A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

22 February 2011

Creativity on Demand

As you know if you've read much of what I write, I'm a big believer in paying attention to your personal rhythm, and working with your energy instead of against it as it ebbs and flows over the course of the day. You'll be more productive, and less stressed, if you do heavy duty mental work when you have high mental energy, physical activity when you're feeling inclined to it, and rest when you're feeling run down. I advocate working with your family and your colleagues to build a schedule that works with your energy patterns, even if that means you do some activities at rather unorthodox times of the day (for example, working your desk job from 7 AM to 3 PM, or noon to 9, if that lets you be more productive without disrupting others' ability to do the same).

But here's the thing: reality doesn't always offer us the luxury of waiting until we are at our best to do something that needs to get done. That's the situation I'm in today. I have a very big project with a very aggressive deadline, and I need to make appreciable progress on it today even though my energy and creativity levels right now might best be compared to the bottom of a mud puddle. So the question is, what am I going to do about it?

Do the easy parts first. In today's particular case, luckily, the deadline is still a ways away, and so I don't have to just soldier through the hardest parts. I can choose aspects of the project that are easier and more fun for me today. The easy parts are just as essential as the hard parts, so I can accomplish something meaningful without beating my head against the most challenging pieces today, and having finished some parts will provide a nice framework to handle the harder parts when I'm feeling more up to it.

Pace yourself. In a not-so-long-ago time of my life, I would start to panic in this situation, letting myself be crushed under the negative self-talk of "now you're screwed; you'll never get it done in time; why did you agree to this deadline anyway?" I wasted a truly astonishing amount of time in overwhelm and going in circles, angry with my brain and my body for not performing at 100% efficiency all the time. There's only so much I can do about the way I am feeling today. Once I've done that, I will have to make do with what resources I have, and make the progress I can make. I'll do what I can, take breaks as I need to, and allow myself to be capable of what I'm capable of today, trusting that it will be enough.

Use affirmations. If affirmations tell the self in times of doubt that which it knows to be true at other times, then what better time to use them than when in doubt? On a rough day, I use simple, fairly modest affirmations that remind me that most days aren't like this. Sometimes just a good old-fashioned "this too shall pass" will do the trick. I'm also fond of "I am enough." Sure, when I believe I can make it stick, I'll go with "I am an awesome, brilliant, dynamic superhero" (or the equivalent) -- but on days when I can't quite find that belief in me, I'll just use something simple and solid that gets my feet back under me and gives me a way forward. I know I'll be back in superhero territory soon enough, and in the meantime, I can connect to something that, while it may not be quite that spectacular, is still very real, very comforting, and very empowering. I am doing the best I can right now, and tomorrow will be even better.

Own it. When I sat down at my computer this morning, I didn't quite know how I was going to deal with this problem of needing to be creative on a deadline. I knew I wasn't feeling it, and I knew I needed to figure out a way past the block I was facing. By writing this very blog entry, I have taken ownership of the problem and the solution, and perhaps offered you a way to deal with this situation next time you find yourself in it.

Did I miss anything? What do you do when you have to be creative on demand?

1 comment:

Mary said...

This is framed on my wall:
"There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well."
- Agatha Christie

I also have many things that inspire me: music by the Beatles, TMBG and others, Doctor Who episodes, good books, my friends. I can take five minutes and just focus on that, it's like a good night's sleep (well, not quite, but close).