Productivity Kills Creativity

I get things done.

I write the article, braid her hair, work all day, give the bath, make dinner, walk the dog, attend small group, volunteer my time, drop off kids, pay the bill, call a friend…you understand, I know you do because you live like this too.

Sometimes, our productive lives are packed because we overschedule, but more often, life is full because that’s life, full.

The problem with productivity is it leaves very little room for creativity. If our brain focuses on the next task and then the next, followed right up by the next, we sacrifice downtime, and downtime is required to create.

Newsflash: You need time to think in order to create.

No getting around it.

I know you understand this because when your schedule finally allows you a glorious seventeen minutes to create, you stare at your computer (or maybe your camera, kitchen, or canvas). You will the good stuff to show up.

Ok, amazing ideas, show up because I only have seventeen, wait, sixteen minutes before the next must-do task in my life starts. 

As you know, this does not work. Again, I understand. I, too, like to boss around my thoughts, and it’s disappointing when they don’t listen.

When you realize your thoughts aren’t paying attention, you may decide to spend your precious minutes checking Facebook, sending out tweets to your peeps, or organizing your digital pictures. These three things are known as squashers of all things original. Listen closely, these time wasters will never, ever, ever, amount to anything original. Fight them off. Use a stick if you must.

At this point in the creative process, you may want to bang your head against the nearest wall. I ask you to hold off on all headbanging (unless it’s to Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild”, then go to it). Back to the point, you can salvage your last few minutes.

Stop everything you are doing. Go outside. I know it’s cold. Get over it. Put on your sassy, knit hat or as they fondly refer to it in the South, your toboggan. Find a place to sit or if snow covers your front steps, walk (but not for exercise, no way, don’t try to squeeze in exercise). Now, here’s the important part: Do nothing. I mean it. Not one thing.

Resist the temptation to shoot out a text or bring up the garbage cans from the bottom of the driveway.

Do nothing. 

Trust me on this one.

Ignore productivity for a bit, and creativity will come calling.

You just need to make room for her.

Tell me about the last time you tossed the to-do list, and allowed creativity to find you. 

: :

I’m only six likes away from 200. Can you help?

Image credit. 

Photobucket Follow @AmyLSullivan1

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • I took the train home from attending my daughter’s baby shower last weekend–a12-hour gift of nothing but time to stare out the window and think, or talk to the person seated next to me. Then I wrote two posts. It’s the most productive I’ve been in living memory.

    You may be on to something here.

  • I like to boss my thoughts around too 🙂 This is so true and so hard. Quiet, still and the creativity comes. I think you have to be kind to encourage yourself that those quiet moments are safe and needful.

  • This hits me hard. I felt that way all week, that there was too much around me to create anything of worth. And then today, I sat and listened. I held my child close and listened to her breathe as she slept, and I found my rhythm there. Be still and know…Jesus knew what He was talking about.

    Bless you, dear sister. I have missed this place.

  • ok I hear you I do, but I have to tell you, the times that the Lord speaks to me so clearly is when I am cleaning a toilet or mowing the lawn. I think it is because it’s like sleeping (or lack of when in this state but it’s quiet and you are doing nothing) you are focused on a project that is brainless, I call my sister often and say, “guess what I just thought of?” (creativity right here)and she always says, “did you just get done cleaning the toilet?”

  • Jen

    So true! Creativity finds us when we get still. . .we don’t find it by striving or self will. I have been sick for two days. . .forced to stop, and already dozens of potential posts have floated through my head. You are so onto something friend! 🙂 Always come away blessed by your genuine, down to earth writing style! Thanks for sharing how stillness (even when sick and we don’t want to be) has a purpose!

  • Jen

    So true! Creativity finds us when we get still. . .we don’t find it by striving or self will. I have been sick for two days. . .forced to stop, and already dozens of potential posts have floated through my head. You are so onto something friend! 🙂 Always come away blessed by your genuine, down to earth writing style! Thanks for sharing how stillness (even when sick and we don’t want to be) has a purpose!

  • Jen

    So true! Creativity finds us when we get still. . .we don’t find it by striving or self will. I have been sick for two days. . .forced to stop, and already dozens of potential posts have floated through my head. You are so onto something friend! 🙂 Always come away blessed by your genuine, down to earth writing style! Thanks for sharing how stillness (even when sick and we don’t want to be) has a purpose!

  • Another way to say this for me … creativity finds me when I am off my computer. 🙂

    Fondly,
    Glenda

  • You are so correct! While waiting for ideas we waste time on things that divert us from the real reason we were waiting. I’m so guilty of this! I finally unplugged today and wrote…felt good. I’m now going to do nothing and enjoy it…well for about five minutes that is. 🙂

  • Wise words, sister! Have to laugh because just last night I threw in the towel, ignored my 3 writing deadlines and collapsed in bed.. prayed, “Lord, you know how much time I need to finish those projects- will you wake me up tomorrow at whatever time you want, so I have enough time to write and hang out with you in the quiet.” So the littlest boy traipsed into my room asking for a night light at 4Am and his big brother hollered for a cough drop at 4:10 and the dog growled and scratched at the door at 4:15, insisting he go outside to take a starlit stroll through the yard, and then my littlest girl padded into my room at 4:25 with “soggy pants”—- the good news? I was up doing NOTHING but savoring the Savior at 4:30 and now I’ve still got time to write before those crazy kids wake up. Guess sometimes we just need to ask for that “NOTHING” time 🙂 BTW, I’d “like” you AGAIN on FB if I could!

