Linda Gorchels blogs

Energy for creativity: Don’t just manage time, monitor your energy

(Energy for Creativity is the 9th and final segment of a 9-part series on creativity traits.)

Curious: passionate for fresh knowledge; desiring to learn new things
Resilient: capable of overcoming setbacks; able to take risks; ambitious
Evaluative: willing to experiment and evolve your creativity beyond the idea stage
Autonomous: independent; norm-doubting
Tuned in: open and alert to the world around you; highly perceptive
Introspective: driven by innate (intrinsic) rewards; self-accepting
Visionary: having dreams and aspirations; original thinking
Energetic: adept at managing and recharging your energy

You need energy for creativity. It’s obvious from all my prior posts that creativity is really demanding. And unfortunately, it really, really wilts without conscious energy renewal.

This post is about managing and recharging your energy. You need energy to get out of creative ruts. No matter how strong you are in the other traits of creativity, your inventiveness will suffer if your energy has been depleted.

Health is part of energy for creativity

Let’s start with a few common sense items – the basics of wellness.The link between creativity and health is well established by research. While I’m not sure whether creativity improves health, or being healthy improves creativity, they are nonetheless linked. So improving your wellness matters.

First, eat a balanced diet. Now I’m not going to promote any specific foods. You know what your diet should look like. Just eat more of the healthy items (fruits and vegetables) and less of the unhealthy ones (fats and sugars).

Exercise regularly. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain.That improves critical thinking, memory and other brain functions. Exercise also clears the mind, giving your subconscious the opportunity to think through problems. In that way it helps with the incubation of ideas (as discussed in my post on the process of creativity).

energy for creativityA rested brain is more creative

From a creative perspective, exercise is a form of rest because it is a restorative activity, even though it’s not passive. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang discusses this in Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. While the title is a tiny bit misleading, it highlights why creativity cannot simply be forced.

Here’s another point to consider. Most exercise programs and personal trainers utilize interval training to allow recovery times for our bodies. This involves interspersing high-intensity workouts with periods of rest. Our bodies are designed to alternate between high focus and periodic rest. We benefit from similar recovery for our brains.Experts recommend taking breaks every 90 minutes or so. The Pomodoro technique suggests 25-minute focused intervals.

Build intermittent breaks into your creativity routine. Breaks can come in the form of total rest, or as energy-giving buffers. If you anticipate a particularly stressful period (with people or situations draining your energy) plan for recovery time. Then incorporate energy-giving activities as buffers between energy-draining activities. Energy-giving activities are those things that boost your energy. That could be a walk in the park, reading a novel, or stopping to watch the sunset on your way home. Plan for it.

Finally, get sufficient sleep — in addition to rest and breaks. Even small amounts of sleep deprivation reduce creativity. (As a side note, sleep plays an important role in the incubation of ideas. I discuss that in my post on the process of creativity.)

Patch together time for creativity

Detach creative (conceptual) time from concrete (task) time. Freeze time chunks for creative thinking. Cluster meetings (and other concrete tasks) adjacently so you can carve out blocks of uninterrupted time for the more abstract tasks.

Limit focus shifts during your creative time. When you have several tasks demanding your attention, your conscious mind keeps bouncing back to them. Your focus is therefore not fully creative. To minimize the pull, record the interrupting tasks on a to-do list. Force yourself to “forget about them” for a while. The sheer act of writing the list helps convey to your mind that the tasks will not be forgotten totally. They thereby demand less of your mental energy.

Set aside one or two hours a week (or more as suits your needs) for pure idea time. Limit interruptions. Prevent distractions. Stop multitasking. As I’ve discussed in other posts, multitasking drains creative output. Don’t feel compelled to fill every single minute with doing (i.e., being efficient). Try to focus on effectiveness (being creative). Overemphasizing time efficiency (over effectiveness) can acutely damage energy for creativity.

Relationships matter

Build social networks that stimulate your creativity and boost your energy. These networks can be online or offline, work-specific or leisure-related, colleagues or friends and family, and close-knit communities or a patchwork of far-flung connections. The point is to find the type of networks and frequency of contact that energizes you. Steer clear of the creativity vampires — people that suck the creative energy from you.

Creativity at your peak times

Be honest with yourself about whether you are a morning person or a night person. That’s your optimal work time. If you have to do both cognitively demanding (analytical) and intuitive (conceptual) work, complete the concrete tasks when you are at your optimal.

Creativity can occur during your non-optimal times for a couple of reasons. First, getting into the flow” can sometimes energize you when you are tired. Second, your brain wanders more when you are tired, potentially leading to more insights.This doesn’t mean you should avoid being creative at your optimal time. In fact, you might start the creative process in the morning (if that’s your peak time), with a-ah points occurring later, after they have had time to “incubate.”

An article in Scientific American reinforces this point, suggesting that eureka moments are greatest when we are NOT at our best. According to the article:

“Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to “distraction” can be of benefit.  At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information.”

So, not all creative output happens when you are at your best. Be alert to the serendipity of ideas whenever they hit you. Energy for creativity comes in many forms.

This is the end of my 9-part series on characteristics on creativity. I will address other aspects of creativity and innovation in future posts.