What I do to relax, focus, and allow the creative juices to flow
Earlier this year, I decided that I was going to start having “creative days” — days where absolutely everything I do is geared toward fulfilling the creative aspects of my job.
As a web developer, I also write for the La Vie en Code blog, and produce weekly podcasts for the La Vie en Code podcast. This is in between freelancing projects, producing an online course for new web developers, managing my fledgling business, and generally keeping myself sane.
One day a week isn’t a lot, but focusing all of my attention on my creative output for one day a week has changed my way of working.
For the rest of the week, I do with the output I produce on my creative days. But, for this one day a week, I only think.
The Case for Creative Days
Creating new content for the blog and podcast require extensive research and writing, even though I haven’t been posting as often as I could.
In fact, part of the issue behind not posting as frequently was that I would get half-way through the extensive research, and just fizzle out. I have about 8 unfinished posts just sitting in my Medium drafts. Specifically, 5,622 words that have not made their way from my mind to others’.
The problem is, creativity isn’t a switch that’s easy to flip on and off. When I sit down to write a blog post, or an outline for a podcast episode, I tend to really get into it.
But, creating anything is hard.
It has a ramp-up phase, because the focus required to create uses up our emotional energy. With me, it takes anywhere between 5–15 minutes to really get into creating — programming, writing, anything really.
If I’m distracted, or have to switch my focus to something else, it can be extremely difficult to get back into a creative mindset. Try as we may, we’re often still thinking about the distraction in some form.
So, it’s safe to say that creativity requires focus, and a complete lack of distraction.
Expert creators get into a positive feedback loop: as they create, they expend energy, but also derive energy from their creations. Focusing on the positive effects of the creative process can lead to a self-regenerative experience.
That self-regenerative experience is what I’m after—and what you should be after, too. Simply because it’s the best way to guarantee creative output at all.
So, what do I do on my creative days?
Short answer: absolutely anything I want, but with a focus on exploration of myself and the world around me, because exploration spurs creativity.
However, I have two main ground rules for my creative days. The goal isn’t to limit myself by self-enforcing rules, but rather to elevate myself.
1. Only positive thinking allowed
This is really hard for me, because a lot of experience in my life with folks preaching “positive thinking” tend to also confuse “negativity” with “very real issues affecting them that can be changed by actually focusing on them and finding a solution instead of dismissing them as mere negativity”.
(Being woke is hard.)
But, focusing on the positive is so damn important to my creative process. I do enough good work for others that I can dedicate one day a week to myself.
In terms of weight and importance, I get far more done on my creative days than I do every other day of the week. So, maximizing my time during this period is crucial.
During my creative process, my brain tends to work a bit like a jet engine: it needs a little ramp-up time, then full throttle for a while until I’m near empty. Regenerate my energy and repeat.
Building a blog post from my creative output is the easiest part. It’s the creative output that was the hard part. Same with creating podcast episodes, videos, and courses.
So, rather than thinking of it as “don’t be negative” (which, I confess, makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up), I prefer “think positive”.
I have so much in my life to be grateful for, and exercise gratitude every day. When I really focus on those things, I can produce powerful content that brings value to others, and still have enough energy regenerated from that positive experience to fight the good fight.
2. Only creative output allowed — no editing or filtering my thoughts
I am trying to practice not using my Delete key on creative days, unless it’s a simple typo or other obvious error.
Because my thoughts are not erroneous. Why would I delete them?
For too long, I’ve combined the creative and editing process into one activity. But, they are — and absolutely should be — completely separate activities.
Creative output requires a flow state. You have to allow your brain to wander and explore possibilities. Creativity is not analytical or critical.
Exploration and analysis don’t work well together. In fact. they require completely separate parts of the brain. By lumping in editing with the creative process, we’re effectively both inhibiting our creativity, and unnecessarily filtering our output.
So, on my creative days, I remind myself to let it go, and let it be.
The goal isn’t to limit myself by self-enforcing rules, but rather to elevate myself.
Every thought and idea I have is a potential asset, and my only job on this day is to create as many of them as I can.
What I get from adhering to these rules
Well, let’s look at an example. Today is one of my creative days.
I’m relaxed because I’m thinking positively, focused because I only have one task, and happy, because I’m being productive — which always makes me happy!
I get an immense amount of work done in a very short period of time, which is pretty much everyone strives for.
I don’t feel like I’m working—at all. Because I can create anywhere, this is where I chose to create today.
And, everything I create today is going to help me for years to come.
You can—and should—have creative days, too
Anything that you create requires focus. Harness your focus, minimize your distractions, and if you can’t take a full day to create — take an hour.
An hour will allow you your ramp-up time, and give you a good chunk of pure productivity time that you’ll actually enjoy.
Depending on your job, your creative process may be either completely separate or one in the same with producing content itself.
For example, as a blogger, I produce blog posts that are representative of my creative output. Editing the posts and making it something readable is a totally separate exercise, that requires my analytical mind.
If you’re not sure if your creative process and production process are separate, ask yourself:
- What kind of content are you trying to create?
- Are you engaging in the creative process with the ultimate goal of creating something more refined later with your results?
- Do you need to be exploratory and inquisitive in order to produce your content?
- Or, are you having to exercise analytical focus, critical thinking and/or decision-making?
Once you figure out what your creative days require, you can add to or adjust the ground rules to ensure you don’t cross over into counterproductive or self-defeating thinking.
For web developers and other folks producing technical content, my best advice is to allow your creative process to center your experience. Rather than focusing on the technology itself, ask yourself questions about how you feelabout the technology.
Later, when you’re editing, you can follow those leads to do your follow-up research, and produce content to the public that adds value to their life.
The power is in allowing yourself to ask questions, focus on what you feel and feel what others feel, and center perspectives that are uniquely yours.
When you hit the spot, you’ll be able to have creatively productive days full of exploration that will result — after analytical work later on — in your perspectives being seen and heard by the rest of the world.
Go forth, and make your voice heard!