In a productivity-centric society, busyness is not just a norm, it is almost practiced as a virtue. Keeping busy demonstrates dedication to productivity and efficiency, but it is ironically counter effective to genuinely fulfilling and meaningful productivity. Busyness is how we experience the route to shallow productivity: the accomplishment of multiple tasks in quick succession under pressure. Busyness looks, and initially may feel, like efficiency, but it is unsustainable. In a prolonged period of busyness, even the most adept multi-tasker becomes distracted, rushed, and unable to absorb information, ultimately leading to burn out.
Different people can manage, or even thrive at, different paces and degrees of busyness. Most people, however, need room for their creativity to grow and be nurtured. Meaningful and fulfilling productivity, both in the sense of artistic output and more broadly in the sense of innovation, is driven by creativity. Creativity requires focus, depth of thought and practice, and room for simmering ideas to coalesce in seemingly spontaneous inspiration. Many people benefit creatively from high levels of stimulation or a certain amount of pressure, but shallow, urgent busyness is antithetical to the circumstances under which creativity grows.
As much as we may wish to prioritize our creativity, busy periods are inevitable in most lives. Most workplaces, school programs or even personal projects have certain crunch periods. Personal circumstances like moving home, or even celebrating a holiday season put greater demands on our time and attention. Most of these are relatively short periods, but some circumstances such as raising children or working multiple jobs can cause more long-term busy periods. Fostering and maintaining creativity through these periods is important. The fulfillment and meaning derived from creativity can even be an antidote to the mental and emotional tolls of being overly busy.
Keep doing what you do, even if just for thirty minutes a day or an hour a week. Lower your expectations and let yourself cut back the amount of time you spend on creative projects, but don’t abandon them. Recognize your creativity as a priority amidst life’s demands, but don’t turn “write every day” into yet another task on your busy list.
Take in others’ creativity.
Schedule time to visit an exhibition, see a performance, or just read a good book or watch a film. In a busy time, you may be tempted to use mindless distractions to wind down (and that has its place!) but choose to spend time with works that will feed you creatively.
Whether you want to call it “mindfulness” or not, give yourself some mental peace. Do activities that engage your body but make limited demands on your mental focus, like walking the dog, attending an exercise class, or doing a familiar handcraft. If you’re really pressed for time, you can even use mundane, necessary tasks like doing the dishes as a chance to either let your mind rest and wander or practice more focused mindfulness.
Trust that it will end.
Remember that this busy period will end and you will have room to practice and focus again. When you again have time to engage with your creativity but are struggling with motivation, remember how you missed it when you were too busy with other things! If there is no foreseeable end to your busyness and it is causing you distress, it may be time to consider some bigger life changes.
Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Curatorial Assistant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.