"You think that you're doing something important, saving the world, but there are other things that need to come first."
That was my usual "wake-up" call from my husband. He does things like this periodically, and I never like it. I usually end up pouting for a day until realizing that he is sort-of-kind-of-maybe-ok-fine-I-admit-it right. Most of the time, this happens when I get too much into my creative process and ignore everything else for a while. That's why I guess some of the highly gifted people didn't have a lot of friends, never started a family, and died early. Ouch. I certainly don't want to be in that category. I'm sure you don't either. But we do want to utilize our talents to the fullest, give our best, and manage normal life-related stuff at the same time?
So... how do you combine the two, five, or a dozen important things and maintain a healthy balance in your life? That's what I want to talk about with you and with myself as well. Let's have a chat.
Why Creativity Cannot Be First in Your Life
Crying emoji to follow this title. But it is true. Why? Because it will take EVERYTHING. That's right. If you have a passion for something in your life that sets your soul on fire, whether it's writing, art, business ideas, ministry, music, you name it, this thing will keep sucking your time and energy until you have nothing else to give. I personally forget to eat and ditch the sleep when I am in what's called "the flow". Yes, there are might be moments when the creative process shouldn't be interrupted, but it needs to be an exception and not the norm.
Despite creativity being almost synonymous with words like spontaneity, messiness, chaos, it CAN be organized. I'm not talking about strict guidelines but of a more disciplined approach. That's another word we creatives don't usually like. I'll give you a few more: schedule, timelines, priorities, consistency. Which one are you cringing on?
Are you "I do it when it hits me" type of person or do you make time for your creative outlet? When I asked creative people on social media, a few said one solution was to find the time of the day that was most productive and create a routine around it, something to get you in a mood for a particular activity. Here is another article to help you determine when that time is.
Here is my dilemma. It's hard to "turn off" something that I'm working on. If I have an idea, it's always brewing in my head. Since it usually involves writing, I have to run to my computer or grab my phone and jot down this "next awesome line" before I forget it. With art at least I can set it aside. As a result, food might get burned, morning run might get skipped, kids might be texting me from practice: "Mom, did you forget about me? Again??", and husband might be sulking for the rest of the day. But of course, I won't come to work late because creativity calls! So this tells me that there is a way to balance things out a bit better and make room for other important things in my life. At least there is hope.
Repeat after me: I am not a slave of my muse. It can't come and go whenever it pleases. I have a life too. From now on, it will serve me and not the other way around.
Just kidding. Well, maybe partially. But let's look at ways to get a handle on this thing.
Decide What's More Important and Stick to It
What is it that you want to be able to accomplish at the end of the day? At the end of your life? Sometimes it's good to look over the things that we consider important (or that take up most of our time), compare and contrast them, and see what comes out on the top.
Would I really be happy about that next book or that next painting or that next great business venture if my marriage relationship suffers from it, my kids won't feel connected to me, or my friends find someone else more social to hang out with? Will I be satisfied if I accomplish this great feat but my health fails, my stress level shoots through the roof, or my spiritual walk with God becomes lukewarm? "Well, if you put it like this..." Yep, that's exactly how we need to put it. Then it's pretty clear what's more important.
Now the imperative part: once you identify these priorities, you need to restructure your life accordingly and stick to it. Some things have to be put on the schedule or they won't get done. Something else will eat up your time. And here is another side of the same coin: put a limit on other things that tend to take over. Social media is the one that comes to mind. Sure, we need to connect with our peers and audience, we need to put our products/ideas/business out there into the world. But find a consistent system of doing so and don't let these tasks overwhelm you. For example: plan your posts ahead, interact during a certain time of the day and then leave it, hide your phone (I'm serious).
Back to the priorities. First, make a list of things that you know are essential in your life but often get pushed to the wayside. Such as prayer time, exercise, dates with friends/family/spouse, meaningful time with kids, something that will not change the world but you enjoy doing for yourself because it's relaxing: gardening, time in nature, baking, dance classes, reading, etc. Now, in the next couple of weeks, you're going to tally how many times you've done it successfully, without interruptions or rescheduling. Oh, and by the way, do put it on the schedule. Post this list somewhere for you to see. Code it if you don't want others to know what it means. Or maybe they do need to see it so that they can remind you to follow through.
