Finding the crucial balance for creativity

Creative insights come as a result of a delicate balance of focus.

Your brain must be focused enough on the task at hand to make progress, but also have enough space from the work in order for new connections and valuable insights to occur. Fortunately we know exactly what affects our ability to focus while still having creative insights occur.

Our level of energy, our motivation, our natural curiosity around the work, our resourcefulness, all impact and drive our creative balance.

Finding that balance is what separates the creative greats from the average Joe down the block.

While the amateur creative struggles to find a balance between overwhelming exhaustion and unproductive drive, the professional simply works hard enough over years to know exactly where his or her balancing is at best.

The professional knows when they need a full night of sleep versus when they can risk an all-nighter to produce their creative work. The amateur has to take a gamble and learn from the experience.

Unfortunately the balance that creativity requires is unique for every one of us. It’s not something you can read about online or in a book and instantly understand. Nobody can tell you when you need more energy or when you need to rough it out. You can’t be told when you need to be more resourceful or when you need bigger or better tools.

You have to figure it out on your own.

The good news is that it’s fairly easy to find your own balance by doing creative work, experimenting, and being mindful of what drives you and what makes you feel unbalanced.

If you haven’t been paying attention to when you’re at your best or when you’re at your worst, today is a good time to start.

If you have an iPhone, here’s one way to do just that.

Photo by Heiko Brinkmann.

Quality work is a result of balance

There isn’t a person who can create quality work non-stop. I assure you it’s impossible.

Maybe consistently, but not non-stop.

The artist who puts out a dozen drawings every week has to sacrifice a lot in order to find the time not only to do the work, but to think about it too. She sacrifices her sleep schedule, a social life, and – more importantly for our intents – future quality.

Yes, a sculptor could build a thousand unique pieces in a month, but they sacrifice quality and consistency in their style as a result too.

On the other hand is the creative who balances everything non-creative (going out to the bar or to a movie, visiting museums, lazily watching television during a weeknight), with their creative work.

The person who balances their creativity with rest, or by stepping away from the work to do some other activity, is going to be rewarded with an intense quality in their work.

It’s not complicated to explain why this is the case.

When we dedicate ourselves solely to repetitively doing the task at hand – painting, drawing, dancing, writing, performing – we don’t give ourselves time to reflect, to contemplate where we could improve, to ask: “What could be next?”

This is true both of our creative potential as it is for our neurological well-being, as scientists have recently discovered more evidence that indicates sleep helps replenish brain cells.

But if you’re constantly slaving away at the work, day-in and day-out, when will you have time to replenish your ideas? To evaluate what you’ve done?

In the end, creating 1,000 works can end up producing one good one, but only if you’re taking the time to step back and look at the 999 that came before.

This type of advice can seem counterintuitive or even hypocritical, but it’s not. All it comes down to is balancing the amount of work you do with the amount of time you step back from it to think on it.

It’s not a matter of balancing laziness or procrastination, it’s a matter of balancing the action with the rest.