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

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.