Constraint forces creativity." -Jonathan Fields
Did I ever tell you about the time I decided I was going to become a writer?
It was during the period when I was transitioning out of my acting life and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I “grew up.”
I’m what Marie Forleo calls a "multi-passionate", and my many passions, at the time didn’t feel like they added up to a “real job”. So I made one of those lists, you know with all the things I was good at and like to do, and realized I LOVE to write.
Naturally, this meant I was going to be a writer.
At the time, my pay-the-bills job was working at a bar a few nights a week. I decided, if I was going to be a serious writer, I needed the space and time to write. I quit my bar job to focus on writing.
I’m cringing as I share this now, but there you have it.
I put in my notice and had grand plans of waking up early and writing all day, every day. It was going to be glorious. I was going to write and write and create.
Fast forward about a month into my new "career", and my actual days didn’t look anything like my daydream.
I was sleeping late…and my writing? Well, I had outlined a few half-assed plot lines and written a few pages. TOTAL.
Another month in? I was going stir crazy and burning through cash. I asked for my serving job back.
Years later, when I started my business, I remembered this experience and vowed to do things differently. This time, I kept my full-time day job. And, you know what? I wrote exponentially more with a full-time job and “no time” than I ever did when I was idle and free.
Because constraints make us creative.
Deadlines and boxes make us focus and prioritize. And a little time crunch here and there, as much as our freedom-lusting minds hate to admit it, gets us thinking on our feet and coming up with answers.
Back when I was a “full-time writer”, I’d stare at a blank screen and have nothing. But, the page filled up magically when I had to find cracks of time to write with a 9-5.
You know what time constraints do? They shackle down perfectionism. The same perfectionism that had me rewriting the same outline and sentences over and over again was squashed when I was pressed for time and had to write a weekly blog post.
Have you ever experienced this?
It's like that saying we've all heard, “Want to get something done? Ask a busy person.”
This is known as Parkinson's law. It’s the idea that work takes as much time to finish as we have for it.
Meaning, if you quit your job and have an open schedule with no real sense of urgency, it will take a month to complete three pages of writing. On the other hand, if you’re juggling a nine to five with a creative project, this same principle means that you can crank out those three pages in the hours before and after work.
Creativity also thrives with a few limitations. Counterintuitive, yes. Backed by research, also a yes.
A study of award-winning work found people who create are often inspired by constraints. Yup, you read that right.
While a lack of mental white space and time to think can kill ideation, a few limitations and constraints can work in our favor.
It makes sense. Creativity is problem-solving. It’s looking at things in new and fresh ways. Limited options and urgency make it easier to come up with solutions because we aren’t crushed with decision fatigue and the neverending spirals of what-ifs.
It’s why having a side gig while we build our businesses or even a full-time job might not be as much of a hindrance as we want to think it is.
It gets confusing because we also hear about the importance of self-care, play, and avoiding burn out, and then we hear something like this.
My take? As entrepreneurs and creatives, we need all of it. Creating space for ideas and taking care of ourselves can co-exist with deadlines and limitations.
We do need space and play for creativity to flourish. Our minds also need time for rest. Yet, even there, it turns out our brain is more creative when we’re tired.
The ex-actress in me can tell you that many of my “flow” moments happened when I was exhausted, running out of time, or sick. True story.
What can we take from all of this? How can we use this knowledge about how our minds work and still strike that balance where we’re taking care of ourselves?
It amounts to creating a sense of urgency and getting out of our own way.
While I loved the idea of being a writer during my brief stint as a “novelist”, I had zero sense of urgency. My later blog productivity was the result of limited time and necessity.
We can take these principles and create self-imposed necessity and deadlines.
The other piece to the creative puzzle is getting out of our own damn way. When we have constraints and limitations, we don’t have the time to make up excuses or think up reasons for why our ideas won’t work; we don’t spin out about why we aren’t good enough; we don’t second-guess ideas; we just create solutions because we don’t have the time or energy not to.
While self-care and creative space are paramount, let’s not lean into them to the point of sapping creative drive and output. Let’s stop looking to our lack of time as an excuse.
I’m also going to gently remind you that some of the reasons you think you can't create may be the very reasons you can...if you allow yourself.
Wishing you your version of success!
P.S. I was stumped on this blog, and wouldn’t you know it, it came together after a productive procrastination break when I was tired and under deadline. Walking my talk and showing you this all works.