space for getting things done

A few weeks ago, I wrote about John Cleese’s perspective on fostering creativity. (Get up to speed by reading that post first, if you want.) In that post, I wrote about time, but he also talked about the other necessary elements: space, confidence, and humor.

When he spoke about space, he said it’s difficult to be creative in your regular, day-to-day space, because you operate in closed mode. It’s hard to be creative when ALL THESE THINGS TO DO are staring you in the face. I would say this is especially true for a mom with a Type A personality (not that I know one): picking up those dirty socks, wiping off that counter, where do these papers go… etc.

Cleese said, “You must make a quiet space for yourself where you will be undisturbed.” I’m fortunate enough to have what I call my “yurt” – a space all my own. It’s basically a three-season porch that is detached from our house, set back in the woods on our property a bit. It’s peaceful, quiet, and it has necessary features like a ceiling fan, electricity, and it’s close enough to the house to still get wi-fi. I absolutely love working out there.

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my yurt; most of the time I work alone, but it’s nice to have company occasionally

But life is busy, and I don’t always have time for peaceful retreat. So, here’s where I slightly disagree with Mr. Cleese: I don’t know that the space absolutely HAS to be quiet. We’ve all knocked out a project in a coffee shop, and those are definitely not always quiet. But I would present another example: my daughter is a gymnast, and because of road construction, it takes almost 30 minutes to get to the gym from our house. If I drop her off, drive all the way home, then drive back later to pick her up, I will spend just about 2 hours in the car. I can use that time more productively if I stay at the gym and work. The gym has no AC, and Minnesota summers can be hot and humid. I sweat as I breathe in thick, muggy air, and I tune out the energizing pop music the gymnasts blast. I even suffer that distinct smell a hot building full of hard-working bodies can’t help but have. And I create. I create better there than I do in my air-conditioned dining room, despite the environment full of potential distractions, because I’m away from my other responsibilities that would pull me away and keep me in closed mode.

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it’s loud and often hot here, but I sure do accomplish a lot!

Indeed, my yurt’s physical environment is preferable to a hot, smelly gym, and the air conditioning my home offers sure is tempting. But when it comes to creativity, time AND space matter, so sometimes I have to weigh the options then make one of them work so I can keep creating.

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What are your thoughts? What space allows you to accomplish the most? Is that different from where you actually end up? If so, how do you make that work for you?

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**Special shoutout to K&G Gymnastics for the use of their wi-fi (and fan).

time to get creative

I recently saw something John Cleese, one of the brilliant minds that brought us Monty Python, said about creativity. He said that in order to really get into a creative frame of mind, you need to have about an hour and a half of work time available to you. This allows your brain time to relax and get into what he calls “open mode”.


“It’s a mood in which curiosity for its own sake can operate because we’re not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play, and that is what allows our natural creativity to surface.”


The reason this jumped out at me is when I have design work to do, I hesitate to get to work if I have any less than about two hours to work. I haven’t been able to nail down why I get that bit of anxiety, because when I think about it rationally, an hour is a decent chunk of time to get things done. But after seeing that quote, I realized that’s what it is! I need more time for my mind to get into creative, open mode.

I wanted to learn more about what he had to say on the subject, so I read the transcript of the entire lecture and the whole thing is so good. Go ahead, go read it. Or watch it. I’ll still be here.

OK, in case you can’t go watch or read it now, here are the five things he says you need in order to truly get creative:

  • Space
  • Time
  • Time
  • Confidence
  • Humor

Yep, time is in there twice. He says that you need not only the hour and a half of work time carved out for yourself, but also time to consider the problem or project itself. Time to mull it over.  Time to chew on it. Time to come up with a solution that’s better and more original than the first thing that came into your brain. I’m talkin’ DAYS.

(I could go into the other 3 things too, because really they’re so true and worth talking about, but I’ll maybe save it for another post.)


“Because, and this is the extraordinary thing about creativity, if you just keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious, probably in the shower later. Or at breakfast the next morning, but suddenly you are rewarded, out of the blue a new thought mysteriously appears.”


