The Secret of Unleashing Creativity
creativity khaled allen organization tidiiness warrior spirit
My family can attest to the fact that I was a suspiciously tidy kid. I kept lists of everything I had to do, stuck to my schedule religiously, and did all my schoolwork and chores efficiently.
The result was that I knew what I had to do and what did not have to do. So that my mind could be free to dream and create without constantly worrying about whether or not my other tasks were in order.
Fast forward a few years. In college, my life was a mess. I had no concrete system for doing my homework or keeping track of it. The result was that I my mind was constantly distracted with keeping track of what I had to do.
Add to that the complications of having to feed myself, do my own laundry, keep my living space clean, and all the rest, and there was no free space in my head for my mind to get creative.
I felt myself growing stale, and I didn’t feel like I was contributing anything valuable to the world.
Clearly, figuring out the logistics of our real lives to enable creativity is a very important goal.
Re-Discovering My Creativity Through Tidiness
Now that I have an office job (to the extent you can say that about teaching kids) I’ve had to get organized just to track grades and classwork. I realized immediately that if I left it at record-keeping, I’d very quickly lose track of all the handouts and lesson plans I was making, so I decided to create a system to organize all of those things, too.
When I was done, suddenly, my entire desk was clear, and I had this new and strange feeling that I’d always be able to find anything I needed, without stressing.
And the result of that was that I stopped thinking about where everything was and I stopped stressing.
And lo and behold! I was able to start getting more creative about my lessons and my classes with the kids! Simply by creating a system to organize my work so my mind didn’t have to do it all the time, I was able to inject some creativity into my work.
It occurred to me that this effect might work in other areas of my life, too. So I finally pulled out David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and started organizing my life, my blogs, my writing, my fitness, and my health.
Guess what! It’s working!
With all the logistics of my blogging schedule thought out and planned, my mind is free to focus on the good part: the writing itself!
Everything in the apartment has a place now too, so A and I can focus on making it a home rather than trying to figure out how to live in it. With the kitchen nice and orderly, meals are easier to make, tastier, and less stressful. We’ve been experimenting with more complex dishes, too.
Setting Up Your Mental Space
It seems counterintuitive: to give your mind the ability to be messy and creative, you have to make everything else tidy and neat.
But it makes sense. If you have a craft project, you set up a workspace, clear it out of other things, and gather all your materials so you don’t have to be distracted with those things when you’re actually working.
We should do the same for our minds.
Maybe if you’re the kind of person who can let things go to focus on the creative stuff, you don’t need to do this.
For me, and for most people I know, the mind won’t let itself play unless it is absolutely sure that playing won’t jeopardize working. It won’t venture into unknown territory until it is assured that the home base is in good working order.
If you’ve been feeling a lack of creativity in your life recently, check to see where your mental energy is going. Try freeing up some of that space, either by eliminating commitments, or by making sure you have a good system to know where everything is and how to find it or use it when you need it.
- Label stuff.
- Use folders for your documents.
- Schedule blog posts.
- Get a topic list ahead of time.
- Create an outline of your novel before you try to write it.
- Set up a reliable calendar.
- Tidy up the address book, and consolidate contacts.
Make your system do the work your mind has been trying to do!
A lot of the above actions are also creative in themselves (outlining the novel, eg). The system you use to organize your life can be unique to you, and an outlet for creativity. As you start to get more and more things in their place, you’ll find your mind have room to breathe.
Do everything you can to free your mind from dealing with the nitty-gritty details, so it has the freedom to explore the more meaningful aspects of what make your work unique to you.