  • This is so. dang. true. I have felt my creative mojo fizzle over the past year or so, which happens to coincide with the time our life got extra-insane. I’m just so busy, so much brain power devoted to other people and things. I’ve convinced myself at times that the “gift” is gone. Poof!

    But then I get 30 minutes in the car alone and 10 great ideas come to mind. The words come so fast that I almost trip. Just because I’m alone with my thoughts.

    This is great stuff here, Amy Cakes.

  • Amy, I found myself at the doctor’s office the other day and I forgot my phone, forgot a book, and forgot a magazine. I shuffled through their stuff for something, anything to do. Then i decided to close my eyes — and think.

    My blood pressure reading a few minutes later was perfect!

  • I don’t think creativity will find me even if I sit for days and wait for her. I’m one of those people that gets “creative” about how to maximize time and multitask so that I can be more productive 🙂
    That’s why I don’t blog often. I blog only when creativity literally knocks me on the couch and puts the laptop on my lap desperately seeking a way to get out of my head and into the screen in the form of words and stories.

  • Jen

    So true! In the last week my hours at my intensely demanding full time job have been drastically CUT – permanently. At first I was shocked, but following the shock waves came waves of gratitude and peace. I finally feel like I can really BE ME and have time and space for God, creativity and following the life giving inspired ideas He drops in my heart. What a gift!

    Thanks for your thoughts on this!!

  • It has been far too long since I have done this…and this was exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you.

  • The last couple months my world has been turned upside down, started with a migraine that wouldn’t go away and facial numbness…now my whole right side is numbness and pins and needles feelings constantly, I limp and I sleep. I am a teacher, mother of 4, wife, and blogger. I am 39. Doctors are pretty sure I have MS. I am awaiting some results so that we can get on some meds that find me some relief.

    I haven’t worked since mid December. I went from running around like crazy all day and evening to lying on a couch, taking a shower exhausting me, and having lots of time to think. Turns out being by myself and being quiet isn’t so bad. I know I will get through this time and things will be better. I do feel that God has his plan for me although I do not understand right now. I think because I would’t slow down on my own, he did it for me.

  • You know, I didn’t think this was a problem for me, but I tried to sit still and do nothing for 15 minutes, and it was super hard. I kept thinking of things to get up and do. I think you’re on to something, too. Go, A. Where’s that tip jar?

  • This is so true. Like someone else said, I find that when I am doing seemingly menial tasks, like vacuuming or scrubbing toilets, my creativity kicks in to high gear. I’ll often grab my phone and make a quick note to myself, and then go on with cleaning.

    I know for me, I rarely stop and slow down enough to just think, though. I hit the floor running in the morning and get through school work, lunch, cleaning, more school work, more cleaning, then crash. This might be a good exercise for me, though. I’m going to try it. 🙂

  • Oh, sweet mama, just the kick in the pants I needed to read today! (which sadly means I may not be online where I can read such great stuff for a few days) Good stuff, Amy!

  • Amy, you have grabbed my heart here–every part of it nodding ‘yes!” Thank you. And yes, but I agree, head-banging to 90’s rock–totally okay. 🙂 I want to avoid all the other temptations to do so! Love to you.

  • Reminds me of author Julia Cameron’s ‘artist dates’.
    I use time thrift store shopping and antique browsing as my artist dates. I always get great inspiration and ideas from just looking and handling some junk/treasure.

  • I’m in a creativity rut. Yikes!

  • I love to hear how you guys are finding creativity! For me, if I don’t find time for it, words start bouncing out of my ears…sort of. My head starts to get clogged up with ideas screaming they want out.

    Wow, that certainly sounds a bit crazy, yes?

  • I wholeheartedly agree… and being a task-oriented person just exacerbates the problem. I also recently discovered that moving my desk under th window fostered more creativity for me as well… the visual relief lets my brain wander and sift through my thoughts.

    Found you through Jennifer Camp’s link. Keep up the great work!

  • This is totally awesome and so true. And I always try to squeeze in the exercise when I’m outdoors trying to summon the creative muse!

    {who knew a hat was called a toboggan? That’s a sled where I’m from!}

  • Yes! Be. Simply. Still.

  • Anonymous

    Jennifer,
    Thank you. I have hit the empty nester, 40 something, been at my job too long and know it too well blahs this week. I needed this.

  • I get my best story ideas in those almost-asleep moments as I’m dozing off… just as my brain is letting go of its control. That should tell me something, but I still tend to go through a day equating productivity with how much I accomplish. I forget how much my creativity responds to ‘down time’ until I return from a walk or have been on a camping trip. I think I need to schedule an hour long mini-vacation into every day!

    On the other hand, I suppose that’s what my daily writing time is! I spend the first few minutes daydreaming, meditating and praying before letting the creative side of my brain take over. I think Julia Cameron would call that priming the pump. 🙂

  • I like the idea of creativity as a her. Lends credence to the old idea of the muse.

  • Time to rest think and evaluate is like the margins of class notes of text books…a place to doodle, etc.

  • Time to rest think and evaluate is like the margins of class notes of text books…a place to doodle, etc.

  • This is awesome! Just what I’ve been tussling with lately. Sometimes even we overachievers can’t corral our creativity into obedience without some rest 🙂