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How to Nurture Creativity by Savoring Your Time

Living creatively can mean taking your time. And that takes setting boundaries.

Key points

  • In a “culture of busy” that always demands more, creativity is difficult.
  • Creativity is best in flow, and flow requires slowing down.
  • Setting boundaries can support a more creative lifestyle.
@ kjpargeter, Freepik
A person in a tropical landscape.
@ kjpargeter, Freepik

Do you want to live in a house built in haste? Eat a fruit injected with chemicals to accelerate ripening? Receive a service from someone who's always in a hurry?

None of these scenarios appeal to me. Neither would I want to present hurried, less-than-optimal work to others. Especially if this is creative work.

In the “culture of busy” that always demands more, always demands faster, devoting the necessary time and effort to doing quality work is challenging. However, the philosophy of slow movements challenges the glorification of the hurry.

The slow living movements—slow food, slow travel, slow fashion, slow cities—are not about slowness for the sake of it, but about mindfulness, intentionality, and the decreased stress that comes along with this mindset. It is about getting out of the fast lane—and savoring life.

Deceleration, mindfulness, and intentionality nurture our creativity by supporting flow. Flow even rhymes with slow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) defined flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it."

Flow brings out our most creative, most productive selves. Best creativity and productivity involve performing activities because they are intrinsically rewarding, without worrying and rushing.

Unfortunately, while we regularly give lip service to the importance of creativity, we often overlook what's required to nurture and sustain it.

Instead of "pressuring," consider nurturing

Even the way we talk about creativity is filled with language that implies pressure and haste, the language of prodding and hurrying. The phrases themselves generate anxiety: “accelerate creativity,” “drive originality,” “spur innovation.”

"Spur?" That hurts!

As dreadful as it seems, I've tried to spur myself on numerous occasions. Why can’t I be as fast as some other people? Why. Can't. I. Do. It. Faster!!!??

I can, actually, but I often find myself unhappy with the rushed output, and I would not want people to receive a product that I am not satisfied with. However, comparing myself to others' speed often makes me feel inferior—a rather irrational sentiment considering how much effort and dedication I put into my work.

Yet, even reflecting on these emotions requires slowing down.

Upon slowing down and reflecting, I know that my most impactful projects have been those conceived and executed over extended periods. It just makes sense. Creativity needs to germinate. The quality of the finished product that had some time to evolve is much better than what I would have been able to produce had I been rushing.

So, how do we set up our lives for the unrushed, creative flow?

Protecting our time and focusing on our priorities is largely about boundaries.

Building Better Boundaries

Living more creatively is intricately linked to setting boundaries. Boundaries let us dedicate the necessary time and mental space to our creative pursuits. Overextending ourselves not only leads to stress and burnout, but also deprives us of the opportunity to think deeply and creatively.

Here's how setting boundaries can foster a more creative lifestyle:

1. Time for Deep Work: Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, a state which allows us to tap into our creativity. By setting boundaries and managing our commitments, we gift ourselves dedicated, uninterrupted time for deep work.

2. Mental Space for Creativity: When we're constantly in a hurry or overwhelmed by tasks, our minds are filled with to-do lists and deadlines, leaving little room for creativity. By setting boundaries, we create the mental space needed for ideating and problem-solving.

3. Prioritizing Creative Pursuits: Setting boundaries often involves prioritizing what matters most to us. If creativity is a priority, setting boundaries will ensure we devote the necessary time and energy to our creative pursuits, instead of being consumed by less important tasks—on someone else’s agendas.

4. Reduced Stress: Overcommitment leads to stress, which is counterproductive to creativity. By learning to say "no," we can reduce our stress levels, creating a mental state for more flow, enjoyment, and creativity.

Setting boundaries is not just about preventing overcommitment; it's about consciously creating the space and state of mind in which creativity can flourish. So, when saying “no” is hard, think of each "no" as a "yes" to your creativity. On your terms. In your own beautiful slow life.

A version of this post also appears in the Best Work for Your Brain newsletter.

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