Catching the waves of creativity

Time does not equal productivity when working from home Photo by Nathana Rebouças on UnsplashAfter 200-and-a-bit days of lockdown, working from home in a creative industry, I’ve learnt a few things about creativity and productivity. When we first all took our laptops home that fateful day in March 2020, we didn’t know it was the last time we would ever work in the office — at least in the way we were used to. As we all turned on our computers at 9am on Monday, we realised this was going to be very different. When there’s no-one to see you working, where does the motivation to work come from? There was nothing standing in the way of endless social scrolling, or doing a load of washing, or just staring blankly at the screen. I’ve always been intrinsically motivated — I genuinely love my job — but I could feel all the focus and motivation sapping out of me. I felt alone and disconnected. Distracted by this new global pandemic, and my kids’ squeals on the other side of the door. I wasn’t the only one feeling this — in team meetings this appeared to be the normal response to the situation. I’ve always been a productive person, it’s part of my self-image. I’d conjured up focus and motivation through hangovers and relationship breakdowns while studying at university— surely, I could do it again? Through trial and error, I’ve figured out what helps me stay creative, get work done, and be happy. I’m now much more productive than I was in the office. Here’s what I did… Willpower First up, I tried to just push through with sheer will. Just freakin’ do it. Sit there and start, and keep going. You do not have permission to do anything else until you’re done. This sort of works. You do get something done, but it’s not a great long-term strategy. Willpower is great for getting over the initial hurdle of starting, but it’s not a way to be creative. It’s fine for ‘busy’ work like setting up files or making text changes, but you cannot force yourself to come up with ideas. I did find that getting something (anything!) done was good for my motivation — but I needed another way of getting into the ‘flow’ headspace. Morning-brain I already knew that my mind works best in the morning, and I’d been prioritising creative work in the first part of the day for years. Sometimes I’ll work on something all afternoon without getting anywhere. Then I come back to it in the morning, and voila! — I can see exactly what it needs and can have it finished in 10 minutes flat. My small-child alarm-clock was waking me up at the same time, but I didn’t have a commute. So, I tried moving my work day an hour earlier, giving me an extra hour of morning-brain (and extra free-time in the arvo). Work-mode A workmate mentioned they walked around the block every morning to ‘walk to work’, which is a great idea (thanks Kate!). This forces you to do normal things like shower, get out of your pyjamas, eat breakfast, brush your teeth. I found this helped me switch out of home-mode (look after the kids, do chores, read a book) and into work-mode. It also helped create some boundaries with my kids and partner. I’d kiss them ‘goodbye’ before my walk and they knew that from then on, I wasn’t available. Flow triggers To come up with creative ideas you need to get into a flow state. Even with willpower and the focus of morning-brain, I was still struggling to be creative. I realised my morning walk had other benefits — it let my mind wander. Any creative person knows some of the best ideas come when you’re in the shower, or washing up, or some other wandering-mind situation. Giving your brain time to sniff about, tidy up a bit, maybe dust off some old thoughts — is crucial to creative ideas. Ride the waves Even with a good routine, there are times (sometimes whole days or weeks) when you won’t feel inspired. At other times things just click — and your best work comes easily. So, ride the inspiration waves when you have them. Try to limit all distractions and stay in the moment. Lock your phone in a drawer, put off meetings if you can. Even work extra hours while you’re being productive. The flip-side is the inspirational lulls. When you’re not feeling it — that’s ok. It’s a good time to take a break, catch up on other work, do a hobby, hang out the washing or even take some time off. Time does not equal productivity The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is the relationship between time and productivity. Particularly in creative industries: Time does not equal productivity. Two hours of uninspired time sitting at a desk trying vainly to solve a problem would be better spent going for a walk, doing some gardening, making a cup of tea and then having 30 mins of productive time. Down-time is as important to getting work done as work-time. Good ideas don’t come from tired, over-worked, bored minds — so nurturing your mind is actually part of the job. Follow your gut Working from home requires you to listen to your gut instincts. Knowing when to push through, and when to let g

Catching the waves of creativity

Time does not equal productivity when working from home

Photo by Nathana Rebouças on Unsplash

After 200-and-a-bit days of lockdown, working from home in a creative industry, I’ve learnt a few things about creativity and productivity.

