Minimum Daily Requirement for Creativity

Get unstuck by making the smallest changes. (Guest Post by Sam Bennett)

Posted Jan 12, 2017

jwmpap/FreeImages
Source: jwmpap/FreeImages

Sam Bennett, today's guest poster, has made it her mission to assist people in getting unstuck by helping them focus and move forward on their goals. Her new book, excerpted below, is called Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists. It's premise is that small shifts in the right direction can yield big results in the realization of our creative dreams. Read on.

ENOUGH TIME OR TOO MUCH TIME?

You think that once you get that big expanse of time, you’re going to be in clover. You’re going to get all those projects done around the house, you’re going to finally have time to write, do yoga, and practice the flute, and it’s going to be great. Retirement. Getting laid off. Summer vacation.

And then that big expanse of time comes, and somehow, day after day, the time slips by, and you just don’t get anywhere.

Having too much time can make a project feel just as overwhelming as not having enough time. When you can start anytime, how do you know when to start?

The other problem with this problem is that no one believes it’s a problem. You feel ungrateful at best and like a fool at worst complaining that you have too much time. Who’s going to sympathize with that? So you keep it to yourself. And you feel ashamed. And nothing feeds shame like secrecy. Can you see how a person could end up in a downward spiral that leads straight to long afternoons spent watching home-remodeling shows?

Now, I love home-remodeling shows, but I also believe that we are naturally inclined toward productivity. We love to be learning, doing, and playing. We love to stretch and grow and solve problems, and we love to feel like we’re making a contribution to the world. Too much unstructured time can be stressful and depressing. When we don’t know what to do with ourselves, we give up.

TENSION CAN BE GOOD

The trick is to inject some creative tension into your life. The word tension gets a bad rap, but remember that it is structural tension that holds the keystone in every arch — and sexual tension is often the beginning of all kinds of wonderful things.

Think of a goal that frightens you a little bit, something that stirs you up, maybe even something that you’re pretty sure is impossible. Let it loom large in your mind. Connect with it. Feel the energetic relationship — the tension — between where you are now and where the goal is. Feel that energetic spoke of the Net between you and that goal, and let that tension pull you forward into taking one first step.

When you’ve taken one step, celebrate. It’s easy to brush aside first steps, especially when you believe that you really should be farther along already, but don’t. You did something, which is more than you did yesterday. Which is excellent. Be proud.

Now create a “minimum daily requirement” (MDR) for yourself. Make it something super-easy to do but still meaningful. If you want to write a book, perhaps your MDR is to write one sentence on an index card. If you’re trying to declutter the garage, maybe you will commit to spending five minutes a day in there, whether you do any work or not. And of course there’s my favorite “fifteen minutes a day” strategy. I firmly believe that spending just fifteen minutes a day on the project that is dearest to your heart has the power to change your entire life. Try it and let me know.

If your project is a bit epic, you can do yourself a favor by setting a series of six-week minigoals that will lead you to that bigger result. Six weeks is enough time to see significant progress, and two six-week periods will take you through a season. To create a plan in which, say, you research your historical novel in the fall, begin writing at the winter solstice, and have a rough first draft by spring might have a nice, natural rhythm to it.

By allowing yourself to engage with a big, juicy project, create incremental six- and twelve-week goals, and maintain your minimum daily requirement, you can shake yourself out of the shadowy morass of too much time and right into the sunny fields of creative productivity.

Book cover used with permission of the publisher.
Source: Book cover used with permission of the publisher.

ACTION STEP

Write down a goal that sends a genuine thrill through your body. Now write down what you think a good minimum daily requirement for achieving that goal might be. Your MDR should be so small that there’s no way you can’t do it. Now reduce that MDR by half. That’s right — lower the bar. So if you want to get in shape and your initial MDR is to do fifty sit-ups a day, reduce that number to twenty-five. If you want to redo the backyard, then commit to spending just fifteen minutes a day out there. Of course, you may end up doing fifty sit-ups or spending all afternoon weeding, but that’s a bonus. You still do your MDR the next day.

Steady, consistent movement is how the Colorado River carved out the Grand Canyon, and that same persistence will give you equally awe-inspiring results.

  • Sam Bennett is the author of Start Right Where You Are and Get It Done. She created The Organized Artist Company to help creative people get unstuck and achieve their goals. She is a writer, actor, teacher, and creativity/productivity specialist who has counseled thousands of artists and entrepreneurs on their way to success. Visit her online.
  • Excerpted from Start Right Where You Are. Copyright © 2016 by Sam Bennett. Printed with permission from New World Library.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie's Heel.

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