In today’s fast-paced, high-pressured, attention-disrupting digital age, it can be hard to find time to focus on creative endeavors, particularly personal projects. If you’re feeling zapped of all creative energy by the end of the day, or like there’s not enough time to think about starting something new, you're not alone.
“I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with everything I have to get done. I have work I do for clients, and then work on my own animation apps that I developed, and most importantly really, a daughter to raise,” says Michal Finegold, a computer animation professional and software developer. “On top of that, my email is always blowing up, social media keeps trying to grab my attention, and people are texting and calling. It can be insane.”
Finegold’s experience isn’t isolated, and we’d wager that many other creatives regularly feel like they’re being pulled in a million different directions. In spite of the daily drag down, though, it’s still possible to carve out time to lead a more balanced, mindful, and creative life; a way that allows you to indulge in passion projects while still getting everything else taken care of, too. To help you do just that, we asked Finegold, along with three other creatively inclined people, to share advice on how they’ve managed to strike a balance.
Create and Stick to a Morning Routine
Kathryn Bethard, a UX and web designer based in Delaware, says that she often finds herself overwhelmed with life, as well, and now more than ever. For her, finding balance is easier when she begins her day with mindful intention.
“Personally, I've found that one way I can avoid feeling overwhelmed is through following a consistent morning routine,” she says. “Each morning, I start my day with a relaxing blend of coffee, gratitude journaling, and meditation. This has a wonderfully positive impact on my morning and helps me to stay in a good mindset, no matter what the day brings.”
Develop a Plan for the Day/Week
Science has proven that writing down your goals makes you more likely to achieve them, and this applies to both grand-scale endeavors and minor daily/weekly tasks. How you choose to go about creating your game plan is up to you. Maybe it’s a brief schedule jotted down in a journal, or a to-do list you keep in your Notes app.
“Block scheduling my work is a method that has proven pretty effective [for me]. It helps me stay focused and allows me to work more productively,” she says. “For example, Mondays and Wednesdays are dedicated to client work. Tuesday is for my personal business marketing and branding, and Thursdays are for client meetings. Friday is dedicated to wrapping up anything that didn't get completed during the week.”
By having more structure in your day, you’re more likely to get more done and therefore have more free time to do as you please. Blocking in personal time for your own creative projects helps ensure you have time to “do you,” too.
Eliminate Dings and Distractions
Building momentum throughout the day is tough enough, but add a string of social media notifications, text messages, and other distractions and you’ll find that stopping and starting projects can mentally exhaust you. Eliminating the noise — literally and figuratively — has helped Finegold find more balance throughout the day.
“I turn off all notifications on my phone and other devices except for phone calls. I don't see or hear any notification if there's a new email, Facebook messages, Twitter reply, Whatsapp message — nothing. Text messages do appear, but are silent,” she says. “I just can't handle that stuff constantly pulling my attention away. Instead, I check those things at times that make sense for me when I actively want to find out.”
That’s not to say you have to shun all social media or texting throughout the day. It’s more about deliberately dedicating time to those things instead of letting them passively distract you all day long.
Align Your Services With Your Passions
We challenge you to take a look at your current workload and ask yourself what makes you excited and what drags you down. Sure, some tasks are a “necessary evil” (like drafting invoices or getting to all those emails), but determine if it’s possible to adjust your services so they’re better aligned with your creative passions. That’s exactly what Sabina Fenn, a commercial illustrator, did.
“As an artist, [I found that] working as a commercial illustrator was especially tough when I wanted the creative freedom to paint something that inspired me at the time,” she says. “Recently, I switched my illustration style from being purely digital to painting with gouache and watercolor paints. Doing that has allowed me to feel the connection with my work again and makes me excited about any project that comes my way.”
Instead of adding a service like Fenn, maybe you may want to consider eliminating something that you absolutely dread. That’s what Bethard recently did.
“A couple months ago, it finally occurred to me that spending time on work I didn't enjoy was completely ludicrous. For that reason, I stopped offering writing services. Focusing on just design, I'm able to be more creative, and I love all of my work instead of just half of it. It’s been one of the best things I've done for my business,” she says. “To anyone [working in a creative field], I would definitely remind you to focus on what you truly love. Even if you think a certain skill will help bring in revenue, is it really worth it if you absolutely dread the work?”
Set and Follow Clear Work Boundaries
“I’ve found that, as a freelancer who works from home, developing clear work/life boundaries is crucial. When I save my evenings for me, I can start the next day well rested and full of motivation,” says Bethard. Even those employed by a company can find themselves wrapped up in work later in the day than what’s mentally healthy.
Creating a clear end time — and mentally checking out of work — gives you flexibility to plan your evenings. That means you can carve out more meaningful time for yourself, to hit the gym, work on a personal project, or get together with friends, habits that have been proven to increase your quality of life, your energy, and can directly affect your creative output, making you more productive over the long term.
Want to learn more techniques to help you carve out time for yourself, cultivate mindfulness and grow as a creative? Check out Yasmine Cheyenne’s Skillshare Originals class, Writing for Self-Discovery: 6 Journaling Prompts for Gratitude and Growth, now on Skillshare!