For me it has always been easier to edit than create. A blank piece of paper, or a blank screen, has been one of the most intimidating things I face – whether it is a proposal, a newsletter, a blog, or a report. I frequently ‘get stuck’ when faced with it. My response is usually to procrastinate, until I can’t anymore, and then harness the last minute pressure to push through and deliver the document. I would guess that I am not alone as one of my colleagues even has a name for this – ‘The Blank Page Syndrome’. Additionally, I would put on some music, or have the TV or radio in the background, hoping for inspiration and creativity – but not being particularly effective.
This put me in an awkward, at best, place. Albert Einstein said “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.” Much of my work involves evaluating problems and coming up with innovative, sustainable solutions. I am not doing my best work, or providing the best service, if my creativity isn’t at full force. But what has been hindering my creativity?
Early in my career I worked on Industrial Health & Safety issues in a manufacturing environment. One of our monitoring programs had to do with noise and hearing conservation. At high levels, noise causes hearing damage. But, at moderate levels, there was also an impact – it causes fatigue. Perhaps, I needed to broaden my definition of ‘noise’ in my daily life. And, perhaps, the constant ‘noise’ in my daily life was causing a type of fatigue – one that hindered my creativity.
Furthermore, perhaps, rather than increase the stimulation, I needed to decrease the ‘noise’ and immerse myself in the silence. Maybe, what I really needed was quiet time. Not just a break from the nearly constant bombardment of social media and external stimulation, but longer stretches of quiet. I know that I am more creative after a vacation – especially when I have turned off, or ignored, all my electronic interruptions.
Given that I can’t take a vacation every other week, I decided to try consciously putting more silence into my day. It doesn’t happen every day, but I am making progress. My goal is to find the amount of silence that I need so that I can be my most creative and do my best work. Here are a few of the things I am working on:
- Sleep – this may seem like an odd one, but it is essential. This is my largest block of silence. And, when you are sleep deprived, the first two brain functions that are lost are creativity and problem solving.
- Meditation – beginning the day with 10 minutes of meditation sets up my day. Rather than think about my ‘to do’ list, I think about what I intend for the day. It centers me and keeps me focused on my purpose vs. the tasks.
- Breaks – between meetings, between phone calls – even 5 minutes helps me reflect and re-focus so that I am able to give the second meeting, or phone call, the attention it deserves.
- Manage the external inputs – this is a big area and takes real discipline. This is harder than ever with the hundreds of TV channels, email, cell phones, and social media. They will never limit themselves so it is essential that limits and boundaries be placed on them. With the exception of an emergency contact from my family, AMBER or weather alerts, I turn off my phone app alerts. Will it really matter if I know that someone ‘likes’ my Facebook post or who the newest Denver Broncos’ draft pick is right now or 60 minutes from now?
My colleague, John, has always told me that creation needs a void and white space. I had thought of this as task-related only, a means to an end. Turn off everything and poof – be more creative. Now, I think of this more broadly. Sir Francis Bacon said, “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.” Planning silence into my day gives my brain a rest – rejuvenating me and inspiring me. In the silence, I am not fighting the white space, but embracing it – allowing new possibilities and new thoughts to occur. Who would have thought that increasing creativity and enabling me to do my best, would have nothing to do with ‘doing’ and everything to do with ‘silence’?
Let us know how you build, and encourage, your own creativity!