How does being too busy kills creativity?

Do you envy your creative friends? People who paint, play a musical instrument or find old things to restore? Every time you see them, they’re busy with something new. Even their environment changes constantly.

And in comparison, you are dull. Nothing ever changes. Life is just a bore, a grind to get through. You walk into a friend’s freshly painted apartment, the walls speaking in unusual colors, and you think to yourself: I could never have come up with that.… And you quietly cringe in despair.

But what have you been doing? How have you been filling your time while your friend has been busy turning his house upside down?

You’ve been way too busy for such nonsense, right? You have been rushing to and from work, driven the kids to extramural activities, planned meals, done shopping, met the in-laws and, and, and. There’s been the odd TV show, some unmissable sports games, surfing the internet and one has to keep up with social media.

Who has time to go and choose paint, deliberate over the best color, buy the right paints brushes, get a ladder, find something to cover the floors with and do a proper job of the painting?

But look at your life and ask yourself, how much of your daily activity was focused and how much was distraction?

You know what suffers most when you are on the treadmill of alternate busyness and distraction? Creativity. It’s not that you are not a creative person, it’s that you don’t take the time to be creative.

As Stanford psychologist Emma Seppälä writes: “The problem is that many of us can go entire days without putting our brains on idle. At work, we’re intensely analyzing problems, organizing data, writing—all activities that require focus. During downtime, we immerse ourselves in our phones while standing in line at the store or lose ourselves in Netflix after hours.

“We need to find ways to give our brains a break. If our minds are constantly processing information, we never get a chance to let our thoughts roam and our imagination drift.”

Any creative pursuit requires unstructured time without any interruptions. You may balk at this suggestion, but if you can just resist looking at your phone every time it pings, you’ll be surprised at the minutes and hours you’re able to carve out for yourself.

Where is the law that says you can’t lie flat on your back staring into space for a while on a regular basis? Where is the stay-up-and-stay busy police?

It’s when we are completely relaxed, thinking of nothing in particular, that the magic happens. It’s the most old-school fix of all–simply seize control of your schedule and guiltlessly do nothing for an hour, a day, or even a week to get away from all those grocery lists and presentations, giving your creativity space to run wild.

Like this. You’re watching a row of ants breaking a piece of cake you let fall on the ground. You’re mesmerized at the miniscule troupe’s ability to cooperate and totally dismantle what must appear to them as big as a mountain. You watch as the entire mountain disappears in a hidden hole between the grass and the pavement.

Then it hits you. Out of nowhere, you know exactly how you’re going to garner support for the brilliant idea that has just dawned on you. That project that everyone has already given up on will be finished on time after all.

Go on, take some time for yourself. You might surprise yourself with what you come up with while gainfully preoccupied. Be busy, be balanced.

Check out my related post: Is creativity messy?

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