In 1975, the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of ‘flow’: a state in which, ‘…a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile’. Unsurprisingly, Csikszentmihalyi contends that we need ‘flow’ to solve the most complex problems, come up with our most inspired ideas, and do meaningful creative work. One thing you need to find your flow? A stretch of uninterrupted time. Hard enough in 1975, practically impossible in 2018.
Unfortunately for workers whose jobs have a creative component, we live in the age of distractions. We’re constantly reachable, constantly logged on, and fully booked. A calendar full of meetings and obligations is the enemy of deep, focussed creative work and thought. But your calendar can also be key to taking back your creative time and, even in your workday, manifesting flow. It’s as simple as assigning blocks of time for creative work.
Hang on: scheduling creativity? Shouldn’t you just wait for the muse to show up or inspiration to strike? While the popular myth of the artistic genius has conditioned us to think that creativity is chaotic and that inspiration can’t be scheduled, any successful working creative will tell you otherwise. In the words of Chuck Close: ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.’
The truth is, scheduling creative time is a strategy that works and has done for as long as we’ve been creating (just check out Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s rigid daily schedule if you need further proof). And if you schedule your creative time correctly, you’ll see results.
Here’s how to do it:
Set aside a block of time. And we’re not talking forty-five minutes. You’ll need at least three or four hours to find your flow. If you can manage to block off a whole day, go for it! As you incorporate recurring blocks of creative time into your schedule, you’ll get a better idea of how much time you need: perhaps you’re tapped out after four hours, perhaps you need a full day to really get in the zone.
Show up. Treat this time commitment like you would any other. Meaning: don’t cancel, don’t turn up late, and don’t reschedule. If you work in a context where some people are on maker’s schedules and some are on manager’s schedules, this might be tricky: make sure everyone around you knows that this creative time is a priority. If they want to schedule a quick catch-up, they’ll need to work around your calendar.
Log off. Put your phone on airplane mode. Don’t take calls, don’t check emails. If needs be, let your clients and colleagues know that you won’t be reachable in this time.
Don’t set goals. Unlike the rest of your workday, in your creative time you should be focussed on the process, not the outcome. Doing away with objectives means your mind is free to wander, to imagine, to problem-solve, and sometimes not do very much at all. Which brings us to…
Don’t panic! Sometimes your creative time will feel rewarding, generative, and productive. Other times, you’ll feel uninspired. You might even start to suspect you’re wasting your time. This is completely normal. You won’t produce brilliant creative work every time you sit down, but if you don’t sit down and devote time to doing it, you won’t produce any creative work at all.
Creativity is unpredictable. Flashes of inspiration are called ‘flashes’ for a reason. But your next genius idea can’t show up unless you make room for it in your schedule. So find the time in your calendar, block it out, and go with the flow…