I just finished my first month in my new position as tourist guide for the state of West Virginia.* The job is great: I spend my days helping people devise travel itineraries, find unique places to visit, and generally have a memorable trip in the mountain state.
With commute and routine work stuff (lunch packing, clothes pressing, coffee percolating, etc.), I devote about 50 hours a week to my job. While I’m happy to have an enjoyable full-time job (w/ health insurance) in the middle of a recession/depression /reset, I’ve nearly kicked my own ass trying maintain a similar standard of creative output as when I worked freelance + part-time or taught full-time.
To effectively use what creative energy remains to me and to keep producing working, I’ve had to get serious about resting and to make every minute count. Here are 14 strategies I employ to maintain my creative output during a long week. Hopefully you’ll find them as useful as I do.
- Energy begets energy, so do something physical. While you might be utterly exhausted at the end of the day, doing something engaging (rather than zonking out) will signal your brain and body that there’s still work to do. Even a 20-30 minute walk can help with your energy, focus, and concentration.
- Rest your body and mind. Adequate nightly sleep isn’t enough. Short (<30 minute) naps are great; not only do naps restore your energy, they’re also shown to assist in creative thinking and problem-solving. To really maximize napping benefits, try to review your project and any creative problems before you go to sleep.
- Rest actively. Just like active leisure beats the passive kind with a croquet racket, active resting (like napping, meditating, etc.) is more beneficial for your energy levels than an activity that simply diverts your attention; television, for example, or browsing Reddit. You must be deaf to the siren song of an evening with Netflix and the couch.
- Find a way to make the commute suck less. I dislike driving, especially when it’s not earning me money, but here in my neck of Yankton it’s a necessary evil. Over an hour in the rolling death box every day is enough to make a man mad, but a good audiobook makes the time fly by…as well as engages the mind (if you’re interested, I’m listening to George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones [affiliate link]). Since I can’t do anything productive during this time, I can add something to my brain’s compost pile.
- De-stress. Stress is a vampire that feeds on creative energy. Before you start on your creative work, do something to help you de-stress. My suggestions include journaling, mediation, socializing, reading fiction, hiking, gardening, and (actively) listening to music.
- Limit the time you’ll spend on your creative work. You might be tempted to spend all evening on your project, but I think this is counter-productive. If you do this and you’re not relaxed and well-rested, you’ll have a hard time staying focused, getting into flow (link), and doing your best work.
- Say no more often. When you only have a few hours a week, saying yes to too many inconsequential requests will sap your time and energy. Your time and energy are nonrenewable resources. Use your time to make stuff.
- Use caffeine. Caffeine is a wonderful drug. In moderation, it can provide just enough of a boost to help you get into the zone. Just don’t drink too much.
- Keep your notebook with you. Just because you’re away from your workspace doesn’t mean you can’t work on your projects. Throughout the day, you’ll find plenty of 5-15 minute opportunities to add to, elaborate on, or do planning for your project. This saves you the trouble of having to rack your brain later in the evening, trying to remember that thing that seemed so important at the time. Use your notebook like a ninja.
- Be sure your project materials & equipment are set up and ready to go. Don’t waste your prime creative time doing low-level setup and assembly work. Getting started is often the hardest part of any project, (followed by maintaining your momentum) and you want to reduce or eliminate any physical barriers that stand in your way.
- Proactive planning makes life easier. When you have only 1-2 dedicated hours a day to work on a high-value project, you don’t want to spend that time deciding what to actions you need to take to move your project forward. Plan before you sit down to work. I usually figure out how I’ll spend my evening either first thing in the morning or during a break at work. And don’t forget about your weekly review.
- Take a day off, from dusk to dusk, wherein you do absolutely nothing but what you want (this is the day to veg out on the couch with Netflix). No commitments (unless you want). No guilt for not working on your projects. Just sheer, unadulterated laziness.
- Limit yourself that which is intrinsically rewarding. You may not always feel energetic and excited about your work, but if you’re pursuing projects for the wrong reasons, you will burnout. Let’s face it: some things are just more fun and rewarding than others. Working on them is its own reward, and doing so makes you look forward to more . For example, I look forward to spending my time working on fiction, but even thinking about ghostwriting content articles to earn beer money drains me.
- Work harder. Sometimes you’ve just got to push yourself. Nobody said this was easy.
*I forget the exact wording, but in order to stay on the good side of my employer I’m required to say that anything I say or write here in no way reflects the official position of the government of the State of West Virginia and that all opinions are those of the author. And now that I’ve said it once, I shouldn’t need to say it again.
Share with 4800+ monthly readers (and this curious blogger): How do you keep your creative energy levels high when you’re working long hours?
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