How to free up time to enhance mindfulness and creativity

David McCrae | 18th October 2016

The drive for creative expression is one of our most innate processes – we were creating things before we could walk or talk. We were making coloured scribbles, creating new worlds with our imaginations and dreaming of creative and unworldly things.

Creativity is not just about art or design. When we choose what clothes we want to wear, we are being creative. When we are buying furniture for our home, we are being creative. When we write an email, we are being creative. We leave a legacy in this world by what we have created- If we do not live creatively, then we do not live fully.

My life is all about creation, and believe it or not yours is too. What you wear, where you live, and who you interact with all have creative opportunities within them – you just have to seek them out.

I have outlined 3 ways we can prioritise our daily tasks in order to free up more time to enhance creativity.

One-Page Productivity Planner

This method was created by Brendon Burchord and involves taking a page and dividing it into three separate parts. Heading the page is Projects – here you write down all the projects you are currently working on. You then highlight the five most important steps that will inclemently move you closer towards completing your goal. You pick one project to work on at a time.

The next section is People. Here you write two lists of the people who must gain top priority for all of your communications:

  • The five top people you need to reach out to in order to make something happen.
  • The five top people you are waiting to hear from in order to make progress..

The final section highlights your Priorities. In this section you assess everything that must be finished today – paying particular attention to the projects and people you want to connect with, and the tasks that must be finished. By clearly listing these tasks it will help you to remain focused and accountable for everything that must be done.

The Pomodoro Method

I combine this strategy with a second one called the Pomodoro Method. This method involves taking an hour of your time, and segmenting it into both work and break schedules. Typically, people who use this approach will divide their time into blocks of 20 on/10 off /20 on/10 off – personally I prefer 50 on/10 off. Personalisation is a key factor to your success with this method, so design a schedule that will enhance your productivity.

Each work block is called a Pomodoro block, and within it you focus on one task, until you have completely finished it. This means you can’t have you email or social tabs open, background TV is a no-go and most importantly you will have to put your phone on silent!

You need to access your emails to contact the five top people you need to reach out to, or to check if you have any responses from the five top people you are waiting to hear from. In order to tackle this effectively, you can set aside a Pomodoro block that tasks you with checking important communications and responding appropriately. By treating your email inbox as you would a military operation, you will free up more time for creativity. So get in there, avoid all the shrapnel of spammy emails and flak of memes and never-ending threads. You have been given a clear set of objectives, so get the job done, then take a tactical retreat out of there and close your inbox.

Flow States

Do you play any sports or a musical instrument? Do you have a passion for writing, drawing or performing? If so you will likely have been in a flow state.

In the sporting world it is commonly known as “being in the zone.” This is where you are so engrossed in that one activity that you lose all perception of time, fatigue, hunger and thirst – this is where your optimal creativity happens.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who has the honour of owning the hardest name to pronounce in psychology) is the pioneering researcher into flow states. His research has found that the frequency and intensity of flow states are a vital predictor of happiness, as they increase our sense of engagement and meaning with our work – leading to an improvement in creativity.

He discovered that we enter flow right on the threshold of our skill level. If the activity is too easy for us, we aren’t fully taxed or stimulated, so don’t enter flow. If it’s too hard we get anxious and stressed, so don’t enter flow. Research has suggested a rule of 4% here, whereby a challenge that is 1-4% above our skill level is optimal for generating flow and entering a state where our creativity will be significantly enhanced.

Now this can be a hard number to gauge, how do we determine what is 101% of our skill level in something? However, there are three criteria that we can use to help direct us into a state of flow. These are:

  • Having clear goals throughout the process.
  • Clear and immediate feedback.
  • Belief in one’s ability to complete the task.

This is why musicians get into flow so frequently. They have clear goals throughout the process, for example, finishing each verse of the piece. They get immediate and clear feedback, they either play the note right, or wrong. They can also match that skill and challenge, choosing pieces that match their level of playing ability.

To fully utilise this approach, you must find a process that is challenging, but has clear goals and feedback that will allow you to constantly monitor your progress. If you achieve the goals too quickly or easily, you aren’t in flow. If you aren’t getting consistent feedback, it will be hard to enter and maintain flow – so this will affect your chances of reaching optimal creativity.

By setting aside time to list the daily intentions that directly apply to your line of work or creative craft each morning – you will enhance your creativity and free up your schedule in the process. When are you going to practice your musical instrument? Who do you need to contact to secure that meeting? When are you going to write that poem?  

I want you to remember that you are the creator of your life – your work, your play, your behaviour, your thoughts, your happiness and even the time you set aside in which to be creative are all in your control. So go out and create the world you want to live in.