8 Essential Tasks to Maximize Your Creative Output
Achieving success in all of your creative endeavors can be difficult and daunting. There are numerous factors that inhibit the actualization of your dreams: fear, procrastination, not enough time, and distractions, to name a few. But you have the tools to overcome these difficulties! Incorporate these tasks into your weekly schedule, and cultivate a better routine for your creativity.
Hone in on what drives you
The very first task is to focus in on what drives you. Something in this world gets you out of bed in the morning, and puts a satisfactory smile on your face. It could be something deep, like the exploring the cosmos or questioning your philosophical outlook. Perhaps you get amped up when you read a fashion mag, or when you take a good long look at yourself in the mirror. You can be driven by the people in your life, your dreams, or even just the happy little habits that you love. Some read the paper to get inspired, while others play their favorite death metal songs to get themselves in the mood. Or maybe you just love to look at photographs of puppies. Whatever it may be, you’ve got to seek it out, magnify it, and record it somehow.
I say “seek it out” because it’s not always obvious. What drives you could be hidden in a corner of your psyche, so go find it. Examine your life in a quiet place without distractions. There you will see what you love and hate, and what makes you glad to be alive. Seeing it, however, is not enough on its own.
Now you have to magnify it. Look at the what within the what. You have to amplify what drives you, so that you can see what lies in between the cracks. Here are some questions you could ask yourself regarding your drives:
l What are you looking for when you ask the deep questions about the human condition?
l What makes you happy about looking at your own style and even comparing it to others?
l What exactly is it about this person, dream, or habit that drives you?
l What are you looking for in what you listen to and what you read?
l What is really going on when you look at all those puppies?
By addressing the little things about what drives you, you give yourself an even clearer picture of what it is you’re after.
Finally, record it. Write out what you’ve concluded about your drives. Create a “Vision Board” with all sorts of media that reflect your passion. You can use photographs, quotations, paint, articles, snippets of text, drawings, lyrics, questions, diagrams – anything that accurately represents your creative drive. Use the Vision Board to keep you on track when you are distracted or lost. When you have a clear picture of your drives, you can easily return to it to remind you of what you want out of your creative life.
Emulate your role models
Perhaps this should be part of the first task, but I made it separate for a good reason. Role models are leaders who did the right thing, whether they were leading or following. No two people are alike however, and successful people know this better than anyone. Therefore, the formula for success grows out from what has worked before, coupled with an innovative perspective. So look to those individuals who have achieved greatness with their lives, and try to do a little of what they do.
A role model doesn’t have to be a celebrity or a billionaire. While these people certainly have success (and you may want to emulate them), this need not be the case. Your role model could be someone that you have a great deal of respect for their way of life – and that is an admirable kind of person to follow! Remember that ultimately you are the decider of your own success, so let it be defined in terms that you approve of.
Next, you will want to learn all that you can about your role model. If you can, arrange to meet them. There is nothing better than meeting with them and asking them questions about how they were able to achieve their goals in life. Of course, you might not have the opportunity to do this (particularly if they’re celebrities or billionaires). So the alternative is to discover all that you can about them from secondary sources. Read interviews, talk to others that knew them, watch videos of them speaking publicly, and read their memoirs, letters, or autobiographies. This will at least give you a sense of their lifelong pursuits, who they really are, and how they managed to build their empires.
Finally, do what they have done. If Richard Branson traveled around the world and made contacts, and you want to be like him, then you should travel and make contacts. If you’re awesome Aunt started out as an executive assistant and found her way into a job in the entertainment business, then you can do that too. You want to be like the Dalai Lama? He is quoted saying “if you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.” So then you help those around you.
You should look at the actions of these role models as strong recommendations of what to do. But do not just imitate what they have done. It is better that you tweak it a little: take a little here and there from your role models. When you have a good idea of what qualities you want to emulate from their lives, then you just have to incorporate these aspects and activities into your own life. Make them your own.
Without a plan, your creativity will lack focus. Starting from your Vision Board, you can devise the path to your success. Think of your path like a Treasure Map, with a clear Start and a Big X to indicate the end of your journey. It may not be easy to see at first how to jump right in to a creative project, so a plan can help you to see what steps you need to take along the way. Picture the end of your creative journey – that Big X – to be the manifestation of all of your dreams into reality.
Then work backwards.
