Creatives: How To Protect Your Mental Space

Too many creative people waste energy, motivation, and attitude on things that don’t matter. As a result, when it’s time for big ideas, they come up empty – like trying to start an automobile race on an empty gas tank. “White space” matters in design (the idea that too much clutter overwhelms the viewer) and it’s the same in our personal and professional lives. So in order to save your creative jet fuel for when it’s needed, here’s a few things to remember:

1) Avoid energy vampires: Every office has a person who loves to walk in, plop down in the chair, and just talk. These folks aren’t interested in anything in particular, and certainly not interested in accomplishing work – they just want to waste time. You know them, so start avoiding them. Nothing sucks the life out of you faster than energy vampires.

2) Cut back on email: I know you’ve heard this before, but when you respond to email, it deludes you into thinking you’ve actually accomplished something. In fact, if you spend your day answering email, you’re actually spending your day responding to other people’s priorities. Respond only when you have to, and make those emails short and sweet. The most important rule? Stop cc’ing people who aren’t part of the conversation. That only solicits a ton of responses from people you don’t need to hear from. Save the cc for when it really matters.

3) Avoid meetings: Do you really need them? Research indicates that most meetings are a waste of time. First of all, question the need for the meeting, and if it’s being called by a superior, ask if you really need to be there. If not, skip it and do some work. Also – if you call a meeting, only invite necessary people. More than a handful of people becomes difficult,  unwieldy, and wildly unproductive.

4) Stop rushing: Most creative people schedule meetings and appointments with very little down time in-between. As a result, they rush from one thing to another and end up tense and overwhelmed. Give yourself some margin, and pad the schedule. Having an extra 30 minutes between meetings, conference calls, and other activities allows you to catch up, reflect, and plan.

5) Finally – Guard your creative time: Don’t just assume you’ll have time to write that script, fix the artwork, or make the final video edit. Block it out on your calendar. Otherwise, when you really need it, something will come up.

Priorities matterespecially when it comes to creative leaders. If you don’t get intentional about your own time, other people will fill it up with their projects and priorities.

I’d love to know if you’ve discovered other effective ways to protect your mental and creative space…

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  1. Vital wisdom all, Phil. Great work as always.

    One thing I find helpful is to ‘retreat’ sometime during the week. Once, twice, three times….Go into a silent place where you can clear the mental clutter, escape from all the distractions of life and just be silent for a period of time. No radio, iPod, or smartphone interactions. Darken the room a bit or go sit on a tree stump in a forested area; anything to settle down and reset your internal mental/physical thermostat.

    Some call this meditation, some prayer and others ‘centering’. Whatever we call it, the discipline of being still does wonders for creativity and our entire well being.

  2. This is so true. I have been fighting these 5 issues for the last couple of years. The problem I find in the non-profit sector is that we never have enough people to do all the work so many extra things get dropped on you.

    A few years ago I made a conscious decision I would just not do all the extras. And people keep complaining at me because they are not done. But I’m not going to kill myself trying!

    Everybody else has different priorities. It’s important to find your own. Do them and if other things don’t get done then so be it!

    1. Well said Richard. Beyond a certain point, all those extra activities stop yielding results. Even with a small team and budget, it’s still important to prioritize and FOCUS.
      Thanks for the note!

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