6 Steps to Building Your Creative Endurance

Runner

Photo by lulemon athletica

Let’s face it. We all get out of creative shape from time to time.

Just as an athlete quickly loses fitness without training, so your creative stamina will fade away if you don’t work at maintaining it – every week, if not every day.

So when you get out of the discipline of regular creative work, what stops you getting started again?

Is it because of work? School? Home? Family? Other commitments? Gossip Girls? The New 90210 (the original was much better)? Or some other excuse?

Oh I know – you have no time. That’s got to be it. ;-)

Your latest novel, blog post, painting, sculpture, business venture or website is just waiting for your time. That’s got to be it, since you used to be creative. You used to find the time but now, life has gotten in the way.

With kids, your job or just something good on TV, your life is too full to create. Well, I’m here to tell you that you do have the time – you just have to find it.

Finding the time is the first step in getting back into creative shape. The second step, is to build up your creative endurance.

Creative endurance is just like athletic endurance. No one ever runs a marathon on their first run – or even their tenth. You have to build up to it by training. That same training is what you need to get back into your creative swing. Sure, it’s going to be hard. Sure, you will struggle, but once you have your creative endurance back, creating will be a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.

Barriers to Building Your Creative Endurance

One of the biggest barriers most people face is the perfection fallacy. We trick ourselves into not creating because what we create is either ‘not good enough’ or ‘not perfect’. Let’s dispel this right now.

Most of the stuff you will create will be awful. In fact, it will take creating all that awful stuff to actually make something good. Doing all this ‘throw away’ work is called practice. Every creative person needs it – from Picasso to Rembrandt to Warhol to Kors (yeah, the guy on Project Runway).

Practice makes us better. It allows us to hone our skills and find our creative voice. As a writer, I throw away countless words, sentences, posts and even book outlines simple because my direction changes or it just did not work. All that creative flotsam and jetsam is still valuable because it’s practice and practice makes me better.

Our second barrier is time. For some reason, no one ever has enough time. You always here excuses like:

When the kids go to school, I’ll start to paint.

I have a deadline at work. After that I will go write.

I just don’t have time to compose my next score because I commute two hours a day

My family comes first and I have to support and nurture them.

You know, my computer sounds funny. I better get that checked out.

Did I miss any?

Go ahead, pick your favorite excuse. Write it on a piece of paper and then burn it. That’s right. Burn it.

Now you have no more excuses. :-)

Didn’t that feel good? It should, because you just got rid of a big barrier. Now let’s look at the six steps to building your creative endurance.

Step 1: Write Down What You Do in a Day

The first step in building your creative endurance is to find time to create.

Take out a piece of paper and write down everything you do in the course of the day. Pick any day you want and start when you wake up and finish when you go to sleep.

Step 2: Look For Gaps and Non-Value-Added Activities

Now, look at the list. I guarantee you that there are activities on that list that add no value to your life. Maybe it’s the one hour commute each way, or watching reality shows, or maybe all those silly work meetings. These add no value to your life. Whatever those activities are, circle them.

See any you can eliminate? C’mon, be honest with yourself. You know there are certain things you either hate to do, don’t want to do or do out of habit. I dare you to pick at least one. Just one activity that you want to either reduce or eliminate so that you can create. I know you want to be more creative and the first step is to find the time. So look hard and be honest with yourself.

Step 3: Schedule 10 Minutes to Create

So you found at least one activity you can eliminate or at least reduce. That’s great. Now you need to use that time to create.

The minimum amount of time you need to build your creative endurance is 10 minutes a day. A measly 10 minutes a day. It’s probably half the time you spent reading this post or the time it takes you to flip through those gazillion cable channels to figure out what to watch.

Once you have picked your 10 minute slot, create a big sign that says ‘Creative Time’ and the time you selected. For those 10 minutes, all you will do is create.

Step 4: Set a Creative Goal

After a couple of weeks of creative endurance building, you now need to set a goal. All athletes set goals – they’re called races. Races are great goals since they bring together like minded people who have the same goals as you – so you all get to have fun and finish the race.

Be realistic in setting your creative goal. Remember, you have 10 minutes a day to work on it and this goal should be no longer than two months out.

Oh, one more thing. Tell your best friend, spouse or co-workers about your creative goal. Actually, better yet, write down your creative goal, along with the date it’s due and hand it to them. Make them post it on the fridge or in a place that everyone can see.

I know that many of you are shaking your heads right now. You don’t want to publicly commit to your creative endeavor. Don’t be afraid of this. You want to create. Your friends and family want you to create. You need their support to keep you on track. It’s just like being on a sports team. Sometimes, you really don’t feel like practicing but you can’t bring yourself to let the team down.

Your creative team needs you as well. All your friends, family, co-workers and yes, even your boss, wants you to be happy and creative – it makes you a better person and in turn a better spouse, father, mother, friend and worker.

Step 5: Publish, Sell or Give Away Your Creation

Once you hit your creative goal, publish, sell or give it away. You would be surprised at how much joy you can bring to someone’s life by giving them a piece of art or sharing a story you wrote.

