The need to do more great work drives many creators. More quality and (or) quantity. Or both. Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives.
We have come this far because a few bold innovators and creators chose to create, build, make, do, or start something. In “Body of Work: Finding the Thread that Ties Your Career Together” author Pamela Slim says:
“We are made to create. We feel useful when we create. We release our ‘stuckness’ when we create. We reinvent our lives, tell new stories, and rebuild communities when we create. We reclaim our esteem, our muse, and our hope when we create.”
Prof. Dean Simonton, a psychologist who’s spent many years studying creative productivity, discovered two things about highly creative people.
- They’re woefully bad at knowing when their own work is going to be a hit or a miss
- Their capacity for productivity that makes them original, not their innate talent.
Simonton writes: “On average, creative geniuses aren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers, they simply produce a greater volume of work which gives them more variation and a higher chance of originality.”
Quantity lead you to quality.
But sometimes maximizing your creative output can be a struggle.
Decide what you want to create and why
Purpose is a great motivator. Your “why” can move you to do the impossible.
What do you want to accomplish right now?
You need enough clarity to give yourself a direction.
Clarifying not only your purpose but your direction reinforces your ultimate life purpose. You should have a clear understanding of what you want next month, next quarter or next year.
Napoleon Hill once said “There is one quality that one must possess to win, help and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.
Successful people have a definite sense of direction. They have a clear understanding of what success means to them. Everything they do is consistent with their goals. They look forward and decide where they want to be. Their day to day actions helps them move closer to their vision.
Once you find your why, you will be more careful and selective about your daily actions. Knowing your why is an important first step in figuring out how to achieve the goals that excite you.
The titans of creativity pursued the one thing that brought out the best in them. They defined their direction in early in life.
Thomas Edison held over a thousand patents in his name.
Picasso made 50,000 works of art in his life.
Mozart composed over 600 pieces in his lifetime.
Charles Schulz drew his iconic Peanuts comic strips for 50 years. He made 17,897 Charlie Brown strips before he died.
Create first, judge later
If you are striving to be prolific, forget judgement. Forget perfection.
Stop judging your work. Nothing kills creativity faster than comparing your work to someone else’s. Your job is not to judge your work. Your job is to put it out there. To see what will become of it. Give your creativity every chance of survival.
Don’t fuss over details as you move forward. What matters is that you get something done. Every day if you have to.
The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists. It rewards people who get things done. Give yourself time in your life to wonder what’s possible and to make even the slightest moves in that direction.
You will screw up in the process but it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up for making a mistake or making a wrong choice. It will only lead to self destructive behavior.
Ed Catmull says, don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share ideas with others. He recommends you show early and show often. In his book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, he writes:
“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”
It’s okay to screw up as long as you are willing to try again. Non- comformists and originals screw up a lot. But they move on, knowing that at some point, the breakthrough will happen.
Creativity flourishes when you don’t seek perfection but focus on getting stuff done. Creating is the result of thinking like walking. Left foot, problem. Right foot, solution. Repeat until you arrive.
Find your flow
Have you ever completely lost yourself in a task, so that the world around you disappears? You lose track of time and are completely caught up in what you’re doing.
That’s the popular concept of Flow, and it’s an important ingredient to doing work and loving what you do. It’s in this state that we do our best, most efficient work effortlessly.
In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.
Achieving flow is often referred to as being in the zone!
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist who has studied the relationship between attention and work, has written extensively about Flow. Mihaly enourages us to muster enough energy to do what we know we should do. In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi writes:
“Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times — although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.
Uninterrupted creative process is the key to great work. Many creatives resist the idea of systems and structure. But you need to commit to a process, routine or system that works for you. Do more of what works for you.
Start and maintain a creative routine
Chances are you already know whether you’re a morning person or a night person. Morning larks and night owls have very different opinions on the best time of day to do important tasks.
If you pay attention to your body’s response to work for a period of time, you will be able to find out what works best for you and when you are more likely to be creative.
You are most active in the morning, hence your ability to concentrate, focus and get challenging tasks done. Your body is at a perfect physiological state (being well rested and recovered from previous day’s work) for optimum performance. Many people believe that morning is the best time to create.
Mason Currey writes, in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work:
“A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”
“But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.”
Benjamin Franklin, once advocated for a lark lifestyle in a famous saying: “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Charles Dickens was a morning person. He finished his writing by 2:00pm each day.
Barack Obama, on the other hand chooses to stay up reading past midnight despite his incredibly long days.
Experiment and find out what works best for you and stick to it. And when you find the best system for your creative work, do everything in your power to protect it from interruptions and distractions.
Consistency trumps everything
To succeed in anything you put your mind to, build a system that makes it easy to stay consistent.
Jim Rohn said “Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.”
Defining your direction as early as possible is the most important decision in sport, and everybody knows it. But, curiously enough, this is also the most important decision in life in general, but much fewer people realize it.
In order to get what you want, you have to choose one direction and move towards it, constantly improving over a prolonged period of time.
As Anders Ericsson, author of “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” notes, “Elite performers in many diverse domains have been found to practice, on the average, roughly the same amount every day, including weekends.”
More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance.
John Maxwell said: “Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”
In order to reach big goals you need time, during which you must continue moving in your chosen direction.
Commit to doing a little, often. When you do, you’ll never be daunted by the size or scale of a creative project again.
Be deliberate. Be consistent.
You can’t be consistent accidentally. It has to be a deliberate choice you make, every day. Deliberate consistency doesn’t feel good because it’s hard work and requires discipline.
It’s about knowing where you want to be, and creating habits, behaviours and actions that will support you in getting there. Then doing or being them as often as you can, intentionally and deliberately. Over time your deliberate and intentional consistency will become natural consistency.
The shift from deliberate to natural is powerful and transformational.
Consistency and a series of purposeful actions will transform the way you work and hone in your chosen craft.
When you find your flow, you will be so prolific, they can’t ignore you.