If you have a creative block you’d like some help with, tell us about it – details in the first article in the series.
There’s a moment in the movie Lost In Translation where Bob (Bill Murray) is explaining to Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) how his relationship with his wife changed after they had children. “The day they arrive,” he says, “your life, as you know it, is gone, never to return.” Whether or not that’s true of life in general, it can sometimes feel as though it applies to your creativity.
The magic ingredients of the creative process are things like focus, concentration and plenty of time to daydream, read books, watch movies, go out to theatres, galleries and other inspiring places. And these are precisely the things that are in short supply the moment you become a parent. Your little bundles of joy become the most important thing in your life, shunting everything else into second place. Once you get on the seemingly endless treadmill of feeding, changing nappies, washing clothes, shopping, school runs, helping with homework and a thousand other things, it can feel like you will never have enough focused time and energy (let alone sleep!) to create outstanding work ever again.
Here’s Shane Arthur’s response to our invitation to tell us about your creative blocks.
I have two kids. I can’t seem to get much work done anymore. I need GTD for kids creative help. Time is my block right now. I need help stealing some back for creative work. I have not done a video tutorial in about a year.
Shane Arthur, Creative Copy Challenge
I know how you feel Shane. Last night we went to bed a couple of hours later than usual (Mad Men on DVD can be pretty addictive) which inevitably meant my kids would wake up and demand their breakfast an hour early this morning. So I’m sitting here minus three hours of sleep, and somehow I need to come up with the goods for you in this article. 🙂
I’m feeling slightly hesitant about writing this piece, as I’ve been a parent for just under a year, and I know you’ve been at it a lot longer than me, so compared to you and many other Lateral Action readers, I’m a mere beginner!
I’m also aware that everyone’s circumstances are different, which makes me wary of generalising from my own limited experience. My wife and I hit the jackpot and had twins last year, which feels like being thrown in at the deep end. But when I consider the challenges faced by the single parents out there, I’m tempted to conclude we have it easy.
However, I have picked up a thing or two in the past year, from my own experience and talking to other parents, so I’ll share what I’ve learned so far with you — and I invite all the parents in our audience to please leave a comment with a tip or piece of advice based on your own experience of juggling childcare and creativity.
Stop Harking Back
Parenthood brings plenty of external obstacles to focused work, but one of the biggest barriers is in your mind. It’s frustrating enough when you can’t devote the entire day to work, but you make it much worse for yourself if you keep comparing life now with the way things used to be.
Another common pitfall is to put too much pressure on yourself to perform to the same standards under radically different conditions. If you’re responsible for childcare, even for part of the day, it’s simply not realistic to expect yourself to churn out the same quantity and quality of work as you used to. So don’t use it as a stick to beat yourself with!
As Bob said, the past is gone, never to return. You can only deal with what’s happening now. So stop comparing and pining for your old routine, and start focusing on what’s realistic and possible for you today.
And go easy on yourself — instead of berating yourself for not achieving as much as you used to, give yourself credit for being a committed parent, and see whatever work you manage to produce as a positive achievement. Paradoxically, your productivity is likely to increase when you stop putting pressure on yourself.
Find the Gaps
A few months ago I was on a panel of writers, and heard an amazing story from one of my fellow panellists, a very successful novelist. She shared her experience of being a single mother to a child with special needs, which meant she only had one hour a day to herself, while her little boy was receiving a one-to-one tutorial. The moment the tutor sat down to work with her son, she dashed upstairs and started typing furiously away at her first novel. It took her many months, but she succeeded in completing the book in an hour a day — and the book’s success launched her career as a writer.
I live just outside London, which isn’t exactly renowned for its transport infrastructure. I know lots of people who complain about commuting into town and the inefficiencies of the tube system. Not me. I hardly ever get on a train without a book or notebook, or a podcast loaded onto my iPhone. To me, travelling time is a little oasis in the day, which I can happily devote to learning or writing. I must be one of the few people in the country who sometimes takes the slow train out of choice!
