Monday 2 January 2012

Habits of Creativity and Productivity

Productivity requires attention. It demands that you put your work as the main priority.

Creativity comes when you allow yourself to do the work. As writers we often don't write until we 'feel' something, but in actuality the best writing doesn't come out until we have been working away at it for a while.

Your best creative work comes from a mystical place. You look back at what you did and wonder where the hell it came from. Your work, mixed with your imagination, yields creative work beyond the capacity for which you can logically explain.

As artists, we're grumpy a lot because we so rarely reach that plateau, yet we crave it. This is cushioned by the distractions.

We get lost in Facebook updates, and chat messengers. Yet in a bid to stay productive we update the fan page and start crowdfunding for projects and we tweet about the meetings we're having.

And these things become habitual. When we have a poignant life moment, instead of having it, we tweet about it -- and as soon as you do that you cut off the moment.

They've proved that our brains are changing. That habit you have of checking Facebook and scrolling through tweets -- that's habitual. It's like brushing your teeth. What does this do to your productivity? As an actor, if you're tweeting in-between takes, or if you're a frustrated writer making coffee every seven minutes, something needs to change -- because these habits will come to define you, they're not going to change by themselves.

There have been studies. I haven't kept the sources, because I read and read and research and then disregard the links, but you can Google this stuff --- and the research says we're losing our capacity for introspection and deep thought. Rather than have a profound thought about our boredom, or loneliness, we play a game on our phones, or we text people jokes the moment we have a silent second. We ward these things off, go for instant answers rather than deeper truths.

But creativity requires breathing space.

Sure, some people will say 'Facebook helps my creativity', and that's great-- good for them. But if Shakespeare had all these notifications to check, he'd never have sustained his thoughts for long enough.

This is why we imagine thinkers and dreamers as being out in the fields and mountains. They need space, they need to be able to dream and fantasize without a phone beep saying 'enough now, check this message'.

You can be adequate this way. But the world calls for more than adequate, and to be that you need to value your creativity higher than the distractions. You need to put them to one side and focus on your work. You do this by listening to what happens inside of you.

It's about energy. And time. Every time you check your Facebook 'likes' or refresh your emails or flick through the TV channels, these seconds and minutes and hours add up. There are only twenty four hours in a day.

If you work a demanding job or have children or someone you care for, then time becomes even more precious. So if you're looking around Twitter or YouTube hoping for answers, you're wasting your time. Do your work. The work you know you want to be doing. If you feel your passion has gone, you'll find it again when you make it your priority. The distractions are distractions -- a sea of inventions that can be helpful but are too often a way of keeping us from opening our minds and using them to their full capacity.

Notice all your habits.
Decide whether they help or hinder your creative work.
Adjust them accordingly, immediately.

Care to share?


  1. Lately, I have found Facebook to be overwhelming... All these updates from people I barely know. I stepped away from it for a few days and it felt GOOD. I stepped back in today and worried for a second "Has everyone forgotten me? Have they moved on?" -- and realized I really didn't care. Facebook is the absence of substance. Sure, the networking and re-connecting is great... but it's a colossal time suck. It seemed exciting for a minute to make so many new "friends" in such a short amount of time... but at the end of the day, I feel emptier. Someday there's going to be a disease named after Zuckerberg. Social networking is more satisfying in small and meaningful doses.

  2. ' need to value your creativity higher than the distractions.'

    I will be writing this on a piece of paper and sticking it to my bedroom wall. Thank you for putting the words that way... I might never have 'gotten it' otherwise.

  3. Alice: You capture the nonsense of Facebook so perfectly!

    Kate: Glad you liked that sentence, me too! :)

  4. This is brilliant. Totally agree with you Kid, Alice.

    I remember once at uni I had no internet in my room for some time because the wi-fi was buggered. It was the best! I had no online distractions to delay my writing, change my mood, focus, or prevent me from thinking something through. If I needed the internet, I went to the library - miles away.

    Luckily I'm a light internet/social networking user, sometimes non-existent. But working on ourselves (off-line) to prioritise what's important and retain our creativity, thought processes and passion; to work at something and figure it out to proper achieve it is the way to go.

    Great post!

  5. Have never tweeted and I've always been an Anti-Facebooker but all this rings so true. You hit it on the head why I stopped blogging for a bit, though not forever, and will go back to it at some point. Just not as often?