When you think of a creative person, what comes to mind? An artist who follows her muse and sleeps until noon? An advertising executive staring at the wall of his office? What about the rest of us, in ordinary jobs, living ordinary lives? Is creativity important, and is it a tool we can use just as well as the artist or Don Draper clone?
I say YES. It is possible, and indeed necessary, to live creatively within a typical work-life framework. I consider myself to be a creative person. However, my creativity requires a framework. I can’t just stare at a blank wall or page; I’d go crazy. I need the structure of habits for creativity to grow on.
The following creativity habits have made my work and home life better, richer and more productive:
- Set specific times for creative action and thought. This sounds counter-intuitive; why would you assign yourself a time for thinking creatively? But I’ve found if I plan times to brainstorm projects, the creative thoughts don’t stop when I move on to the next thing. I get ideas while exercising, taking showers, and doing household chores. My brain “gets in the habit” of thinking creatively, and that part of it keeps working even when the rest of me is focused elsewhere.
- Know my own best practices. Over time, I’ve learned that I can’t assign that brainstorming time to late afternoon after I’ve taught six lessons and a band rehearsal; I need to approach new ideas when I’m fresh. So I spend my morning and weekend time on the newest and toughest projects, saving afternoons and evenings for less creative, more mundane (but still essential) tasks.
- Make tough tasks into a game. Remember how Mary Poppins got the Banks children to “tidy up the nursery?” She created a game out of thin air. I’ve done this countless times with my son by singing songs, dancing through rough patches or inventing something called “Mr. Ticklesock” to help him get dressed. This creative habit works best when there are kids involved; it’s one of the reasons I love working with 9-and 10-year olds at school.
- Try new things now and then. Most of my life is committed to three things: family, teaching, and writing. But there’s still some room on the fringes for experimenting with a new hobby or two. Some have been successful (baking, snowshoeing, yoga) and some abandoned quickly (sewing, scrapbooking, meditating). But the new experience always gets new cylinders firing and connections made.
- Take care of myself. This is a big one. If I don’t sleep well, eat well, and exercise regularly, my brain doesn’t work. Surprisingly, I was first successful at losing weight when I started writing. It seems that I care more about keeping my brain healthy than my body skinny, but hey, it got me there in the end.
- Curate my inspirational sources. I get inspired by books, certain blogs, and writers I follow on Twitter or Feedly. Occasionally, I get inspired on Pinterest. I almost never get inspired on Facebook or YouTube. That doesn’t mean I don’t go there, or that I don’t sometimes get looped into unproductive time. But at least I’m conscious that it won’t benefit me in the long run.
- Look out for creative role models. You can find them wherever you live or work. I’ve been inspired by watching custodial staff approach the same task in different ways. I’ve learned a lot by watching my friends parent their children, and by walking past classrooms where a teacher is deeply engaged with her students. Creative behavior is everywhere if you’re open to seeing it, and it’s contagious.
Do you consider yourself a creative person? Do your habits support a creative lifestyle?