Being busy when you’re a freelancer is thrilling. And why would you turn down work when having no work is the thing that keeps you up at night? No thanks. I’ll hustle instead. But there’s a deep-rooted problem with that mentality that everyone who owns their own business must work hard to unearth. We need time to be creative.
If you work in a creative industry, then you might think that this way of thinking doesn’t apply to you. Maybe you paint ceramic pots for a living or design beautiful websites. Maybe you’re a dressmaker, or like me, a writer penning thought pieces and non-fiction books. We’re creative all day long, so why do we need to make time to be even more creative?
Here’s the thing. There’s an important difference between being paid to be creative and allowing yourself free time to explore your creative potential. Being paid to be creative means that, unavoidably, the thing you used to do purely for the joy of it comes with a set of expectations. The thing you’re making has been monetised. It’s got to be perfect. It’s probably being made to a specific brief set out by a client, or as a result of customer feedback, industry trends or detailed sales analytics. This kind of creativity isn’t bad as such, but it’s not boundless. It’s restrictive and has consequences that have a price tag attached, which means it’s not creativity in its truest form.
There are several reasons why creativity time should be a key part (and never an afterthought) when it comes to your weekly routine. Firstly, it’s literally good for your health. One study found that just a 45-minute session can decrease levels of cortisol, relieve stress and have a calming effect.
Secondly, it improves productivity. It can be tempting to think that ploughing through a backlog of work is better than pausing temporarily to indulge your artistic endeavours. But stepping away from the minutia leads to those “aha” moments that can change your entire business framework. For example, after an intense few weeks of working on an online course recently, I took two days off to read a book about storytelling and brainstorm ideas for a novel. It was during those few days that my brain had time to think outside the status quo, and I had a brainwave of an idea that is set to become a new subscription model for my business. I wasn’t even trying to come up with a new income stream, and this one decides to present itself like a ripe piece of fruit, ready to be picked.
Thirdly, creative space permits you to look away from what everyone else is doing. Being aware of what your competitors are doing is helpful, but there comes the point when watching the other team clouds your judgement when making decisions for yourself. Stay in your lane and think of solutions that work for your business, not someone else’s. Pencilling in time to daydream allows you to think ahead and imagine what you’d like your business to look and feel like further down the line. When you spend every waking hour with your head down, hustling, you can’t see the bigger picture, and this means you miss opportunities to grow.
Finally, creative time disrupts your routine. But routines are great for efficiency, right? Well kind of. The problem with having a routine is that you end up going through the motions without really engaging with life. It can leave you feeling emotionally detached from the world around you, living life in autopilot and therefore blind to new ideas and opportunities when they arise. When you walk the same route every day, you no longer notice the beauty in the trees, the smell of the flowers, the friendly neighbour walking their dog. But embarking on a different journey stimulates the brain, encourages fresh thought patterns and heightens your sense of awe, curiosity and excitement.
To introduce creative time into your schedule, try these:
• Sign up to a creative writing course
• Try these journaling prompts
• Find the best viewpoint in your area and go there to think
• Walk without headphones in at least once a week
• Try an online crafting session
• Try colouring for mindfulness
• Swap books with a friend to try a new genre
If I’ve learned anything in the last year of business, it’s that fast-paced work life doesn’t breed innovation. It stifles it. So inject some creative energy into your schedule and have some fun, you never know where it might lead you.
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About your author
Fiona is an author and freelance writer with work published in iPaper, Grazia, Happiful Magazine and Huffington Post. Her most recent book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss is a guide to freelancing.
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After years of working in digital advertising in London, my co-founder Clàudia and I decided to take a break from our successful careers to travel the world, breathe in the air and eat great food.