I’ve shared on Facebook that thinking a project over while riding my bike or going for a walk allows my mind to open up, and that’s when the ideas come. I’ve also learned that when I’ve “finished” something, I need to leave it sit for a day or two. More often than not, I think of a tweak or something new to add that really changes the whole thing.

“…keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way.”

I love that.

So, now that I have Mr. Cleese’s permission, I feel like I can change my approach. If I only have an hour to get things done, maybe I’ll do more tasky, closed mode things like organize receipts, pay bills, or sort my paperclips.


“Because, as we all know, it’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking.”


I feel like I can change my attitude about it too. I shouldn’t feel guilty about taking time to think; I can’t view thinking, considering, pondering as doing nothing. Using time in that way can only lead to creating something better.

The last thing I’ll say here is that I think he means creative in the broadest sense of the term. I don’t think that being creative just means creating art, or writing, or engaging in other traditionally “creative” activities. I think you’re also being creative when you’re solving a problem, carving out a new approach to something you’re doing, or looking for a new direction to take. Solving a problem, no matter what it is, requires creativity. And the first solution you think of isn’t always the best solution.

Taking TIME to be creative.

If it’s good enough for John Cleese, it is definitely good enough for me.

 

If you didn’t watch the video or read the transcript, I hope you will later. It’s worth it.

 

cover photo credit: user “free-photos” on Pixabay.com

a push to achieve more

I know a couple who owns a local business. They are clients and friends of mine, and they live their lives in a way that shines light on all who come in contact with them. Their business is a fun one, and they make sure they operate it in a way that aligns with their personal beliefs. They give to community organizations, they smile and engage with everyone who walks in their door, and they truly live what they believe. They don’t do it because they want recognition. They do it because it’s in their hearts.

When I stopped in recently to drop off a completed project (read about that here), they said they had a “proposition” for me. Always excited for new ideas and projects, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to hear it. They “proposed” that I attend Christy Wright’s Business Boutique conference in November, and they would help fund the trip. That’s it. That was the proposition. No return favor, no quid pro quo. Just, “We want to do this for you.” This was weeks ago, and I still do not have words for how grateful I am.

If you know me well, you know I’m irrationally terrified of flying. I also have two very active kids to drive all over the place, two dogs to worry about, and a full-time job outside of this side-venture. It is also VERY MUCH outside my nature to accept help or gifts like this from anyone. I have a million reasons (excuses?) to turn down this most generous offer. But I have one big reason why I accepted it.

It is 100% outside of my comfort zone.

The whole thing: the travel, the leaving my responsibilities at home, the asking someone else to manage those responsibilities, the accepting a gift from someone, the taking a leap and investing in myself and my company in this way… all of it is beyond what is comfortable for me.

So, from my perspective, what they’re giving me is huge. They are not simply encouraging me to attend a conference to learn about entrepreneurship. They are pushing me to grow as a person; they are encouraging me to think bigger, to believe in myself and what I’m doing, and to take a risk. They’re also demonstrating what it means to live fully and completely in kindness and give to others.

Hopefully, the conference turns out to be worthwhile and I learn a ton; I’ll find that out in November. But the impact of this act of kindness has already begun.

motivated to keep riding

I live on a gravel road.

When we bought the house two years ago, I knew the gravel would be annoying for many reasons, but mainly because I’m an avid cyclist and the gravel makes it harder to get out for a quick road ride. This morning when I hit the smooth pavement out of town, I realized that the gravel between my house and a beautiful ride was just a small inconvenience before I got out where I wanted to be.

As I rode on, I realized that road biking is a bit of a metaphor for life.

When you get to flat, smooth road and the wind is at your back, you feel strong and on-course. You can just get low on the handlebars and cruise, and life. is. good. Then, you turn a corner, and you’re riding into the wind, slowing you down a bit. Then a steep hill rises to greet you. And there’s more traffic to keep an eye on. And the sun is strong and hot. And maybe you didn’t plan well and forgot to eat before you left, or you didn’t bring enough water.

Usually these things don’t all happen at once, but the right combination can leave you wishing you were at home instead of miles away with your legs your only engine. You can’t just lay your bike down on the side of the road and give up. You have to keep going, even if slower than you planned or on a different route than you had intended when you set out. Every time this scenario has happened to me on a ride, I’ve survived and gotten home again… sweaty, tired, grateful to be there, and a little bit stronger too.

