How Busyness Can Kill Creativity

Creativity is intelligence having fun. – Albert Einstein
Many of us are familiar with the notion that our biggest strengths can simultaneously be overplayed and turn into weaknesses. So it might be with the ability many highly productive people have to schedule themselves, to keep themselves busy. Their own hyper-efficiency may be part of the problem.

New research suggests that children who are kept extremely active by a string of school and non-school activities are less creative, less autonomous and less self-confident than those with fewer activities. Kids who aren’t being rushed into a car to drive from one adult-directed event to another are more able to adapt to various environments, invent games and creative projects.  A link to the study is below.

But what about adults? How much space is there in our days and our weeks for unstructured, creative thought?

I know various people in business who are proud of their meticulously planned Google or Outlook calendars, some of them with days divided up into precise 15 and 20-minute slots. A successful day for them feels like one in which all the items have been “done.” Of course the next day is constantly looming large with yet another series of meetings, phone calls, and e-mails to return.

Much of this busyness is reactive rather than proactive, of course. It’s responding to the agenda items of other people, who in turn are often just responding to what others have asked them to do, in an endless, mindless chain.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that time and task management is the key for many of us to get the things done in a day that need to be done. Without structure, without plan and lists, and left to our own devices – including our electronic devices – we might waste our lives clicking around from one website to another all day long.

But the opposite risk is perhaps just as great. That we finish, a day, a week, a month, a year without feeling like we have done anything new, that we have made very little impact. That we haven’t developed our gifts nor shared them with others.

So what about playing to our strengths of being disciplined well-organized people with time management skills? We can put that do good use by:

1- Remembering that potentially valuable conversations and meetings require at least a little time to prepare, and to get into the right frame of mind. And they need at least bit of time for figuring out next steps and how to follow up.

2- Scheduling in, or creating breathing space (literally and figuratively) around our appointments. How many of us have tried to save time by cramming in food while working, or even putting off going to the toilet in order to be more productive? Be honest!

3- Carving out unstructured time for creativity. This will take some courage and some practice. First you’ll have to develop the confidence that you’ll eventually achieve something useful with the 20 or 30 minutes a day you reserve for this. If you were already sure the benefits outweighed the costs, you would already be doing this.

4- Actually scheduling the time. What will you call it? “Open space time”? “Blank sheet of paper time”? “Let it flow time.”

5- And speaking of blank sheets of paper: Try sitting in front of one or two, with no rules. Literally no rules – no pre-printed straight horizontal lines, no agenda, no expectations. Write, scribble, doodle or draw whatever comes to mind over a 10 to 20-minute period. Try not to criticise, to judge or even to categorize. Save these pieces of paper in a spiral binder. And see what happens.

Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning