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Planning to allow Creativity – David MacCrae

The drive for creative expression is one of our most innate drives;

The drive for creative expression is one of our most innate drives; we were creating things before we could walk or talk. We were making coloured scribbles, we were playing with our food, we were dreaming. Creativity is not just about art or design. Creativity is vital in business. You need creativity to start a business and creativity in your marketing. You need to be creative when you encounter problems and difficult decisions. I believe we leave a legacy in this world by what we create. Your business, if you have one or are starting one, is your opportunity to leave a legacy, if you are able to fully express your creativity.

Many people fall for the myth that they are not creative. That creativity is something we are born with, or not born with. This is simply not the case. Any neural connection in our minds can be trained and developed with consistent practice. We have to set the intention to be creative, just like everything else.

My life is all about creation, and believe it or not yours is too. What you wear, where you live, and who you interact with all have creative opportunities in them, if you seek out those opportunities. To do so requires conscious thought, and one of the killers of creativity is distraction and a lack of planning. We create creativity by setting our priorities at the beginning of the day, using one of my favourite tools, Brendon Burchard’s one-page productivity planner.

One Page Productivity Planner

The planner is created by taking a page, and dividing it into three parts. The top third is called Projects. Take some time to think about the projects that are really going to move your business forward. Is social media and emails a vital task, or procrastination from more important activities?

If you only had time to do three things today, what would those things be? Write down these projects and up to five steps for each that are going to move you closer towards completion. You should block out as much time as possible that day to work on these projects.
The next section is People. Here you write two lists of people, the five top people you need to reach out to in order to make something happen, and the five people you are waiting to hear an important reply from. These people gain top priority for email and phone calls. When it comes to being creative, also consider the value of shared minds. Who can you meet to get the brain juices flowing? Remember that teaching, mentoring and coaching can also be a valuable way to gain inspiration and insight for your own work.

The final sections is Priorities. You look at the projects and people you want to connect with today, and you decide what tasks you absolutely want to complete by the end of the day. You write these down in your priorities. This keeps you accountable and focused. Having a time constraint is a great method to get us into a flow state (see tip 3 below).

The Pomodoro Method

I combine this strategy with the Pomodoro Method. The Pomodoro method involves taking an hour and splitting it into a set work time and set break time. Some people do 20/10/20/10. Others do 45/15, using 45 minutes for creative tasks, and the 15 minutes for “productive procrastination” such as doing invoices and printing documents. I personally prefer 50/10. Each work block is called a Pomodoro block, where you focus on ONE task. So no email and social tabs open, no television in the background, your phone on silent. If you work in an office environment where people constantly distract you, take steps to isolate these distractions? Maybe that’s enforced office hours, putting your headphones in or taking the phone off the hook. With these distractions neutralised as much as is viable, you then focus on that one task until the work block is complete, or the task is complete.

If you need to send emails, if you need to contact the five people you want to reach, and check to see if you’ve got responses from the people you’re waiting on, then of course you go into your inbox to do this. But you set aside a pomodoro block in which to do so. I want you to think of your email inbox like a military operation, you go in and avoid all the shrapnel and flak of spammy emails, memes and never-ending threads. You have a set of objectives to complete. You go in, complete them, then take a tactical retreat out of there and close the inbox. Then you can focus on some meaningful, creative work.

Flow States

When we are able to focus our attention on the creative process, we enter a special psychological state called “flow”. If you play sport, or a music instrument, or do art or writing, you may recognise the flow state. In sports it’s called “being in the zone”, where you are so engrossed in that one activity that you lose all perception of time, fatigue, hunger, thirst. Many people experience it when they have an interesting and engaging conversation, where “the time just seems to fly by”. Being engaged in meaningful work is one of the best stimuli for flow states, and you may recognise this utter engrossment on a recent project. This is the flow state, and it’s where optimal creativity happens.

In sports it’s called “being in the zone”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who has the honour of being the hardest name to pronounce in psychology!) is the pioneering researcher into flow states. His research has found that the frequency and intensity of flow states are a vital predictor of happiness, as they increase our sense of engagement and meaning with our work. He discovered that we enter flow right on the threshold of our skill level. If the activity is too easy for us, we aren’t fully taxed or stimulated, so don’t enter flow. If it’s too hard we get anxious and stressed, so don’t enter flow. Research has suggested a rule of 4% here, whereby a challenge that is 1-4% above our skill level is optimal for creating flow.

Now this can be a hard number to gauge, how do we determine what is 101% of our skill level in something? However, there are three criteria that we can use to help direct us into a state of flow. These are:

  1. Having clear goals throughout the process
  2. Clear and immediate feedback
  3. Belief in one’s ability to complete the task (skill/challenge balance)

Creativity is not just about art or design.

This is why musicians get into flow so frequently. They have clear goals throughout the process, for example finishing each verse of the piece and get immediate and clear feedback, they either play the note right, or wrong. They can also match that skill and challenge, choosing pieces that match their level of playing ability.

So you have to find a process that is challenging, but has clear goals and feedback that allow you to constantly monitor the challenge. If you achieve the goals too quickly or easily, you aren’t in flow. If you aren’t getting consistent feedback, it will be hard to enter and maintain flow.

When you take this time to plan and schedule your work, you create the conditions suitable for improved creativity. Distraction is one of the biggest enemies of creativity, and introducing these simple strategies can help reduce distraction so that you can focus on what you are passionate about: growing your business and creating a life you love.

The donkey can motivate itself

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