Many of us want to live slower lives, and to do our creative work mindfully and intentionally. I do, and have for a few years now, but it can still be tempting to take on a little too much. Work a little too long. Push yourself harder than you know is wise because you so want to bring to life the thing you’re creating.
We’re passionate about our work after all, and time is often sparse.
In those moments, when we’re tipping the scale away from a slow towards busy-busy, we can all do with a reminder of why. Why the slower way is a good idea, not just because it’s nice but how it benefits our creative work too. How working slower can actually be more efficient in the long run.
This blog post is that reminder, for both of us.
You work on the right things
You know that scrambling feeling, when you’re struggling to cross off the things you have to do right now? When you’re in that space, you’re dealing with a sense of urgency.
Research shows that our brains struggle to focus on what’s important when something urgent is calling to our attention. Even if the urgent thing is unimportant.
In other words, when in a state of stress, we humans tend to forget what truly matters. We do work that isn’t necessary, because our brains think they’re important just because they’re urgent.
At the moment I have a list on my wall with my an overview of my creative work for the rest of the year. I’ve divided them up in two groups - big and small. The big ones are things like writing a workbook, the small include posting regularly on Instagram.
I glance at it now and then, because I know that the small to dos easily can take over. They have before and they will again, especially if I let my list of smaller things get too long.
When you slow down, you’re able to prioritise better, and see what you really should be working on. The things that will actually make a difference.
So think twice before deciding to do a lot of creative work, especially the kind that has firm deadlines or a continuous schedule. Doing so can stop you from your most important, less urgent work.
If you’re not sure what your most important work really is, what it is you really want to do, then taking the time to figure that out is time well invested. Don’t wait for complete clarity, but explore which direction is the right one as you go forward.
You do better creative work
It’s tempting to think that doing more is always better. But can you do more work on the same time frame, at the same level of quality? The answer is almost always no. Therefore, we have a trade-off between quality and quantity, and it’s one you should make consciously.
When I wrote the first two drafts of my novel, I wanted to do it as quickly as I could. I used NaNoWriMo, the challenge to write 50 000 words in a month, and I did write a lot words in a short period of time. But I ended up throwing out almost all of them. Writing quickly just doesn’t work for me. Writing slower actually saves me time in the long run.
The trick is to find the right balance, where you aren’t perfecting one thing forever, but neither cramming in as much as possible just because.
In the same way, working more hours may seem like a good idea. It always does when I struggle to tear myself away from my work and feel stressed. But when you’ve been focused for too long, you reach mental fatigue. I’m guessing you know just what I’m talking about. At that state, you can’t create at the same level of quality any longer. I’ve found that I become so inefficient, I’m really better off going away for a bit than forcing myself to create anyway.
To be able to concentrate well again you need to restore your attention. Research shows that taking a walk in nature is an especially good way to do that. It works best when you’re present in the moment, appreciating your surroundings and not thinking actively about the work you’re doing.
Taking a step back and allowing some space between you and your creative work can also be necessary for renewing your energy. Studies show that boredom leads to good ideas, and when you’ve rested from your work a while you often gain new insights when you step back into it. My biggest leaps forward in my creative work have often come out of a place of rest.
You stick with your creative projects
We can keep a tight schedule for a time. I have, but it has always ended the same way - with me exhausted, sick of the work, propelling myself into an unplanned break.
A burnout like that stops you in your tracks, and while you where going fast before you come to a screeching halt. Getting back to where you were can be hard and takes time.
When you work in a sustainable way, on the other hand, you can keep going at that pace for a long time. Slow and steady truly does win the race.
You’re a happier creative
I probably don’t have to tell you that working peacefully instead of in a state of stress leaves you happier, but sometimes we need the reminder. Yes, momentum and drive can be a mood booster, but long term, stress is linked with depression and anxiety.
Sometimes we also need the reminder that our happiness matters, and not just because a happy creative is a creative that does good work. It matters in and of itself.
Make it a priority. And choosing a slower way can be part of that. It definitely is for me.