Ready? Put this blog post away and do it now.
And if you need help with identifying and setting your priorities, here is a great article that goes more in-depth: Setting Priorities So You Can Achieve Goals That Matter.
Find Your Support System to Help You Stay Balanced
Don't you wish there was an alarm that would get triggered every time we overtasked ourselves and needed to take a break? Unfortunately, this "alarm" is usually a health or relationship issue that gets out of hand. But wouldn't it be nice if we could catch things earlier before they spiraled down? That's why it's good to have periodic checkpoints. Sort of like your car. You don't wait until it has problems to take it in for the tune-up (well, some people do). And you have your cleanings at the dentist or well checks at the doctor set up (or not) to prevent going to the emergency later. Anyway, you get the point. Set aside a day when you will check with yourself. It might be an alone time or a time with a trusted friend but do it.
Make a list of questions to ask yourself or to have another person ask you from time to time. Here are some examples:
How did I take care of myself this week/month? Did it help?
What did I do this week/month to make my relationships with others grow?
What toxic things did I let into my life as of recent? How can I let go?
How do I feel about my life overall at this moment? What doesn't sit right?
What have I accomplished this week/month? Did I celebrate?
What is one thing I need to focus on in the next week/month? How?
Sometimes just saying things out loud with a person who's willing to listen helps to make it all clear and set us on the right course of action. It can also be a prayer as God is always there to hear you out, and He actually understands. Even speaking to yourself or writing a letter to yourself can bring some answers. The point is to stop and check, not just keep running forward.
Here is a great Self-Care Checklist Activity you can download and go through it alone or with others.
Know Your Type of Creativity and How to Tame It
So far I've shared general principles that will work for everyone, but we are also unique people and we need to find our own unique approach to optimizing things in life. Did you know that even our creativity is not the same?
French philosopher Auguste Comte said: "Know yourself to improve yourself." So, let's dig a little deeper.
If you haven't heard of this yet, there was research done by professor Arne Dietrich in 2004 on different types of creativity based on where it generates in our brains. There are different ways to process knowledge: emotional, cognitive, deliberate, and spontaneous. They combine with each other to produce four types: emotional deliberate or spontaneous and cognitive deliberate or spontaneous.
That's why some creative people like Thomas Edison made their unique discoveries through systematic research and problem-solving. Then others like Isaac Newton had a-ha moments and flashes of insight that sparked new ideas. He didn't necessarily have to be deliberately working on that particular problem at that moment. Maybe he even had to get away and do other things, like go pick apples. And yet some of us need quiet time to reflect and connect with our emotions in order to create. Even the highly gifted person like Ludwig van Beethoven went on solitary walks. It was a planned time.
There is a really fun test you can take that identifies eight different types of creativity. So hop on https://mycreativetype.com/. It also gives you your strength, weakness, and ideal collaborators at the end. The main question is: do you know how to best work with your type of creativity? Do you need chunks of time, a certain atmosphere, a system? How do you make the most out of it? May I suggest that when you discover how to increase your productivity, your satisfaction will increase as well and you won't feel as guilty abandoning your project to do some things for yourself? (Read this last sentence again.)
The bottom line is, no matter what type of creativity you have, you will function best when things are in balance, such as when you had enough sleep, ate a healthy meal, did something active, had some "me" time plus a few meaningful interactions with others. And that's when you will enjoy your creative process the most too. How to fit all of this in twenty-four hours is the question of the century. Start by identifying and setting your priorities, discovering when and how to utilize your creativity for best results, and figuring out your support or pitstop system.
Share in the comments, what helps you stay balanced, prevent burnout, and keep your creativity going steadily. Which of these tips you're planning to utilize?
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Here is to new ideas, creativity, and our best lives!