What to do when there’s no time for creativity

Every morning it seems as though a hundred things are clawing for my attention. Maybe you can relate to the feeling.

When I first wake up there are emails which have piled up during the night, dozens of notifications on social media, and the increasingly heavy pressure to start the day and get to work.

By the time I’ve made it into the office the list of things that need my attention feels entirely endless. There never really feels like I have time to be creative. I rarely feel like I can push all the distractions off long enough to really think.

My team needs me to solve a problem that bubbled up yesterday, my boss needs help with something urgent, and if I don’t get the work done today I know it will be there tomorrow in addition to even more stuff. My relationships need attention too. An old friend is in town and wants to plan dinner, my family keeps calling, I need to schedule a vet visit for my dog.

When it comes down to it: the reality is there will always be something to get in the way of creativity.

It should come as no real surprise: creative thinking is often viewed as secondary because it’s akin to play, experimentation, and change. Who has time for play and experimentation when there’s very real work sitting in front of them? Why try changing anything if things are working reasonably enough?

This is one myth around creative thinking we must break: if you don’t make time for creativity, it won’t happen.

Those who regularly practice creativity do so intentionally. They make creativity part of their routine, they regularly find excuses to experiment and play, and they schedule time for reflection and creative self-fulfillment.

If there’s no time for creativity, it’s because you haven’t made time for it. No excuse.

If you want to make more time for creativity, I recommend trying three things:

1. Make creativity an intentional act first thing in the morning.

Wake up 30 minutes to an hour or more earlier than usual. Set aside that time for writing, painting, meditation, a mindful walk around the neighborhood, anything that encourages creative thought.

By getting it out of the way, first thing in the day, you limit the potential for distractions. Starting your day with a creative intent also helps set your mentality for the rest of the day.

2. Embed creativity into anything you can get away with.

If you’re having trouble finding the time to be creative, try incorporating a little creativity into everything you’re already doing.

How might you make your work a bit different? What would happen if you took a different route to wherever it is you need to go? Who could you pull into brainstorming that you normally wouldn’t? Where could you try adjusting your environment or tools, just to see what happens?

3. Schedule time for yourself.

If you regularly find it difficult to find time for creativity, set aside small chunks of time throughout the day as dedicated creative thinking blocks.

You can use the time to challenge yourself, to produce creative work, or as a means of simply thinking and allowing yourself space to ruminate on ideas.

If you want more advice on how to be creative with little time or low energy, consider these tips from Michael Nobbs, who lives every day with Myalgic Encephalopathy/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.