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How to Stay Open to Creative Intuition (But Still Get Stuff Done!)


Question: Do you ever find yourself wanting to get work done, but also want to stay open to those tiny, creative nudges that come along? Do you find yourself struggling to balance deadlines or projects with "free" time to follow your nose and engage with some creative play? We all know that creative play is just as important as hitting deadlines, but how can you actually implement this mindset in your daily life?

An email landed in my inbox recently, asking about exactly this topic – and I wanted to share some quick thoughts here for any creative who likes to stay on task, but doesn’t really jive with a super strict schedule.

With busy lives, it's easy to bounce from task to email, email to task, word doc to open tab, phone screen to family, to do list to task, over and over... (are you getting anxious yet?)

The result can be maddening -- leaving you feeling like you've done everything and nothing at the end of the day! Or perhaps worse, feeling like you have done your duty to your work schedule, but left out the excitement portion of being a creative. You know: the fun stuff -- the play, the creative nudges, the tiny blips of intuitive insight that say 'follow me! I'll lead you somewhere cool!"

In my experience, my creative life and career works best when I can find a balance between staying focused for Actual Deadlines and Following My Nose when cool stuff pulls at me.

I have tried everything in the book as far as time management and creative brainstorming goes. For the most part, I’ve noticed people tend to work in one of two ways: some folks like to set out to do certain tasks in blocks of time, and stick to those blocks until the time is up. Others like to think in terms of the tasks themselves, and chip away at those until they feel their task has reached a point where they can move on (for the moment, at least.)

In both cases, this little trick can help!

I’ve dubbed it ‘bookending’, and it’s a simple way to stay focused on a given task, while still leaving yourself open to shifting priorities, schedules, and (most importantly, to me), intuitive nudges. I get flustered when I jump from task to task without any real focus, but I equally hate feeling like I’m “forcing” myself to do creative work that just isn’t working. 

Here's how it works: you literally "bookend" every task you do. So, every time you start a task, you say the task out loud. When you switch a task, you 'bookend' the previous task, and announce you're moving on this the new task. That's it!

Why does it work so well? There are two reasons. First, you will begin to actually notice the minute your brain loses focus on task #1. This is fantastic, because you can begin to function in a sort of 'working meditation' zone, where you're very aware of your own focus. Yay!

But it's also great because you will soon start to be able to notice your switch in focus, and decide if it's something you want to engage with

Do you see the big deal in this?!

Let's say I'm working on a chapter of a new book. I'll start my task by saying out loud "Now I'm working on this chapter". (You can also write this part down.) This indicates to my brain exactly what I'm doing. I'd continue to work, until, let's say -- I begin getting a random idea about a newsletter topic I'd like to write about. 

This is where the bookending comes in handy: I would notice the shift in focus, and I'd be able to ask myself "Is it worth pausing this chapter, so I can write some some thoughts on this topic?"

By noticing this, I've given myself the chance to check in with both tasks, and evaluate where exactly I'd like to move my attention. Maybe I just need to jot down the idea quickly and move on? Or maybe I want to take some more time and expand on it? To bookend my writing task, I'd now say, "I'm leaving this chapter for now, and am moving onto this newsletter topic."

It's a very simple exercise, but over time, it can help you in so many ways! Being able to see train your focus like this, while not being super strict with your schedule can open a lot of doors, creatively and productively!

This isn’t about forcing yourself to a schedule, rather to allow yourself to do your work, but also be open to those little creative hints and nudges that inevitably come along. Announce out loud every time you’re transitioning to a new task: it’s simple, but can make a big difference!

Give it a shot, and let me know how it works for you!

Take home message:

It's okay to bounce around between tasks, but you want to have actual focus when you're doing them. Bookending can help!

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