The best way to create more?
Plan less.

Reads a little like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? And yet, when it comes to our space: brain-, calendar-, and personal-, space less is more, but fast becoming extinct.

‘Busy’ has pretty much replaced ‘good’ as the meaningless answer to the standard greeting of “hey, how are you?”.
The FOMO driven attitude on the street is: ‘If you’re not busy, are you really living?’, and we as a society seemingly revel in the fact that we’re busy all the time, and if you’re not? Well, you are either not optimizing your time well or you’re boring.

According to my calendar, I'm definitely both. My pre-planned social engagements are minimal, and while my to-do list is rarely shy of 10 or more items; For every one I knock off the list two are added.

So, more often than not, when it comes to creating creative content I either don’t have the time when I’m inspired, or I’m not inspired when I have the time.

Based on a ‘challenge’ of sorts I decided to do some research on the following:
The inability to create (in whatever form) due to lack of “brain space” vs just a lack of calendar space.

Brain space vs. calendar space

As it turns out, they’re connected.
“We can directly measure mental capacity or, as we call it, bandwidth. We can measure fluid intelligence, a key resource that affects how we process information and make decisions. We can measure executive control, a key resource that affects how impulsively we behave. And we find that scarcity reduces all of these components of bandwidth—it makes us less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled. And the effects are large.” Researchers and authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir explain in their book Scarcity: The New Science Of Having Less And How It Defines Our Lives.

We need white blocks in our google calendar; Our creativity and IQ literally depend on it!

Studies have shown that poverty directly affects IQ, on average lowering an individual’s cognitive function by as much as 13 points- The equivalent to losing an entire night of sleep, which has the same effect as having a blood alcohol level of 0.1, a.k.a. legally drunk.

Scarcity

In their book Mullainathan and Shafir also explain how, in this case, poor doesn’t relate only to monetary value but poor in any area can result in a reduction of mental capacity:
“When we think of the poor, we naturally think of a shortage of money. When we think of the busy, or the lonely, we think of a shortage of time, or of friends. But our results suggest that scarcity of all varieties also leads to a shortage of bandwidth. And because bandwidth affects all aspects of behaviour, this shortage has consequences.”

Which means this self-imposed busyness is not only causing illness by constantly pumping our bodies with cortisol and adrenaline, but is collectively decreasing our intelligence and making us less creative. And yet, we can’t seem to let it go. It defines us, giving us a false sense of importance. If we’re constantly busy, then we’re desired. Needed.

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day … I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.” – Tim Kreider

White Space

We have managed to inextricably intertwine our identities and our value with our busyness, while simultaneously becoming ever more afraid to face the parts of ourselves we’ve left, or maybe even hidden, in the abyss of nothingness. The thought agitates me. As I lay in my backyard watching the light play on the leaves of the trees, I reflect on how much I hate being busy. It makes me feel claustrophobic, and sluggish.
I, creatively, professionally and personally thrive off this time of nothing, this freedom to lay in the grass for 45 minutes and daydream, allowing my mind to travel through the deepest depths of my soul and out into the entire universe, and finally when it gets tired of exploring, to come back to earth and settle down into quiet observation.

When it comes to creative expression and productivity Jocelyn K. Glei puts it brilliantly when she says:
“In design, “white space” is negative space. It’s not blank space because it has a purpose. It is balancing the rest of the design by throwing what is on the page (or the screen) into relief. The white space helps focus your visual attention.
Now let’s expand this concept of white space beyond the world of graphic design. What if you analyzed your daily schedule with an eye toward design? Have your preserved enough “white space” within your daily workflow? Or does the way that you design your day look extremely busy and cluttered?”

Once we’ve allowed for that space, the way you design your structured time will also influence your output, creative or otherwise.

But that's another story for next week.

Ask Yourself

For now, take a couple moments to ask yourself and reflect on the following:

  • Is there a balance between the amount of scheduled time and the amount of "white space".
  • Do I allow myself to just 'be' without feeling guilty about wasting time?
    No expectations, no input, but just allow for whatever I'm inspired to do or create?
  • Is my identity and/or my feeling of value linked to how busy I am at any given moment?
  • Am I afraid of what might come up in the absence of being "busy"? What I might have to face internally when my mind is given the space to look inside?
  • Am I living in scarcity with regards to my time?
  • Is this feeling of being poor (in time, or otherwise) causing me to make unwise decisions and perpetuating the cycle scarcity in other areas of my life?
  • What small changes can I make starting today, that will allow for a better balance in my daily or weekly schedule, resulting in a healthier body and mind?

I know I'll definitely be creating more time for cloud watching, tree gazing, people watching, star gazing, wave watching; Really any type of staring into the distance activity which allows my mind to wander, returning to teach me from its discoveries when it's ready. =)

If you've been inspired try filling out your impossible list. Taking a moment to reflect and discover that the dreams you’ve always thought were out of reach are not as Impossible as they might seem. Especially when you've found your balance and your tribe!

Jara Dekker

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