Today’s world is fast. It’s competitive. It’s constantly changing. Yet, we keep hearing and reading that our creativity and innovation will be essential to our growth, leadership, and performance.
And I love to hear that creativity has that power. I feel inspired, enlightened, encouraged.
But, here’s the rub: 24/7 connectivity, constant interruptions from home or work, as well as, email and text communication lead to overwhelming anxiety. This anxiety hijacks your time and mental resources resulting in scarcity – mental scarcity.
The problem with mental scarcity is that it further perpetuates scarcity and reduces all components of our mental bandwidth—we are less insightful and less forward thinking; we have less mind to give to the dreaming about that next breakthrough idea—which are essential components of creativity.
So, in theory – we know that we need to be creative to drive our careers – or just our own creative pursuits - forward, but we just don’t have the bandwidth to do so. It’s the world’s most vicious cycle.
How do we use productivity to do some real good – to make some real space for creativity?
It is time to start thinking about how to reduce mental scarcity and increase your mental bandwidth.
Here are five simple, yet powerful, ways to start.
1. Find your Productivity Style.
Creativity is a personal process. Which means we need personal strategies to make time for it. What’s a personal process that we don’t necessarily think of as personal process? Productivity.
One-size-fits all t-shirts never fit properly. The same applies to one-size-fits-all approaches to productivity. Maybe you have tried to use a calendar tool you received in a time-management workshop or those colored post-it notes that a friend recommended. If the results were disappointing, the fault is not yours—it’s the fault of tools and techniques that do not match your Productivity Style.
So instead of fighting against your natural thinking, learning, and communicating preferences, work with them. Identify your Productivity Style and then embrace it. Use your understanding to guide the choices you make to manage your attention, invest your time, get work done – so you can have the space to be creative.
2. Develop routines for regular tasks.
This sounds like one of the most uninspired strategies – but, hear me out. When you develop a routine for common tasks, your brain can automatically repeat it with minimal input by you. Once the routine is established, it is interpreted by your brain as a pattern. These patterns, through frequent use, become hardwired into your brain. And the more you use a pattern, the less attention you will need to pay to doing this task. Thus, freeing up mental bandwidth for creativity.
Consider developing routines for the following:
• Phone calls
• Opening documents
• Filing and saving documents
• Sorting and processing mail
• Making travel arrangements
3. Decide what is good enough. Then, stop.
So often, we’re in over-performance mode to prove something to ourselves or to other people – bosses, colleagues, friends, family. But, when you go full throttle, you exhaust yourself. Do you know what good enough is for each of the projects on your list? What is good enough for the organization and good enough for you? And if you have any doubts, ask a trusted colleague, friend or significant other for their insights to keep you from falling into the trap of over-performance which is really dressed up perfectionism. Overthinking, over editing and over tweaking wastes valuable time and is not necessary. Do good work, and then stop, so that you can save some mental bandwidth and energy to be creative, to explore, and to brainstorm. Focus on the real work that’s aligned to your goals. The work that makes you happy. There is work—the routine, time-filling work most of us spend our days performing—and then there is your real work, the work that takes you one step closer to achieving your goals and bringing you joy. Reshape your daily, task list to focus on the real work – you’ll be amazed how quickly you find even a couple more minutes each day to be creative. First, examine your assumptions. Where are you letting assumptions guide your decision-making process about the work that needs to be completed? Are assumptions - that may be false, misleading, or unsupported - getting in the way of you completing the work that is aligned with your personal goals? Assumptions hijack your time by keeping you trapped in the busy work cycle – the cycle that will squash any opportunity for creativity. Then ask, “What do I need to start doing? What projects and tasks need to be added to my to-do list that will enable me to achieve my goals and give me time to be creative?” Put them on the list. Leave the busy work to someone else, someone who does not want your creative-filled life. Focus on the real work that you are meant to do.
4. Cultivate joy every, single day. In your way.
Don’t forget the freedom of thought, time, and space that comes from giving yourself some time to be creative. Great insights occur more frequently the more relaxed and happy you are. Even if you don’t have a chunk of three or four hours to be creative, take time during the workday to do something totally unrelated to work that brings you joy, makes you laugh, or just makes you smile. Spend some time on YouTube watching funny videos, take a walk, or read for pure pleasure. It does not matter what it is as long as it brings you delight; it’s in that moment of delight that you’ll experience a spark of creativity that just might be enough to carry you through the rest of your day. Don’t let mental scarcity rob you of your creativity – it just might spark your next big idea; the next big idea that this world is waiting for. Instead, think about how you can use your productivity, time, and attention to increase your mental bandwidth and nurture your creative spirit.