Sustaining Your Energy & Creativity

As a highly driven and highly creative person, I work hard.

I push myself, and I put in long hours, even when I know better.

As a highly sensitive person, I have learned to set limits — I don’t work weekends and try to keep evenings to a minimum, though that has been a bit slippery lately.

Although I aim for balance, I still get more tired than I want to, especially considering all the ambitions I have (quality time with my family, traveling, finishing my script, writing a book, doing my personal spiritual work, reading more, having alone time, connecting with my husband, gardening, sewing, keeping up with the house, papers & chores, spending time with friends, cooking, learning to paint, etc.).

I’ve done some great work with organizer Miriam Ortiz y Pino on creating time blocks in my schedule and my coach Isabel Parlett has helped me focus on putting first things first and creating powerful sacred writing time in my schedule.

It’s been so helpful and amazing!

But still. I know I want to feel better about all the wonderful things I’m doing and enjoy them more.

Keeping the Creative Well Full

As I’ve gotten my brand spankin’ new Writer’s Circle going just this week, I’ve been reminded of the importance of keeping the creative channels flowing and open.

I’ve learned from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, to aim to fill my “creative well” to overflowing, but I’ve never fully embraced the concept of artist dates, which is a primary tool for doing so along with great self-care. Though I love the idea in theory, I still find myself in a high level of resistance to seeing them through (a project for another day, perhaps).

How to Be Excellent — & Productive — At Anything

What I’ve been delighted with lately is a series of new insights I’m gleaning from Todd Henry’s new book, The Accidental Creative.

He makes a series of brilliant points that my obligation-pitfall / Life School of Service brain really needs to hear.

He quotes Tony Schwartz from his book How to Be Excellent at Anything:

The real issue is not the number of hours we sit behind a desk but the energy we bring to the work we do and the value we generate as a result. A growing body of research suggests that we’re most productive when we move between periods of high focus and intermittent rest. Instead, we live in a gray zone, constantly juggling activities but rarely fully engaging in any of them — or fully disengaging from any of them. The consequence is that we settle for a pale version of the possible.”

It’s Really All About Effectiveness, Not Efficiency

Todd Henry goes on to say:

“What Schwartz articulates so well is that even if we effectively manage our time and resources, but neglect our energy level, our effectiveness will decrease over time. Today’s success begets tomorrow’s success, so for the creative worker, when you lack the energy to generate ideas today, it takes a toll on tomorrow’s creative effectiveness. The longer the energy drain continues, the more you dig yourself into a hole.”

Ah Ha!

For my beleaguered creative brain, this is like a giant light bulb and a big “Duh” going off in my head all at the same time.

For me, not only does it remind me to call into question the truly insane work ethics of most creative and design related professions (70 hour work-weeks anyone?), it also has me asking about the sustainability of our standard work habits in a whole new way (never taking breaks, cramming as much into the day as possible, staying at your desk for hours on end, etc.)

Antidotes

For my Writer’s Circle, we’re working with a method of “writing sprints” or writing sessions, where we work for no more than 45 minute sessions before taking a break to do something enjoyable and/or renewing, like stretching, sitting in the sunshine, having a treat of some kind, or goofing off (consciously and deliberately) on the internet. So far so good.

The idea is to be able to do sustainable creative work in the long term.

Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Your Turn

I’d love to hear from you about this subject:

  • What thoughts does this inspire for you?
  • How do you build sustainability into your life?
  • Have you ever felt creatively burnt out? How did you recover?

Jenna

 

Coming Attractions

~> September 6th. Beta-testing my Writer’s Circle accountability system with a select group. Stay tuned for how you can participate next month, starting October 6th.

~> November 10th. My next Life Purpose Breakthrough ‘Big Vision’ Group. Details. Only 3 spots remaining.

 


~> This weekend. Right Brain Business Planning with my buddy Kris Carey.

~> FRIDAYS & now morning times too. Sacred writing days. The Do Not Disturb sign is up.

 

 

Comments

  1. Miriam says:

    Jenna, thanks for the mention.
    It is all connected isn’t it? I love the effectiveness argument, and sprints. Some of my most efficient and effective days happen when I work on something for about 45 minutes them watch tv or read a book for an hour then work then tv then work then book…I think of it as percolating time.

  2. Hey Jenna,

    Loving the writer’s circle! Got the Henry book, too. Love anything with the world accidental in it. Left a blog on that topic somewhere. Was it here? I’d have to check.

    Anyway, I could never work long hours. It made me crazy. In my entire gov/corporate gig, I think I worked overtime 4 times. My philosophy was not to do it, because once you do bosses come to expect it.

    I don’t really get burned out because I’m a creative juggler. I juggle singing and painting and writing and designing with activism and conversations and face-to-face chats and hoofs in nature.

    Doing one thing has never appealed to me. I guess that’s why I keep learning new karaoke songs. I bore myself if I sing the same song. Juggling all these activities pushes me into new and exciting places.

    g,

  3. Markus says:

    Hi Jenna-
    This is a VERY timely piece for me; I just finished a critical step with a long-held artistic pursuit, and I feel a bit exhausted because there is an undercurrent of anxiety that won’t allow me to take a bit of a breather and re-group/re-charge. The big challenge for me is that I don’t compartmentalize my life very well, and as this article points out, one thing bleeds into the others and creates a general feeling of ineffectiveness. I suppose the most difficult part of pursuing things artistic is that in the past, I’ve done my art in a big push, then backed off completely in an effort to ‘catch up’ financially with my other job; I’ve rarely made anything remotely resembling a living with my art. Now my ‘regular’ job is drying up at a time of year when I am usually pretty busy. I have time to do my art, and just completed a promotion for a calendar of my work that I finished with the help of a great designer late last week. I mailed out sample copies to 35 retailers today. It feels FRIGGIN’ FANTABULOUS to be doing my art, and this is really the first valiant effort I’ve made to create an income from it in awhile. I stuck my neck way out to do it, but feel that even though now seems like a good time to catch my breath I need to keep pushing. NOT a good time to look down, but a GREAT time to look around because I’m at new heights with my artistic endeavors. I can only hope they pay off to some degree before my landlord motions to evict me!
    The suggestions for keeping creativity alive are most welcome and appreciated. It’s good to push the envelope of the comfort zone a bit, but also a good time to recognize that much too often I take life WAY too seriously. I need to remember to play more along the way…

  4. Clare says:

    Hey Jenna

    I’m so glad you wrote about this – it reminds me of what Karla McLaren said about most highly sensitive people and empaths living in a state of low grade exhaustion. Keeping our energy levels up and keeping ourselves motivated and engaged requires giving ourselves permission to work in new ways. For me, this definitely involves working for shorter bursts with frequent breaks and not having such a long work day. I find I am more productive and I can sustain it over the long-term.
    I think it’s so important to remember that as highly sensitive people we get burnt out much quicker than other people because we become so absorbed and devote so much of ourselves to what we are doing, and because we are processing so much sensory information, often at a deep level. Remembering this helps me to give myself permission to take those breaks and work with my flow of energy rather than against it.
    :)
    Clare

  5. Jenna,

    This article could not have come at a better time. I am preparing a presentation for a civic club in my hometown and I decided to talk with them about how to sustain their energy and avoid burnout. Personally, I struggle with the same thing and I find it easy to lose focus and feel spread too thin. I know that my best work is done when I live through my heart and my purpose. This way of living is energizing and not draining. Thank you for all that you contribute!

    Beth

  6. go says:

    Hello i am kavin, its my first occasion to commenting anyplace, when i read this piece of writing i thought i could also make comment
    due to this sensible article.

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