Balance, Productivity and Creativity

Mary Allison has a great post up about the tensions and interactions between creativity and productivity. She has let go of her organizational system (temporarily) to help her live more graciously within the hours of each day.

I can really relate to this tension. On the one hand, the busier I am, the greater my output, both creative and otherwise. It seems exponential. My only 4.0 in college came while I was working three jobs on the side.

Of course, I ended up with walking pneumonia by Christmas. So the other side of that is that creativity also needs unstructured time, daydreaming time, inefficient time.

Several months ago, I was in one of those “unproductive” times that was very stimulating creatively. I took an online course in spirituality and creativity that was just for me. I wrote stuff that didn’t have a deadline. I assembled collages and hand-made books. The kids and I cooked up projects.

These days I am in a kicking butt and taking names kind of place. Each day, a new to-do list, nicely organized. Each day, the sigh of satisfaction as I cross things off it. And I am OK with that. It has been right for this time and place. But I can feel the beginnings of a nudge to swing things back the other direction soon.

I don’t spend a lot of time seeking balance, though when I think about it, I think about it in terms of the million little course corrections we make in a day or a life. It’s not one cataclysmic moment. But maybe it’s also true that balance can come amidst wild fluctuations. Philippe Petit held a 28-foot pole when walking between buildings. As a novice I would’ve probably tried to hold it perfectly straight. But that’s not how it’s done. I don’t know for sure, but I bet if you measured the arc length on either end of the pole after a tightrope walk, it would look alarmingly long. But the pole actually makes the person more stable and less likely to fall.

Balance is not about walking perfectly upright. Every time you take a step, you are falling. You catch yourself, you adjust, you go on. With practice, it looks more and more elegant and less clumsy.

And then you try it with your eyes closed, or with an apple on your head.

All of this said, part of making room for creativity for me involves letting some stuff go so there is space. I remember receiving some advice before going to college: namely, that success in college depends on knowing what can remain undone. It is simply not possible to complete every page of assigned reading, finish every homework, attend every study session. So the discernment comes in deciding what we can let slide, what is inessential. Sounds like life.

I still have times in which I convince myself that everything really can get done if I just work hard enough. And I feel guilty for leaving things undone. It’s a terrible mindset. For me, Sabbath is the antidote to that poison, and Sabbath time comes whether we’ve finished everything or not. So how to let go?

As I preached not long ago:

Rather than looking at an unfinished task and seeing something I’ve failed to do, I see instead what that unfinished task represents: namely, something else that’s important that I have done:

For example, when I look at our stack of unread newspapers, I think about the hospital visit I did this week. Or when I see the unanswered e-mail piling up, I think about the trip to Baskin- Robbins I took with the family instead…

How about you? Is balance something you strive for? How do productivity and creativity relate to one another?

And thanks to Mary Allison—the other MA—for some great food for thought.

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2 thoughts on “Balance, Productivity and Creativity

  1. Rachel Heslin says:

    Alas, I have so much clutter (physical and otherwise) in my life right now that it overwhelms my ability to be creative. I can’t remember the last time I wrote something. Even the piano is buried under boxes such that, even those times it calls me, I can’t easily access it.

    Therefore, my focus is on “catching up” — not to the point of some mythical Perfection, but at least so that I can breathe. I think I’ve mentioned before that, when I am connected and present, everything flows like a dance. Haven’t been dancing as much as I’d like, lately. But it’s definitely something I am striving to improve.

    Still, I feel like I’m getting better (although, like all else, it ebbs and flows) at appreciating the grace of moments, small though they may be.

  2. i love this post. it is a much needed reminder to me that by nature, i am someone who goes through both creative and productive spurts. the guilty longing for one spurt while i’m in the other is largely unnecessary, since i have definately honed that old college skill of quickly discerning what can be left undone. perhaps i can begin to experience the guilt as a nudge toward the other, equally valuable part of my nature.

    a friend commented on my post that creativity and productivity ought not to be seen as opposites. i agree that sometimes (and i LOVE those times) creativity and productivity are one and the same. i find it difficult to feel creative while loading the dishwasher. feeling productive while creating alongside my children comes a bit more naturally. anyway, thanks for expanding my thinking a bit on this topic.

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