We all have had a lot of time to think these days—myself in particular. Both my kids are [THANK GOD] in schools that support safe, in-person learning, and my husband is an essential employee, so I am left to my devices each day to do my job: be creative. One would think that with all this time on my hands and no distractions I would be whipping out Mona Lisa quality creations by the dozens. But, sadly, that is not the case. Which begs the question: Why is creativity harder now when I finally have time to focus?
I’ve been struggling with this conundrum since March when the great WFH experiment began. Recently, I read this article by Martin Bihl, executive creative director at LevLane Advertising and editor of the-agency-review.com, which gives some insight as to why this isolated version of creativity feels so different and, frankly, harder than before we stopped physically commuting to an office.
What’s missing? According to Bihl: randomness. Much like procrastination can lead to inspiration, chance encounters with our world and those within it help stimulate creativity by eliciting unexpected reactions which then can trigger new ideas and “happy little accidents,” to quote Bob Ross. When we remove those random moments—taking the stairs because the elevator is being serviced, or choosing a new sandwich when our favorite salad is sold out, or noticing a coworker’s plant for the first time—we take away the interruption that fuels new thinking. We’re creatures of habit, argues Bihl, and without a jump start every now and again our creative batteries can peter out.
So what’s the solve? Find ways to reintroduce the random. I picked up a pencil and drew a portrait of my daughter with our dog from a photo I had taken a few weeks prior (see bel0w). I hadn’t done this for years. I made myself look up new recipes on the New York Times Cooking app rather than settle for the familiar after the first rush of quarantine cooking energy died out. I am listening to more podcasts than I should admit to and reading a lot. Verdict: It helps. These changes give my brain just the detour it needs to see in a different way, taste something new, listen to inspiration.
As much as routine is important to keep us sane and put up necessary boundaries for our time and energy, bringing in the random and pushing oneself to branch out and be a different you, as hard as it is sometimes, reminds our brains that there are a lot of roads we haven’t tried yet. Bihl suggests this for those of us with coworkers who are probably suffering the same loss:
So, take what you will from this. We all have our ways of seeing our decline and finding a way to right our ship. Without the personal interactions with team members we had perhaps taken for granted (and sometimes avoided) and with each conversation today requiring an intentional effort, the work of creativity can be daunting and lonely. Take a chance, find your space where you can invite the unexpected and see what comes of it.