The time you spend away from your task still qualifies as work. That includes doing the dishes, running errands, and taking care of the kids—whatever responsibilities you think to impede your central occupation contribute to its success.
British novelist Jon McGregor gives a good example of how he manages his writing despite making time for everything from Tweeting to taking care of his children.
“I rarely manage a whole unbroken day at the desk. And it can be frustrating, sometimes. Once or twice a year I manage to get away somewhere and live like a hermit for a week, eating and sleeping next to a desk and talking to no one and getting a lot of work done. Imagine if I could work like that all the time, I think, then. Think how productive I’d be! But if my life was always like that, I suspect I’d have very little to write about.”
Locking yourself away in isolation is a forlorn attempt to escape all that matters. Patterns can backfire, especially when it comes to creativity which thrives on observation and sudden randomness.
There is a time for everything
While productivity can be messy, time away from work is not squandered time. Instead, it is spent accumulating experiences and visualizing how the ideas you’re chewing on will all come to focus when you sit down in and commit to the day ahead.
The discipline of work is just as necessary as the chaotic daily tasks of life. In fact, the best things in life often disrupt it, forcing you to rethink priorities and see how it all connects.
Finally a new year, with more conviction this time.
Writes Gary Lachlan in The Caretakers of the Cosmos: “Without goals, without some purposeful anticipation, we live, Frankl said, only a ‘provisional existence’, a kind of marking time which is really a death in life.”
In the game of goal setting, all beliefs are gambles.
If you knew how your life would end up, would you want to know?
Some of us want to skip to the finish line, fast-forward to the end of our own movie. Some of want to follow the herd and loop around the racetrack in predictable mediocrity because it feels safe. Others prefer to embrace life’s uncertainty with healthy doses of optimism and doubt.
We already know what calls us. Vocation chooses us; we must follow that instinct and see it where it leads.
Patience is a means to progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor should we skip it to run to Paris. Life ebbs and flows, like a sine wave.
Fragility and ignorance are strengths; they ensure we don’t skip any steps along the way. As John Berger wrote, “You can plan events, but if they go according to your plan they are not events.”
Like a planted seed, we are stuck in the roots of imagination with everywhere to go. The maze, frustratingly fascinating, goads a search for meaning. Lost and found is precisely the point.
Try as you may, but the world won’t bend to your preferences. You can’t slow down the pace of technology and revert to a world of analog.
The tide of AI is coming faster than you think; you will have to use your unique human creativity and abstract thinking to work with robots at your disposal. People will be managers of the future, coming up with ideas that the machines will execute on their behalf.
Society may put more trust in machines than individuals over time, but it’ll be short-lasting. Faith tempts to fizzle amid the ascendancy of cyborgs.
As B.F. Skinner wrote in 1969: “The real question is not whether machines think but whether men do.”
Right now humans write the future, for better and for worse, a kind of blissful tragedy.
When everyone and everything are conscious automata, no one will be quite sure what faith even is. Reckless, the candle burns at both ends.
“My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.”
Like the cubicle before it, which intended to be the ‘action office’ and instead resembled prisons where no one ran into each other, the open floor layout encourages serendipity but has come to resemble a chaotic classroom. External conversations crimp the thinking voice inside a person’s head.
Focus is already scarce in a digital world. Deep work needs time to bloom. Perhaps that’s why working from home is still the best option of all.
Creativity isn’t a faucet; you can’t just turn it on at a moment’s notice and expect genius to flow out.
So what should you do in a creative rut?
The comedian Aziz Ansari takes the lack of inspiration as a sign to do nothing at all.
“I’m not gonna make stuff just for the sake of making stuff. I want to make stuff ’cause I’m inspired. Right now I don’t really feel inspired.”
Creativity comes in waves; it ebbs and flows but finds its way back to people that are “open to detours.” Taking a walk or going on travel never fail to reignite the curious mind.
However, some artists like painter Chuck Close and writer Steven Pressfield encourage their colleagues to get to work daily. Said Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Making stuff is a habit; whether you’re having a good or bad day, feeling inspired or out of gas, there’s no excuse not to sit your ass down and get to work.
Everything is practice.
Whether you let creativity happen or you force it out, keep the faucet on so it can at least drip. All creative slumps are merely temporary.
Everyone waits for the web to come to them. Such passiveness means that humans leave their decision-making up to algorithms. But don’t hide behind the machines; look yourself in the eyes as you would others and pick yourself to succeed.
The internet could save you feeling stuck. It liberates the amateur photographer or writer from holding back on their interests and tastes and instead encourages them to show the world their art. The barrier between consumer and maker is thinner than ever.
Don’t wait for the internet to come to you. Use it proactively to stumble into new worlds that inspire you to recast what you think you already know. Experiment with its distribution and feedback.
The internet is a tool you use to make stuff. Just as code changes, you too can sense patterns and update your skill set through trial and error. There’s no reason to shy away from individual oddities; feel free to trespass your fear by getting some skin in the game too.
We are distractible, drawn away from our mental orbit into the wrath of flying tweets and other snackable debris.
We need reminders to sustain our attention: sticky notes, to-do lists, meditations, and positive mantras. As Simon Critchley writes in his 2015 Memory Theatre novel:
Memory is repetition. Sure. But it is repetition with a difference. It is not recitation. It is repetition that creates a felt variation in the way things appear. Repetition is what makes possible novelty. This is what Mark E. Smith meant. Memory needs to be imagintion. (Location 684)
There’s no sticktoitiveness without a magnetic force staged to prompt us along. We must surround ourselves with priorities and push.