And energy generates energy.
While it might seem to run contrary to the physics law of conservation of energy, we can use this as an emotional and inspirational truism.
Everyone knows the feeling of being sluggish, tired, and having no energy. Then, you go to the gym or for a long hike- and the next day you feel more awake and vibrant despite having expended more energy. Being energetic makes you more energetic. Perhaps it is inertia that keeps you going. Whatever the case, it is a neat little trick that can be used to right a problematic course.
The same holds true for the creative processes. Setting aside an hour to write, make, or design somehow stimulates the flow and suddenly- you could work on the project for many more hours. Creative work generates creative work.
The challenge, more often than not, is actually finding that first hour at all.
What is your productive working capacity?
I have determined that I have a good 40 to 50 hours of productive work in me every week. I’m average that way. Now, I can spend that time doing bookkeeping and writing POs, or I can spend that time doing creative projects that are about the future of the business. But I can’t expect to spend 40 hours doing bookkeeping and tax prep and then magically feel energized enough to also put in an additional 20 hours of creative work. My needs for a balanced lifestyle are too great: time outside of that core working chunk of 40-50 hours needs to be spent exercising, socializing, reading, or going outside.
Of course, sometimes life circumstances happen and we, no matter how much we want to, can’t find that first hour, that any fleck of time, to get into the creative flow and focus on the future. Projects, life-situations, and more occur that require energy to be focused elsewhere.
And it’s easy to forget that there ever was a point in time where things were different, and there was a chunk of 20 or more hours each week available for creative and future-oriented designs.
How do you protect your working time?
One of the most important thing working creative professionals can learn is how to protect their valuable productive hours. Because no matter how diligent and hard working you are, you have a core capacity for productive work. As a creative, those productive hours need to be carefully structured and protected so that they don’t get all eaten up by bookkeeping and business management.
I spent most of the past year working on projects that were tangental to where I really want to go, to what I consider important for my working creative life. Why? In retrospect, it is easy to identify the points where I made, perhaps, the wrong commitment, but there were always good reasons why. They were reasons of the normal sort: family, prior obligations, money, etc.
But there is a opportunity cost- a tradeoff- between time spent fulfilling obligations and time NOT spent working on your real work.
What is the opportunity cost?
Calculating an opportunity cost of time spent on a project – when you are talking about your creative career, your real work– well, it’s not like calculating the opportunity cost of a financial investment, even though it does still have financial impacts. Because, in an economic sense, the opportunity cost is measured in purely financial terms. But in lifestyle and work choices, we need to measure beyond just the financial.
When I look back over the past year, I can see the trajectory of the decisions. I got sick for 3 weeks, something that had never happened before, which led to my feeling behind in work, both creative and otherwise, which made me feel depressed, which made me want to escape, which led to my insistence on going camping each weekend, which made me realize I didn’t want to live in the city any more, which led to buying a cabin, all while working in another state 800 miles away on a project to which I was obligated, but had wildly underestimated the time commitment. By the time the out-of-state project wrapped up, a little over a month ago, I felt so disconnected from my creative self and my actual work that I spent almost three weeks readjusting to a normal pace, before finally having the courage- encouraged by my husband- to recommit to my actual work.
Every time you recommit to your actual work, it feels like exploring a new world. Ah, here I am alone in my studio…or at my desk…and four hours stretch out before me, wide open, ready for cultivation. What discoveries shall I make today???