Creative Energy: Part Two

This week I’m returning to the topic of Creative Energy. I wasn’t initially planning to write a part two, however the topic is multi-faceted; there could easily be a part three…

One aspect of energy is time. Often I’ve completed my day at work, commuted home, and now, wanting to do something creative, I realise I’m just too tired. I feel like my time is ‘spent’, my energy falls away, and I struggle just to do a few jobs before falling into bed.

This is an aspect of my life I have been reflecting on for the last few years. I’ve tried getting up very early, but this has only lead to fatigue, I’ve also tried forcing myself to work late into the night. However; forcing, striving, or pushing, never inspires creativity and whatever project I’m working on, it feels more like a chore than a release.

So what to do about time? If we can’t create more, how do we increase our energy?

I simple can’t change my hours at work, I want to work and enjoy it, but it’s not everything. So, I need to hold onto enough creative energy for my own passions. My question this week: is there a way to preserve energy so when I get home I’m not completely depleted?

I’ve been reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown and I highly recommend it, for anyone who has a full life but is lacking in energy, or wants to turn a messy, over crowded, over complicated life into something more refined.

The book reminds us that we are living in a pressure-styled world with demands constantly pulling us in multiple directions – at all times. In this world we are encouraged, through technology and media, to speed up, do more, and do it faster. However, contrary to this belief Essentialism suggests that slowing down will give us back time and energy.

I know! It’s not the first thing that springs to mind but slowing down, doing one task at a time with purpose, and letting go of off ALL the other unessential activities we don’t need to do, can bring back the energy we are so often lacking.

One of the unessential activities I need to let go of, is social media. When I say this I don’t mean I will ban it from my life completely, but rather timetable its use. So I will use it to wind down and catch up, (just not every 10 minutes). But social media isn’t where it ends. There are multitudes of tasks at work that pile up, and I’m often feeling overwhelmed and unsure on how or where to start.

Essentialism suggests, time and energy go hand in hand, if we can’t cut our time at work we need to slow down at work so we have an energy store when we get home. That does not mean that we are non-productive, instead we are actively finding procedures, solutions and habits that make us very productive, in less time and with more energy left over.

Richard Koch, suggests:

Most of what exists in the universe – our actions, and all other forces, resources, and ideas – has little value and yields little result; on the other hand, a few things work fantastically well and have tremendous impact.

The tricky part is knowing what to focus on, what can be left for another time – or maybe, doesn’t even need doing.

Greg McKeown writes:

The benefits of this ultra-selective approach to decision making in all areas of our lives should be clear: when our selection criteria are too broad, we will find ourselves committing to too many options. What’s more, assigning simple numerical values to our options forces us to make decisions consciously, logically, and rationally, rather than impulsively or emotionally. Yes, it takes discipline to apply tough criteria. But failing to do so carries a high cost.

For the last couple of weeks, while reading Essentialism, I’ve used had two notebooks open at my desk, one is my Bullet Journal, which I discussed in December Reflection: Part One, and one is an empty journal open to a blank page where I write the date and title ‘Brain Transfer’. In my Bullet Journal, I have listed three tasks I want to concentrate on that day – YES, you did read it correctly, THREE TASKS ONLY. These are the three main tasks I want to work on. This doesn’t mean that I won’t or can’t work on other tasks, but I’ve prioritised my time, so if they are all I get to, that is fine.

In the other journal, I write notes throughout the day, things like: remember to call HR back, email students to remind them of their looming presentations, book in a screening time with guest lecturer, and so on. These are either, little reminders that pop up into my head, emails and responsibilities I need to get to, or tasks that are given to me throughout that day. Instead of reacting to them in that moment, I put them to the side. This does two things. First, it allows me to fully concentrate on one of my prioritized tasks without interruption, and secondly it keeps a record of my to-do list, so I don’t fully drop the ball.

During the day, I have been scheduling two fifteen minute sessions to get the small stuff done; for example, the short emails, returning a text, booking gear and so on. It is amazing how many of those small tasks you can knock out quickly in clusters.

Then at the end of the day, I look closely at the ‘Brain Transfer List’; are there things that I don’t actually need to do? Are there meetings that I don’t need to attend? Cross these off. Is there anything on the list that needs special attention? That item can become an essential task, something I’m going to highly prioritise during the week. Then with the things left over, they can be put in one of the smaller clusters for the next day.

Sounds simple, it is, but it’s hard to stick to, especially if you are used to interrupting your own attention. If you react to every email, text, or message you will soon become overwhelmed and exhausted. When this happens to me I buffer, scroll through FB, I check out the latest Insta-post, only to realise I still have all the tasks in front of me and don’t know where to start.

I’ve been actively engaging in this practice for two weeks now, (I know I’m still in the honeymoon stage), HOWEVER, I have noticed changes to my concentration at work, and more importantly my creative energy when I get home. For the first time in a long time, last week I came home and powered into a project that had been sitting there for some time. It felt so good to do something creative in the middle of the week – and it gave me even more energy.

I really hope this helps, I know it all sounds a bit naff to start being more strict with time, but it really has worked in the energy stakes for me.

Catch you next week xx

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