Ways Creative People Use Time

by Barbara Martin

in Creativity

Since creativity is not easy to measure, you can’t consistently quantify your daily creative effort beyond the simple question: Did I show up today? Showing up means arriving at the studio or desk or workspace ready and willing to do the work as required. Some days, what is required may be the joyful task of creating easily while in that all absorbing flow state wherein we lose track of time. Or it might consist of doing something restorative to replenish your creative well. And other days, the work required in service to your creativity may be something you find dreadful, be it sorting out the book keeping, or making stomach wrenching phone calls, or writing an artist’s statement.

Everyday Discipline and Passion both Count
The rough days (and also the not so rough days) are when discipline – based on your commitment – comes into play. Your commitment may be rooted in passion, in making meaning, in faith, or in whatever keeps you going. As long as your commitment to reaching the goal is intact, and as long as the end goal is firmly in your sights, then you will theoretically be able to do what it is needed each day to move your work forward.

But we are human beings! Some days, staying motivated, committed and focused on your work may seem too difficult or too uncomfortable. Your goal may be in flux. You may feel the pull of other responsibilities, you may be preoccupied by unrelated issues or difficulties. You may feel uninspired or even discouraged. At times like these, when it seems impossible to do the work, that is when you must draw on your inner resources. You will also need to rely on your personal strategies and tactics, ways you have learned over time to help yourself continue to show up and do the work.

Best Tactics for You?
Each person is different, we are individuals. For some people, a graphic calendar on the wall is an adequate reminder that the work needs to get done now, today. For some people, a “starting work now” ritual with candle and music may be the needed refocuser that serves as a trigger, reminding them that the work still needs to get done now, today. For some of us, sitting bravely in the chair with the tool in hand and making the slightest motions of work will be the warm up needed to eventually jog the mind into fully doing the work for today.

Creative Work Styles and Habits
Sometimes, though, there is a need to consider the underlying “why” behind the reluctance or apparent inability to work. This kind of why can be anything from: you have been working intensely for a long period of time and are due for a break in the routine so you can refill your well and restore your soul, to perhaps you are not sure how well the work will turn out and are reluctant to finish it — fearing you might discover it is not what you had hoped for. Or possibly you prefer to put things off until the time for thought has passed and there is no choice remaining but to plunge forward before time runs out. Maybe you just aren’t sure what to do next and feel overwhelmed.

Every creative person has their own quirks and reasoning, their own working habits, rhythm and style. Quite often, our natural way of working doesn’t mesh with the day to day or work norms in effect all around us. This can become a source of tension in our lives.

In my experience, although we may recognize that we do not have such a terrific grip on time and schedules and due dates and similar measures that seem quite normal to “other people” — even though we may realize this out-of-sync-ness is sometimes a problem beyond mere inconvenience, a problem with serious ramifications, we feel powerless to change our ways or adapt to what is expected. We may rebel against those kinds of expectations, and question them while we refuse to comply.


This, this is a problem: when we decide we are powerless over our time and our commitments and then suffer negative repercussions as a result of that abdication of responsibility. We tell ourselves the time-worn story that we are creative and so this is how we are and it is hopeless to try to change! And then we may blame ourselves and feel guilty, or angry, or upset when things don’t go our way.


Stereotype: Artists are Bad about Time

So goes the stereotype: Woe is the creative person who can’t tell time, be on time, meet a deadline, make their payments, or show up when and where they said they would with the promised work in hand. This is so sadly self-defeating.

It’s a form of self sabotage: We give up before we really even get started!

You CAN Tame Your Time!
I think we can do better than that and we owe it to ourselves to explore ways we can do that for ourselves. I believe we can make some degree of positive change in how we view and use time. We can change enough to accommodate the routine workings of the world around us, while still honoring our own needs as creative people.

And we can do it without following the corporate productivity models that would turn us into little robots who carry stopwatches and daily diary books or wield a clipboard, with a sharp pencil tucked behind their right ear.

In fairness, that too is an extreme stereotype and not very flattering. Sometimes what makes us itch in protest the most is something we really need to pay attention to. It is a clue to pay attention here.

Time Travel to Self Discovery
So can you wonder about and be curious to find out about, what parts of time-conscious living have made you — or currently make you — the most uncomfortable? Where are your biggest difficulties? Which parts do you do pretty well or relatively well, or where have you been able to “conform” to some degree in the past?

In other words, what is your personal style or belief system about time? Where did it come from?

This is the beginning of understanding what you do and why you do it that way, and the more you can notice about yourself, the more you can make informed bets as to how you might possibly be able to adjust your habits with minimal inconvenience and, let’s be honest, as painlessly as possible.

You can also begin to untangle some of your feelings about time and, with more understanding, you will begin to see how it can be used in a way that suits your personal style without becoming yet another means to self sabotage.

Please help me with this Quick Survey.
Only 3 questions – all answers are “right” and it’s totally anonymous. Anyhoo, help me tweak the upcoming posts about time so they’re more helpful for your situation. Thank you so much, I really appreciate your answers to this quick survey on creative people and beliefs about time.

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