You will need some tools to do this properly: something to write with, plenty of paper, and a calendar. (Also, it will help to have a computer with a search engine handy.) It will probably take some time to do this, so give yourself at least an hour’s worth of time. Be sure to have a list of those role models’ habits and qualities that you intend to emulate.
First, look at the end of the journey: the Big X at the end of your Treasure Map. Then ask yourself, “What is the step just before that?” If your goal is to write a successful novel, then the end of your journey might be the bestseller list. Ask yourself, “How do I get myself on that list?” If you search online, you’d find some examples: you should be performing public readings, you would need to be advertising/promoting the book, you would have to contact other authors to endorse your novel, book reviewers would need to be articles about your book, you need have an agent, etc. In this example, you would write down all of this information.
Then you would take another step back.
Many more questions to learn about will come flowing in. Per the aforementioned example:
l How do I book a public reading of my novel?
l Who do I contact to promote my book?
l How can I reach out to other authors for endorsements?
l Where do I submit my manuscript for book reviews?
l How do I get an agent?
These questions deserve answers, and a little research can set you in the right direction. Write down what you learn, and when you’ve exhausted what you can learn about the subject, repeat the process again. Take another step back. And another. And another.
Eventually you will arrive at the Start of your journey, the beginning of the Treasure Map. You will have a clearer idea of what you have to do at this point. Some from the previous example may include: write one thousand words every day, edit what you wrote a few days ago, develop query letters to send to publishers and agents, send letters to your favorite authors to establish contacts, and call promoters that you discovered in your research. With all of this information, you are well on your way (but you are not done yet).
You have to make a plan. Take all of the details that you have here and try to put them in the best possible order. Write down all of your daily activities on the calendar, like when to practice, when to rework, and when to create. Be sure to incorporate the habits of your role models, as well. Also write down when and how you should reach out to your contacts. Before long, you will have a clear, executable calendar to help you reach your goals.
Set deadlines for your goals
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” – Napoleon Hill
You have to set a deadline for your goals. Dreams are good, but they must be put into action. Set a practical, clear end date for each goal and mark them into your calendar. Be reasonable, and take an educated guess on how long it will take you to reach your goals.
Pursue your dreams every day, with all of your might. Everyday complete the steps that you have written on your calendar. Do not just focus on the possibilities, you have to actualize it, manifest it.
Make sure that you have exhausted all of your avenues, and don’t give up. Push yourself to make your dreams come to life. You will have to reexamine your end dates from time to time, so adjust them accordingly. Sometimes you’ll get it done sooner than you thought. You may find that you need more time; if that’s the case then set a more realistic end date.
There will be times that you have really ask yourself if it is worth it to continue. Sometimes you have to give up on a dream. Failure is a reality: let it happen and move on. Learn from your mistakes, and find new dreams to go after. Each new endeavor will galvanize you to complete your next creative goal in time for its end date.
Now that you’ve got your deadlines in order – it’s time to take a break.
Meet your needs
You have needs. There are tangible requirements that you must meet before you will even be capable of creativity. There are intangibles too: sometimes you won’t even be aware of what you need in a given moment. It is best to identify what your mind, spirit, and body might need prior to beginning your creative activities. I recommend that you take care of these four needs throughout your creative journey: praying, eating, playing, and sleeping.
Pray first. You don’t have to be religious to do this. Simply take a good look at what you want to create and ask for it. Recognize that you might not have all of the tools yet, or even the wherewithal to complete it on your own. The great writers of yore invoked the muse before telling their epic tales because they knew that their stories were greater than themselves. Do not be afraid to take part in the universal energies available to you! Asking a higher power for help is a means to center you, to make you greater before you even begin.
Eat something. There’s nothing worse than picking up your guitar and realizing you haven’t even eaten breakfast. Drink some water and enjoy something your body really needs. It doesn’t have to be a meal, just give yourself some fuel. Don’t kid yourself – you have to eat well. Some fast food or an energy drink just won’t cut it. If you really don’t have the time, a piece of fresh fruit or a bowlful of nuts can alleviate your hunger quickly.
Play! Your mind and body need a break now and then. Creative work may be playful, but it is still work. And you need to provide yourself with a well-deserved break from that. Go to a baseball game, take a walk, play video games, or exercise. Daydreaming is an excellent way to give yourself a reprieve from the grind. It doesn’t matter much what you do, as long as it isn’t work.