When we first all took our laptops home that fateful day in March 2020, we didn’t know it was the last time we would ever work in the office — at least in the way we were used to. As we all turned on our computers at 9am on Monday, we realised this was going to be very different. When there’s no-one to see you working, where does the motivation to work come from? There was nothing standing in the way of endless social scrolling, or doing a load of washing, or just staring blankly at the screen.

I’ve always been intrinsically motivated — I genuinely love my job — but I could feel all the focus and motivation sapping out of me. I felt alone and disconnected. Distracted by this new global pandemic, and my kids’ squeals on the other side of the door. I wasn’t the only one feeling this — in team meetings this appeared to be the normal response to the situation.

I’ve always been a productive person, it’s part of my self-image. I’d conjured up focus and motivation through hangovers and relationship breakdowns while studying at university— surely, I could do it again? Through trial and error, I’ve figured out what helps me stay creative, get work done, and be happy. I’m now much more productive than I was in the office.

Here’s what I did…

Willpower

First up, I tried to just push through with sheer will. Just freakin’ do it. Sit there and start, and keep going. You do not have permission to do anything else until you’re done.

This sort of works. You do get something done, but it’s not a great long-term strategy. Willpower is great for getting over the initial hurdle of starting, but it’s not a way to be creative. It’s fine for ‘busy’ work like setting up files or making text changes, but you cannot force yourself to come up with ideas. I did find that getting something (anything!) done was good for my motivation — but I needed another way of getting into the ‘flow’ headspace.

Morning-brain

I already knew that my mind works best in the morning, and I’d been prioritising creative work in the first part of the day for years. Sometimes I’ll work on something all afternoon without getting anywhere. Then I come back to it in the morning, and voila! — I can see exactly what it needs and can have it finished in 10 minutes flat. My small-child alarm-clock was waking me up at the same time, but I didn’t have a commute. So, I tried moving my work day an hour earlier, giving me an extra hour of morning-brain (and extra free-time in the arvo).

Work-mode

A workmate mentioned they walked around the block every morning to ‘walk to work’, which is a great idea (thanks Kate!). This forces you to do normal things like shower, get out of your pyjamas, eat breakfast, brush your teeth. I found this helped me switch out of home-mode (look after the kids, do chores, read a book) and into work-mode. It also helped create some boundaries with my kids and partner. I’d kiss them ‘goodbye’ before my walk and they knew that from then on, I wasn’t available.

Flow triggers

To come up with creative ideas you need to get into a flow state. Even with willpower and the focus of morning-brain, I was still struggling to be creative. I realised my morning walk had other benefits — it let my mind wander. Any creative person knows some of the best ideas come when you’re in the shower, or washing up, or some other wandering-mind situation. Giving your brain time to sniff about, tidy up a bit, maybe dust off some old thoughts — is crucial to creative ideas.

Ride the waves

Even with a good routine, there are times (sometimes whole days or weeks) when you won’t feel inspired. At other times things just click — and your best work comes easily. So, ride the inspiration waves when you have them. Try to limit all distractions and stay in the moment. Lock your phone in a drawer, put off meetings if you can. Even work extra hours while you’re being productive. The flip-side is the inspirational lulls. When you’re not feeling it — that’s ok. It’s a good time to take a break, catch up on other work, do a hobby, hang out the washing or even take some time off.

Time does not equal productivity

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is the relationship between time and productivity. Particularly in creative industries: Time does not equal productivity. Two hours of uninspired time sitting at a desk trying vainly to solve a problem would be better spent going for a walk, doing some gardening, making a cup of tea and then having 30 mins of productive time. Down-time is as important to getting work done as work-time. Good ideas don’t come from tired, over-worked, bored minds — so nurturing your mind is actually part of the job.

Follow your gut

Working from home requires you to listen to your gut instincts. Knowing when to push through, and when to let go and have a rest. Not having to fit into a workplace rhythm gives us a chance to get in touch with our own rhythms. It’s an opportunity to know ourselves better. If you feel something, run with it — work with the flow of your subconscious rather than against it.

Here are my tips:

  • Sometimes you need to force yourself to get started; once you’re doing something, it’s easier to keep going.
  • Finishing anything gives you a motivational boost. If you can’t tackle the job you’re supposed to be doing, try finishing off something else.
  • Do activities that let your mind wander.
  • Figure out when and how you work best — and create a routine around it.
  • Then ignore the routine when you need to. Take breaks when you feel the lull, and stay focussed when you’re feeling inspired.

Catching the waves of creativity was originally published in Muzli - Design Inspiration on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.