You’re Never Too Busy For Creative Projects

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“It’s hard to think outside of the box once you no longer have the box.”

That sentiment is fascinating. It’s accurate, too; many artists are firm believers in the stimulative powers of restriction. Duke Ellington famously said, “I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” The entire premise of The White Stripes was constraint, and Orson Welles lived by the same idea, saying, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

Relayed anecdotally in an inspirational article detailing her Game Of The Week experiences, Adriel Wallick cites the folkloric wisdom as she details her own motivational conflict. What it boils down to, though, is a lack of focus, seemingly brought on by an excessive freedom of sorts.

But what about the rest of us? What about people who don’t have the luxury of walking away from it all, just to chill and globetrot? We’ve still got ambitions, goals; we still yearn to be part of a creative community that breathes life into the world.

For us, it’s not that the box isn’t there anymore, it’s more like the box is inside another box that’s filled with jobs, kids, mortgages, oil changes, and lawns to mow. We might be great at thinking outside of the box, but the air out there is muddied with inescapable responsibility.

It’s nigh impossible to relate to someone who has the problem of “too much time,” and being adrift without limitation; wasting three hours on Reddit is nowhere on the spectrum for us. With a scant hour at most at our disposal in a day, how are we supposed to cope with the exact opposite problem Wallick faced?

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The absolute, number one thing you must procure is the support of your loved ones. Your partner, your kids… whoever you live with should know you well enough to know that you simply can’t function without a creative outlet of some kind. And if it’s a newly-discovered streak of creativity, just talk to them about it. Regardless the scenario, securing that understanding is the greatest hurdle, for without it, your struggle will be more intense, and all of your other work will be for naught.

As for other immediate solutions, some are easy, but not everyone is “cool” with something like knocking an extra hour out of their sleeping schedule. It works, though–if your night usually ends at 11:30pm, stay up an extra hour and work on your project. (It’s the same thing those people who “exercise” do, just at a different time.)

Time management is the hackneyed, cliche answer to the problem, but that will be paramount to your success. I’m not bringing it up just to bang the same old drum, though. In my experience, most people go about their time management in the wrong way. The key isn’t to try to carve out some extra time, but to free up some–there’s a giant chasm of difference between the two.

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For instance, it might feel right to try to squeeze in a few minutes of game design when an appointment finishes up early, or really, when any minor opportunity presents itself. But what are you really going to accomplish with that time?

Instead, try to find all of the normal things you do and tackle those first. Treat them like their own design challenges–tear everything apart and find out where you’re losing your time.

For example, I used to feel like I lost days of productivity just running errands, specifically going to the store. Again, treating it like its own unique challenge, I tried to figure out how I could reduce the time I lost to this particular chore. A good first step was taking fewer trips, facilitated by buying larger amounts of food on sale and also buying as much as I could online. Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program not only cuts out the time spent at the store, but also the ordering–you set a schedule, and the rest is completely automated.

Also, see if any place near you offers any kind of “curbside” services. Laundromats and restaurants usually do, but check your local grocers, too–there’s a store near me that has a service that will do my grocery shopping for me. The cost is $4.95, but I’d pay twice that for the amount of time it saves me.

By looking with intent for ways to save yourself time, rather than “lucking out” and getting fifteen minutes here or there, now you’ve planned. A combination of any of the time-savers above could easily result in hours of extra time.

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You’ve got the support of your loved ones, who know that creativity is your sustenance, and you’ve done the rest–you’ve whittled down the errands to the bare essentials, and for a pittance, found businesses that cater to hectic lifestyles. Now, what’s the best use of your newfound time?

Create a list. It’s essential to take the time to organize in this way, because it defines goals, and allows you to quickly pick up where you left off. At a glance, you should be able to look at a list and know your next goal. Coincidentally, this is also where you will once again find value in your chanced-upon gifts of extra time.

With a specific goal in mind, the extra hour that you’ve got after the kids have gone to bed will now have purpose. You can learn a section of code, get a sound design to work, or just bang your head against a tutorial until something clicks. And with a list, smaller objectives will also be clear, so, for example, if you do find a quick fifteen minutes, you’ll be able to print out card prototypes or create some placeholder images.

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One other thing I want to mention is the scope of your projects. There is absolutely no shortage of advice posts written by developers, and they all same the same thing: keep your projects small. Let’s face it, if you’re resorting to the methods I do, every project seems enormous. But if they are, in fact, small, then you can rest knowing they’re at least manageable.

Starting small could mean loads of things, too. Instead of learning to code, maybe make your first project a board game or a card game. Maybe make it honing your art skills, or even doing some simple video editing. Start writing a blog. There’s nothing that says what that small-scale project needs to be–the goal is simply to start and finish something. That sense of accomplishment will provide a bolus for both your ability and your confidence.

The one thing I don’t see mentioned enough is that you don’t always have to keep the projects small. Don’t think you’re only good for small potatoes; as your skill increases, the scope of your projects can increase. But also don’t forget that those too can be broken up, thanks to effective lists and organization. I know, it sucks–not all of us creative types are always well-organized (“Geniuses are seldom neat,” goes the old Ziggy adage), but I honestly believe that it’s bridge worth crossing.

In short, you can do it. It will take some sacrifice, and it will certainly take some work. Ok, a lot of work–and not even on your creative endeavor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. The creative field is full of wonderful, intelligent, caring people who are generous and willing to offer their expertise. But if it’s what you want, it will all be worth it.

  • //www.misprintedpages.wordpress.com/ Stephanie Carmichael

    I love the honesty in this piece. As someone who feels constantly overwhelmed by dozens of responsibilities and projects (ironically, they’re all creative, but that’s work for me), I get tapped out to the point where I’d rather sit and waste hours doing nothing in my free time than starting that side, for-me creative project that I’ve been wanting to. Slightly different situation; same general problem.

    I like the idea of trying to think of things like running errands as “design challenges” — in terms of how you can shorten those tasks so you can carve out more time in your day for creative pursuits.

    Thanks for the little extra motivation!

  • Jarrett P.

    I’m having one of those “this song is about me” moments.