However constrained your daily routine, look closely and you’ll find pockets of dead time that you can bring to life with bursts of focused work. It’s no substitute for having the whole day to yourself, but it’s amazing how much better it you’ll feel if you spend even a few minutes a day working towards your goals.
Cut the Fluff
All kinds of unnecessary fluff finds its way into our working day — frittering away time on irrelevant websites, checking e-mail, unproductive conversations and pottering about your home or office instead of knuckling down to work. Once you have kids, you realise you just don’t have time for that stuff.
Remember the novelist dashing upstairs and typing furiously the moment she got the laptop booted. I’m not quite that quick off the mark, but my morning ‘warm-up routine’ — coffee, Google reader, checking in on Twitter and my web stats — has got considerably shorter since I’ve been responsible for getting the kids up and making their breakfast before work.
Have a good look at your working day, and see how many minutes you can shave off by giving up a few digital distractions and cutting down on ‘busywork’.
You’re probably doing this already, but I want to emphasise the point, particularly for the new parents out there. Unless you’re superhuman, you’re not going to be able to do all of this yourself. Swallow your pride and accept any offer of help you can get! And don’t be afraid to ask either.
My wife and I have established a daily childcare routine, so I know the times when I’m ‘on duty’, and can therefore focus on work the rest of the time. None of our parents live nearby, but we’ve been very grateful when they’ve come to stay for ‘working holidays’, helping out with the kids and household to give us some time off. And friends who offer to babysit are instantly canonised. 🙂
Another more subtle form of help comes from spending time with others in a similar situation. I’ll never forget going to a first birthday party a few months after our children were born. After a few months of feeling pretty isolated in our flat with the children, it made a huge difference to talk to other parents in the same boat. And the forums of the Twins and Multiple Births Association are a fantastic source of twins-related information!
Spend time with other parents, to share experiences and solutions, and offer mutual support and encouragement. Even better if you can find parents in the same line of work as you. And complement real-life meet ups with online parenting communities.
Savour Your Work
I have a friend who is a single parent working in a high-powered job. He tells me it feels like light relief to go to work on a Monday morning. I know how he feels. I love spending time with my kids and I certainly don’t have my challenges to seek at work. But it always feels like a relief — even a treat — when I close my office door, or take the stage in front of an audience, and start work.
Make the most of whatever time you get to spend on your work. And if you do find yourself harking back to the past, maybe you could remind yourself of the times you used to procrastinate, complain or waste time during your working day. Compare that to now, when you see how precious your work is. Enjoy it!
Learn from Your Kids
Children are exciting, unpredictable, full of energy, frustrating, contradictory, hilarious, fascinating, perplexing, mysterious and utterly priceless.
Does that remind you of anything?
Surely we could easily replace the words “children are” with “creativity is” and that sentence would ring just as true?
No wonder the Romantic poets believed children were the embodiment of the imagination. Maybe we should take a leaf out of the Romantics’ book and welcome the disruptive, unsettling and unforgettable intrusion of children into our neatly ordered lives, and learn to be grateful for the creative chaos and disruption they bring?
Well, I hope that’s been some help. You might also like to revisit an earlier article from the creative blocks series, How to Find Time for Creative Work, and a piece I wrote last summer called 9 Productivity Lessons from the First 2 Months of Parenthood.
And Tony Clark of the Lateral Action team has a lot more experience of parenting than I do, so I can highly recommend you check out two of his articles, Balancing Work and Family as a Home-Based Entrepreneur and The Myth of the Sleeping Baby and other Fallacies for the Work at Home Parent.
Let’s Hear from the Parents!
This is a huge challenge with no simple solutions. So if you’re a parent who has never left a comment on Lateral Action before, I’d suggest today is the perfect time for you to step out of the shadows and share some of your hard earned wisdom about getting creative things done in the midst of looking after the kids.
How do you find time for creative work as well as looking after the kids?
What creative lessons have you learned from your children?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a creative coach with over 15 years’ experience of helping people get past their creative blocks and into the creative zone.