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my cell phone was a weak tool in trying to capture the beauty of the morning

This is all true when I think about hurdles I’ve come across in just about every part of my life too. When things have been tough, I’ve survived, I’ve gotten where I was supposed to be (although admittedly, it isn’t always where I thought I’d be), and I’ve grown in the process. I’ve learned a bit of patience during all those times a plan didn’t come together as quickly as I wanted. I’ve learned that just because I didn’t end up where I thought I would doesn’t mean I ended up in the wrong place. And I’ve learned I’m stronger than I think. And I’ve learned these things over and over again… even when I thought the last lesson was strong enough to stick!

When you feel like throwing your hands in the air, laying down the bike, and giving up: know that the journey you’re on is making you stronger, and the hill you’re climbing has a peak you’ll reach. And maybe you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view when you get there! And maybe there will be another hill after that. If there is, you will take a deep breath, settle in, and climb that one too.

Just don’t even THINK about skipping the ride because of a little bit of gravel.

designing a life

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I had a bit of a girls’ day. It wasn’t really intended to be, but just kind of turned into one… and in more than just the sense you might be thinking of.

We started the morning by going to get our hair cut. Our stylist has cut my hair for a little more than ten years and has provided my daughter with every trim she has ever had. She has literally watched her grow up. When we arrived and settled in to the routine, I took a moment to breathe in the scene that has played out in salons across the country forever – women laughing about husbands, cringing over tales of bad perms, lamenting our children growing up way too fast… you know what I’m talking about. I looked at my daughter indulging in the feeling of the stylist massaging her scalp, and I felt such joy in her being a part of the experience. It wasn’t the hair trim or even the heaven that is getting your hair washed; it was the transition from being a child merely getting her hair cut to a young lady being a part of the tradition of women bonding in this way.

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{it really is more than just a haircut, don’t you think?}

We made a couple of other stops – the bike shop, the library – before we grabbed a little bite to eat at my favorite coffee shop. It’s owned by a woman who used the Small Business Development Center (years before I even knew it existed) to help her get started. This woman knows me as a regular customer who really loves a hot La Dolce Vita (decaf if it’s after noon – my partying days are long over, people!), but I know her as an inspiration as well as a purveyor of really tasty caffeine. I imagine her coffee shop was just a dream at one point – something that seemed far away. And maybe she had her doubts about whether it would come to be; I don’t know… But anyway, here it is now: a staple in our community, a welcoming place to grab a cuppa with friends (or your daughter), a venue to listen to live music, and an office away from home. You can tell she makes business decisions based on what’s important to her, and you can see her message everywhere you look in the shop – from the atmosphere, to the people she hires, to the food she provides, to encouraging composting/discouraging waste. Everything is on purpose, and seems so true to who she is. I so admire it.

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{try the new Nordic Waffles; they’re Hansen approved.}

I’ve been thinking about the dots of that morning and connecting them over the days since. There was something profound there that went unnoticed by my daughter, and I was touched. These women –  and so many others – doing what they love surround my daughter. They’re just a part of her existence, providing a model of what is ahead and who she can become, no matter what she decides that will be. It is amazing that my daughter gets to grow up in a world where success for a woman means whatever SHE deems it to be, instead of the narrow definition that I held for much of my childhood. (I didn’t know what successful women did all day, but I knew it involved pencil skirts and riding the Metra train Downtown with socks and tennis shoes over tan pantyhose.) I hope she grows up knowing that success can be defined a million different ways, depending what’s in your heart and what’s important to you.

And I’m so proud to be a piece of that – modeling for her that you can go after whatever crazy dream you come up with.

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Tell me something that you’re proud to be modeling for a kid in your life! Could be a project they see you working on, a passion you let them them follow with you, or anything really! And don’t be humble–all of us have pieces of ourselves we’re happy to be passing along to the next gen! Comment below and I’ll send you a free PDF file of my “non school days rules for electronics” so you can keep those kiddos moving toward their goals (and not staring at screens. As much.) Be sure to include your email address in your comments!

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