5 Ways to Find Balance in Productivity

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What are some pairs that don't go well together? Creativity and exams. Productivity and busy work. Deadlines and relaxation.

Yet these same pairs come together all too often in the life of anyone who has a job or attends school and still wants to channel creative pursuits. Putting these pairs together is like assembling furniture with directions in another language: stressful and in need of some clever planning to maneuver through. During the academic year, I am a part-time employee and a full-time student, so I know this feeling all too well: I am constantly asking myself "when will I be able to create again?"

I haven't figured out a foolproof strategy yet, nor do I get to all of the creative projects I would like to had I not decided to be a full-time/part-time anything, but I would like to impart some of the ways that I balance these two halves of my life. Take a moment to assemble some ideas with me about personal vs. school/work productivity.

1. Build up habits. Do you brush your teeth every day? If you do, ask yourself how you learned to do that. It might be difficult to think back on it because stuff like that we do so naturally. And that is exactly what you want to do with your personal creative pursuits. Make it a habit to work a little bit on something or to think about something or to have a specific time where you don't work on your school/work stuff at all, regardless of what else you do. It's not about the amount of work that you do in time, it's just the successful mini-reward of working on something habitually, day by day, and going through the process.

2. Schedule, schedule, schedule. I am not a scheduler myself, I am a to-do lister. But I have gravitated towards a loose general schedule that keeps me on track, even if it's not an hour by hour plan. I think flexibility with your schedule is very important, which seems counterintuitive, but you need to have the thing before you can be flexible with it. Otherwise you're just adrift in whatever makes you feel the most productive at that moment - TV, school work, or anything else that keeps you away from your creative work.

3. Take a vacation from your priorities. I flip this one on its head all the time. I prioritize art and writing over my schoolwork sometimes because I think of it as a positive way to procrastinate. And while that may be true, I still have to finish those midterm papers! So whatever your priorities are, take a moment away from them. Move away from your creative writing to work on something for your job. Move away from your school work to draw a picture. And after a little taste, you can get back to your regularly scheduled activities.

4. Suffuse your school/work with the same love you give your creative pursuits. I adapted this lesson from some wisdom my yoga teacher imparted upon our class: a miserable life is a life that has no purpose, and your purpose is always to create love. But, as she said, if you can't love something right away, try to 'like' it first. Sometimes I don't feel like love is a strong enough emotion for my work; sometimes I feel like I'm bridging on hate because of the stress it creates for me. And that goes for either type of work. You just have to learn to bring in the 'like' or the 'love' even when it's hard - pick one thing that you get out of it that you enjoy and focus on it to get through.

5. Fill up some thought time. There's always thought time, regardless of what work you're doing. I have a lot of thought time in the middle of the night while I'm falling asleep. And when I'm in the zine library reading other peoples' words. I take notes. I let my thoughts go wild and crazy and then compile them on the page. And then I bring them home in my creative work. Magic!

How do you balance school/work with your personal creative or productive needs? Let me know in the comments!
You may also enjoy reading 3 Ways I Beat Writer's Block to a Pulp.