Many people often respond with, “I’m not creative, but…” when I share with them that I am a coach for creative entrepreneurs. Maybe you, too, have had doubts about how creative you are in your work. You might look at a designer or artist and wish you were just as creative.
I’m here to tell you we are all creative, and we just need to practice focusing our energy and attention to unlock our creativity.
As a young designer, I was often frustrated when I sat down to create something for a client, and something magical didn’t happen immediately. I would spend a short amount of time going between multiple things, getting frustrated, and finally proclaiming, “I’m no good at this!”
Now, people often assume that creativity comes to me with ease. And while I do fantasize about a reality in which I sit down to create and magic just flows through my fingertips with little to no effort, the truth is that I owe it to my creative self to respect the process. I know that I am responsible for creating the time and space in which I can do my best work for clients and solve the biggest problems with creativity.
Imagine how you could level-up your work with unique creative solutions. Allow me to take you through my process and give you some tips for how you can unlock your creativity using focused sessions.
Step 1: Get It Out of Your Head
In David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, he explains, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” You may have noticed when you sit down to complete a task that your brain doesn’t cooperate sometimes. It brings up all the random thoughts, worries, and to-do items you may have overlooked or that may be overdue.
The best way to overcome this is to do a mind sweep in advance of your focused session. Taking the time to get all the to-dos out of your head and onto paper will free up your mind for the hard work of creating. You may be tempted to use your productivity app of choice, but for this exercise, I recommend good ol’ pen and paper. That way, you can keep this list out of sight, but within reach so if something comes up during creative exploration that you can’t silence, you have paper and pen nearby so you can quickly add it to the list and move on without falling into the trap of being distracted by your device.
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen
Step 2: Be Prepared to Focus
Once you have that initial flurry of thoughts out of your head, please take a moment to take care of any needs, be it a trip to the bathroom, getting a glass of water, or collecting the things you will need to do deep work. Addressing your needs will prevent you from needing to get up during your focused time. Maybe there is a little bit of research you need to do before diving into the creative process. But I urge you to keep this brief; it’s far too easy to use the excuse of needing to research more as a form of procrastination or distraction.
Step 3: Turn Off the Notifications
When getting ready to dive into creating meaningful work, I recommend you turn off all notifications on your devices and put them out of sight. There are a variety of ways you can eliminate or minimize distractions. For me, that means turning off all notifications on my phone and putting it in my bag or another room if possible. If your creative work requires a computer, I recommend finding a way to turn off all notifications on your computer and working in full-screen mode.
Do Not Disturb for iOS (iPhone and iPad)
Do Not Disturb for MacOS
Full-Screen Mode for macOS
Step 4: Forget About Time - It’s Relative
Have you ever found yourself saying things like, “Where did the time go?” or “I don’t have time for that”? In Gay Hendricks’ book, The Big Leap, he explains the difference between Newtonian time and Einstein time. According to Hendricks, Newtonian time is scarce and on a linear path, while Einstein time is fluid and relative.
I have found the theory of time as a malleable thing to be true. When I became a new mother, time breastfeeding my daughter seemed to be endless. And when I got my first postpartum mommy massage, the time seemed to disappear in the blink of an eye. When I made the decision that I had all the time I needed, things changed for me. It changed my relationship with time when I began repeating the mantra of “I have all the time I need” when getting ready to go somewhere, instead of the hurried thought of “I am going to be late.” I do what needs to be done and still arrive on time, if not a little early.
“I have all the time I need.”
So, how do you take advantage of Einstein time during these sessions when you want to accomplish deep focus? I recommend covering up any clocks in your line of sight. The urge to check the time will take you out of the mindset of time abundance and into a state where time feels scarce.
I also recommend setting an alarm to alert you to when it is time to move on to your next commitment. If your brain is focused on minding the time, you won’t free your attention to solve that complex problem. When I sit down to write, my brain is going to try to trick me and say, “But what about that 10 o’clock call? If you don’t check the clock now, you might miss it.” When an alarm is set to signal the end of your creative session, you can squash those distracting “This is urgent!” thoughts and get deeper into the search for that seemingly elusive creative solution. When you make time instead of taking time, you can create a space where your mind can do the most amazing things. It can do the work for which you are uniquely equipped.
Step 5: Mono Over Multi
During this exercise, I want to emphasize the importance of mono-tasking. We’ve all heard of multi-tasking and the mixed theories regarding its usefulness. According to David Rock in Your Brain at Work, multi-tasking, or doing more than one task that requires attention, reduces our mental capability and accuracy. So how do you focus on just one thing during your focused session? Decide in advance which one thing you will focus on during the session and commit to mono-tasking. Every time your mind starts to wander to your laundry list of tasks, gently return your mind to the work at hand. Think of it as creative and productive meditation, but instead of “ommm,” your mantra is the complex problem that you are qualified to solve using your creativity.
“Mindfulness is a habit; it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort …it’s a skill that can be learned.” – David Rock
Be kind to yourself during this process – accessing your focused creative genius doesn’t come easily. It can even be uncomfortable at times. But the more you commit to this practice, the better results you will see. Creative results that are beautifully, uniquely you.
Anna Bitters is a creative business coach who helps innovative entrepreneurs grow their businesses with focus and clarity. Anna’s unique experience as a designer, educator, connector, and technologist allows her to help her clients reach their business growth goals using a dynamic approach with laser focus. Anna is a multi-passionate entrepreneur who lives with her husband and rambunctious toddler in Columbus, OH, and enjoys the beauty and simplicity of stargazing.