No art is too small to be art nor to small to make a difference. In fact, you don’t need to be Piscacco to be an artist – you just have to get your work out there for others to enjoy. That’s it. That’s all.

Nothing fancy like putting it in a gallery or anything like that. In fact, at Etsy you can build your own creative store front easily and sell your creations to people all over the world.

Step 6: Expand Incrementally

Doesn’t creation feel great? Sure, you might have stumbled a bit, your first tries were probably a wreck and I’m sure you probably cheated a day or two (come on, admit it :)).

The thing to be proud of is that you achieved something. You are building your creative endurance – 10 minutes a day. Pretty soon you will be up to 20, then 30 and then who knows.

Keep up this discipline even when you don’t want to. Challenge yourself to do something creative, anything creative, at least 10 minutes a day. You will be amazed at what you can achieve.

Over to You

Do you ever get out of creative shape? What are the tell-tale signs?

Which of these steps would make the biggest difference to your creativity if you applied it?

Any other tips for getting back into creative shape after you’ve let things slide?

About the Author: Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training, entrepreneur by nature and leader by endurance. His new site, EnduranceLeader.com combines two of this passions – leadership and endurance athletics. By enduring, we conquer our fears, challenges and create magnificent things. You can follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. Very cool Jarie!

    I like it. By initially setting the 10 min goal you take away the excuses: “Oh, I can’t do that, I don’t have the hour that it’s going to take to get it done!”

    You aren’t looking to get it done. You’re looking to take the next small step toward something you love.

    I teach guitar on a very part time basis. I tell my students to put your guitar in your way. Not away! And pick it up for 5 minutes a day. Sometimes that will turn into a half hour, sometimes it won’t. But that’s okay. You did it! And there’s nothing like taking action, consistently, to build your courage!

    Thanks for the reminder that this can be applied to anything … writing, painting, etc. I needed to hear that!

    • Garry-

      Thanks for the comment and kind words. I’m a big believer in the incremental approach and getting into habits.

      I love the “put in in your way” and “Not away”. Great idea

      Jarie

  2. While I don’t do the little 10 or 15 minute increments many people love, I definitely am of the “in your way, not away” school! When I look at the materials gathered for my different projects, all sorts of ideas are set off. It all makes me very happy and peacefully productive.
    I know having things in sight all the time ironically makes them invisible to some people, but it doesn’t do that for me.

  3. Timely post for me to read Jane …. yup, I ‘have no time’ to create :-) or at least that’s how it’s been feeling – and I know it’s not true! So I have started on a journey and just began the actual creative exercising part; before that, I was only clearing clutter, but then it started to feel like a bit of an excuse itself, so i figured I needed to get in some creative flexing…I like the 10 min min idea, think I’ll use that

  4. I love this line: “Most of the stuff you will create will be awful.” Giving myself permission to be less than fabulous has been a cracker of an approach to break through procrastination around creative projects.

    Just back from two weeks away, I’m facing getting back into my creative routine – quite daunting. So this was the perfect post for me right now. Thanks a bunch, Jarie!

    • Megan-

      Glad you enjoyed it.

      A lot of my creative friends think that everything they do has to be good. I just tell them “think of it as practice.” You practice sports. You practice music. It makes sense to practice creativity.

  5. Chicken and egg: The only way to get rid of perfectionism is to make lots of work and lots of mistakes. I’m living proof: After almost a year of an artwork a day, I’ve learnt to say It’s good enough”!

    • Hi, WildC! This is also why I like the idea of “unnecessary creating,” which can be outside ones normal medium. If I pick up a paintbrush, there are bound to be lots of mistakes!

  6. Hi, Jarie! I like the idea of making a list of everything you do in the day and then stop doing the nonessential to make more creative time. I have a pretty good schedule for my writing time, but I’m sure I can still cut out something frivolous and make it more productive!

    • Laura-

      When I did my list, I found that I tended to procrastinate before writing. When I used that time to practice (e.g. just write some throw away stuff), I found I was way more productive. That little tweak made a big difference.

      Thanks for your comments

      Jarie

  7. Such a wonderful article published here to boost up the energy of any entrepreneur,, thanks for sharing such lovely post.

  8. I thought about no. 6 when I opted to do an extra lap of the park yesterday. :-)

  9. Wonderful advice, thank you so much! I am reassessing goals and how my time is spent and this is very helpful.

  10. Javier Tenorio says:

    Ever see the 30 day challenge video at Ted? This is a great way to create sustainable and consistent creativity, try a 30 day challenge each day that requires creative workout. You may start with something easy such as taking a cool picture everyday, then reading, then writting and then improving stuff daily… Every innovation has a little of creativity and luck and a lot of experience.

    • Javier-

      A 30 day challenge is a great idea. It’s just long enough to get something meaningful done but not too long that you lose interest.

      I totally agree that every innovation has a little bit of creativity in it and a ton of luck.

      Jarie