to stay late and work, so why would you sabotage something as precious as your own creativity?

Nuturing your creativity is essential to living a productive life.

Okay. So, say you have managed to find the time for an appointment with yourself to be creative. Does that mean that the inspiration for a new work of art or journal article or theatrical production will automatically come to you?

No. Of course not.

In fact, you need to not only make the appointment with yourself, but to give yourself a "homework" assignment or exercise. There are many wonderful reference books about exercises that will enable you to pursue your creative work. You may only have the time for a quick sketch or a couple of notes, but if you make a consistent time to be creative at a certain time each day or each week, you may discover that the creative thoughts come more easily and more frequently.

Scheduling time for creativity to happen and working through exercises are both huge topics! I will be breaking these up and addressing them separately in future posts to this blog. I do encourage you to think about what system would allow you time and space to be creative and to make a promise to yourself to attempt it. Even if you fail at first, when you actually manifest something and try to make a real change in your schedule, the chances are that eventually it will happen.

Don't be discouraged! Give yourself the break you would give your best friend who's having a hard day.

Please feel free to make comments here on ways that you have found to squeeze some creative time into your daily or weekly schedule.

Some resource books about scheduling creativity and exercises:
Cameron, Julia. The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992).

Mountain Dreamer, Oriah. What We Ache For: Creativity and the Unfolding of Your Soul. (San Francisco and New York: Harper San Francisco, a division of Harper Collins Publishers, 2005).

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