Rest is paramount when it comes to creativity. If you haven’t slept enough, you aren’t going to be able to do your best. And when you aren’t sleeping, your body suffers – and your creative work will suffer too! The human body needs eight uninterrupted hours of sleep every night. If this is not possible, supplement your daily rest with naps.
We all wish we had superhuman powers, don’t we? Unfortunately, we have needs to meet. Therefore, make sure that you take care of the most obligatory needs throughout your creative process.
Get up earlier
Going to sleep after midnight will make you sluggish in the morning, yet for many people, the morning is the best time to get things done. I say that it is the best time of day because it gives you plenty of time to get ready to produce, and when others are just waking up, you are already running at full steam.
Often I’ve heard people say, “I’m just not a morning person.” Well, that may be because they’ve never really taken the opportunity to try it. If you go to bed late every night then, sure, you’ll never be a morning person because you’ve never set up your schedule to try to wake up early.
Rather than adopting the fixed mindset that you are a night owl, you must try to go to sleep early. It won’t be easy at first, because your body is used to being awake in the late evening hours. In order to do this, you will have to curb your caffeine consumption in the later hours of the day. If you have a day full of activity and exercise, avoid eating too late in the evening, and if you begin to wind down around nine o’clock, then you will be more likely to fall asleep at an earlier hour.
When you wake up earlier, you will have more time to envision your plans for the day. You will be up at five or six o’clock, and not everyone is awake yet. This gives you an enormous headstart – you can spend time working on your creative goals before you go to work! And if you have an important creative meeting with someone at nine o’clock in the morning, you can bet that you’ll be ready to collaborate.
Getting up earlier is a simple way to maximize your creative output. Give it a try.
Get newly inspired
Now you should look for something new to inspire you. This task is different from your personal needs your role models, and may affect your vision board. To become newly inspired, indulge your “creative wants.”
Look for the things you haven’t done yet. Whenever you get inspired to do something, do it. Like a bucket list. You may need to take a trip to Europe. Maybe you need to watch all of Fellini’s films. Or go to Yellowstone National Park. Some people attend TED talks, or listen to books on tape. It’s good and well for it to be something familiar, but it has to be something fresh. You’ve got to find something new to inspire you.
I like to go to concerts, the museum, and visit local places I have never been to. I always find something new in these spaces, and I have to go home and write about the experience afterward. This is the feeling you are looking for: as though the physics of the universe have changed based on what you experienced. Let these new rules change you a little. Or if what you experienced makes you frustrated, then struggle with it in your creative activities.
You should also look for inspiration where you didn’t think to look. Spontaneity is a boon for the creative mind. Hop on a bus. Bring some flowers to your neighbor. Never been to that one part of town? Travel there. Though it shouldn’t be anything truly dangerous, try to do something that frightens you. If you feel like visiting the homeless shelter to volunteer and you never thought to do that, try it. Last year I randomly went to a Salvadorian Festival in MacArthur Park, and it changed the way I look at Los Angeles. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll discover something new.
To alter your worldview, take the time to reinvest in your creative stimulation both in ways that you want to, and by pursuing that which inspires you in any given moment.
Take one step every day
Every day is an opportunity to complete the steps in your calendar. Line up in what order you want to get it all done: be sure to tackle the hardest steps of any given day first. Mark every step as you complete it and be proud of what you’ve done.
Let’s imagine that you have several small creative activities that you have to complete. If you know there’s a tedious step that you’re not going to want to do later, then perform that task first. For example, in a piece you are sculpting out of wood, you must fashion several hundred dowels for a feature of your project. You are not going to want to do this at the end of the day, so get started on this creative activity right away.
Don’t work on anything for more than an hour straight. You need breaks, remember? Your productivity goes down significantly when you work on anything for more than fifty minutes, so take a breather. Step outside for a minute, relax, have a snack. (It is okay to review your calendar and check off anything that you’ve completed, but don’t do any work.) After a ten or fifteen minute break, head back into your workspace and commit yourself to the next step.
The most important aspect of this task is quality, not quantity. You may have ten steps to complete on any given day, and you should do your best to complete them. But if you can only complete one difficult task every day, that is quite alright. Every advancement, even the slightest, moves you closer to your goal each day.
Finally, be proud of what you’ve completed! At the end of your day, take a look at your list and check off every step you’ve completed. Any unfinished tasks can be moved to other upcoming days in your calendar. As you cross these steps off your list, you will feel the satisfaction of another day well spent on your creative loves.