4 Tips for Balancing Productivity and Creativity

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I don’t know about you all but I pretty much always felt like growing up these two things were polar opposites. You could either be productive or creative, not both. Just me then? Well, I am learning more recently in my life that I can have both. Most often I find that the more productive I am, the more freedom I have to be creative. This may sound a little strange at first but bear with me.

We all have our goals for creativity, things we “want to do.” Word count goals, books to read, video games to beat, etc. But we’re weighed down by the real life things that we “have to do.” Laundry, dishes, cleaning toilets, changing diapers. Especially when those things begin to pile up and then before we know it we are surrounded by the chaos of an endless to-do list.

Now, if you’re like me, you might hate all of the mundane to-do things. You might let the loathing of those things get in your head and defeat you. Your brain gets all overwhelmed and turns to mush. Then you might throw your hands up and say “F*#% it. Nothing is getting done today.” (Okay, I still say that sometimes. But I’m working on it.)

Now I say, “Well, I gotta do it so I might as well like it.” (Thanks Dad, that one’s stuck in my head forever!)

Growing up, I hated when my dad said that to me. Usually it was when mom wanted us to get chores done, and my siblings and I fought her tooth and nail on it (sorry Mom). Then Dad was called in and dropped that line. Like, every time. Ugh.

Now that I’m an adult and have spent the majority of my twenties feeling a little lost in life and doing the bare minimum to get by and keep my life in order, I’ve realized that I think he’s got something there. Because the more I actually get done, the more I feel accomplished and my mind is freed up for my creativy things. (I know it’s not a word. Carry on, Grammar Nazi.)

So here are a few tips that I’ve discovered that help me to be productive so I can get creative:

1) Get up early.

I know, I know. Creative people are supposed to be night owls. Well for me this just isn’t realistic. I mean, I could stay up ‘til the butt crack of dawn (another lovely saying I’m resurrecting from my childhood) but then I have two young children who like to rise with the sun. Have you ever dealt with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old on just a few hours of sleep? I have. It’s not pretty.

My solution? I go to bed early. I give myself an hour or two after the kids fall asleep to have adult time, whether that means writing, watching a little TV with the hubby, or reading. I seldom use this time for productivity because I get very little time without my kids for me to do something I like to do uninterrupted.

Getting up early has been revolutionary for me and my day. I hated getting up early when I was young. Still kinda hate it. But it’s worth the payoff. I get up before my munchkins, have some coffee, read my Bible, and get a little writing done. It’s like I have a patience/energy tank that’s being filled up with glorious gas. (I know it’s kind of a weird metaphor. Bear with me.) Seriously though, there is a huge difference on the days I do this than on the days I don’t. I’m writing this in a silent house with a cup of hot coffee. It’s pretty much the best.

Try it. If it doesn’t work for you after a couple of weeks, then you go back to bed and enjoy that sleep. I’m going to be over here being all early birdy and gettin’ those worms!

Also you get to catch beautiful sunrises, like this one!

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2) Set a timer.

We all have things that actually have to get done. Sadly, most of us cannot afford a maid, or a personal chef or the like. We gotta do all that stuff ourselves.

I’m discovering that my parents are genius. Must call them and thank them again for teaching me these things that I’m recovering from my long-term memory archives (Inside Out anyone?). My mom taught me that if you try to race a timer you’re more likely to get more done in that time frame than if you didn’t set a timer. What, that’s silly. It’s just a timer.

Well it works. I do 15 minute increments. I’m a very competitive person, and I know I’m just racing time, or myself. (Philosophically, which would it be? Hmmmm.) But. It. Works.

Here’s what you do. Set a timer. Pick one or two tasks that needs to get done. Start the timer and GO! When the timer goes off and I get more done than I set out for myself to do, I seriously do a little victory dance! Take that time! (Or self!) Ha!

It may be silly, but whatever gets the job done, right?

3) Get organized.

Definitely cringing as I type this one. I hate to organize. I’m not an organized, or really cleanly person for that matter. My mom did her best to reform me and passed the torch on to my hubby, and he does his best but I am just kind of a mess.

I go with my dad’s method. Organized chaos. There’s a method to my madness. Seriously. There may be sloppy piles everywhere, but I know exactly what is in them. Mostly.

Recently though, I have discovered that I’m a very visual person. If things are cluttered and chaosy, (I know I’m making up words. Someone stop me.) I can’t really focus. I may sit down and start to write or read but then I feel supremely guilty. It’s mostly subconscious, so then I don’t realize I’m feeling this way and then before you know it, I’ve ruined my precious writing time and can’t figure out why.

So now I’m working on having a system. I put things in specific places. If an item doesn’t serve a purpose that I need, I donate it or throw it away depending on what it is. If it’s useful, I put it somewhere handy.

Papers get sorted into (mostly) tidy piles. Everything now has a home. And the kitchen counter and dining table are no longer homes for anything (except kitchen appliances). If it all has a place to go, it’s faster to clean it up. Duh.

This goes for my writerly things too. (I’ve always been organized with my books. I like them stacked neatly on shelves where I can admire them.) I had several different notebooks and loose papers from compiling research for my novel. It was all a little scattered. Then I got binders, and those divider things. Now it all has a home and I know exactly where to go to find different parts of my book or research. It’s lovely, and saves me time because I’m not searching for ages to find that one note I wrote down when I could be spending that time actually writing.

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4) Set a schedule.

Now this one is really hard for me. Wait, the other ones were hard for me too. Okay, all of this is hard. Adulting is hard. It’s worth it though! (I keep telling myself this. I’m actually starting to believe it.)

If you have kids, you totally get this. Try scheduling your toddler’s nap. Hahahahahaha! Some days it goes beautifully. Others, well we’ll just leave that to your imagination.

I’ve gotten to the point where I have a loose schedule for my day, because rigid schedules don’t really work for little munchkins. If you don’t have kids, then you go for it. Schedule the shit outta your day!

The loose schedule thing doesn’t always lend to creativity. But, if I have the goal of working towards giving myself creative time every day, even if it happens at different times each day, it usually happens. It’s kind of like a reward system. If I get the kitchen cleaned and I organize my desk now, then when the kids have naptime, I won’t have to do any cleaning and I can sit down and write my book! See how that works?

Now I’m not sitting here writing all of this from a sparkly, shiny perfectly clean house. As I tripped over my sons’ toys on my way to get coffee, I felt a little hypocritical for writing all of this. And as I sit here with a cluttered desk I still feel it a little.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t have it perfect. But I’m working on it, and the more effort I put in, the more time I get back out. As soon as I post this, I’ll hit cleaning mode with my timer and tear through this house like a reverse Tasmanian Devil.

Try some of these, or all of them, and see what it does for your day and your creative time! It takes a little time and some effort to change the way we do things but it’s totally worth it if the payout is that we get more time for the things we want to do!

What things do you implement in your daily life to make time for your writing? Or reading? Or other enjoyable pastimes? Share them below, I’d love to hear your ideas!