The sustainability of internal wellbeing and how this effects our creative output. This article is a long one and broken down into 5 digestible sections (recommended to accompany tea or other beverage of choice). These are all integral to a sustainable workflow and appear as follows:
Productivity | Concentration | Sleep | Mindfulness | Reliability
Everyone has good and bad days. There are those days of bliss when we feel as though our whole life is working, each thought leads to something and there is an overall sense of flow. There are also bad days when it really feels like the mind has gone off into a land of lucid dreaming. We become restless and nothing seems to work.
During the lows, it is so easy to fall into thought patterns of blame and frustration as we feel our mind unable to focus for longer periods of time. Realistically, when we stop our “bad emotions” and thoughts to get our work moving along, we don’t just stop our bad thoughts… we stop everything.
Rather than going for a fifth cup of tea before the workday begins or checking emails and social media beyond a reasonable amount of time, here is a little dialogue of things to consider while we are working in fields that require prolonged motivation, confidence and flow of ideas.
Concentration and ease of workflow
Concentration has so much to do with how we breathe, our hydration and the quality of regular sleep we receive each night. When we start to slouch off, at whatever point in the day this happens, it is so useful to check in with how we feel and ask the questions:
When was the last time you drank a glass of water?
Are you hydrating regularly throughout the day and do different surroundings (air-conditioners, etc.) require different levels than we are used to?
Where are your toes?
I know, it’s an odd question. When was the last time you breathed into your whole body and sent energy into different parts of the lungs, the limbs and our tiny toes? Wiggle the extremities of the body and get some air moving! This does wonders to refresh concentration. Breath is everything.
What did you eat throughout the day?
If the answer involves one type of food (i.e. only bread, cake, or something else sweet) there is a very high chance that our workflow is being influenced, or in some extreme cases controlled, by blood sugar spikes and drops. Keeps some nuts, fresh vegetables and extras (hummus, cheese…) nearby as you work and go for good fats during a lunchtime meal instead of carbs to avoid an afternoon energy slump. If you can catch your energy before it drops off a cliff face, the day’s workflow feels more steady, sustainable and organic.
Time for a rest?
Although it is a little difficult to run off for a nap in most workplaces, the benefits of short breaks shouldn’t be overlooked. Sometimes the most effective thing we can do is change our scenery momentarily, meditate or simply do something completely different to the work we have been focusing on throughout the day. This helps us feel fresh, gain a new outlook on our work and perhaps see things in a new light when we return. It is also a great stress-buster during longer projects!
Respectful of sleep
We can reach states of over fatigue quite rapidly and often without realising that we are slipping away. With screen exposure and bright lights late at night, it can become really difficult to reach a state of wanting to go to sleep and get a good night’s rest.
Sleep really affects the body. Many of us ‘night owls’ pride ourselves on not needing so much of it, only to be blindly caught when we find ourselves in a moment that requires sharp concentration and we simply can’t be there. This is a really scary state to be in and one which can be very easily avoided.
Decide on a time to clock-off
This is a tricky one in the modern world where emails, social media and all things “life” are in the palm of our hand. It is so simple to slide into the trap of ‘just quickly’ checking a late email or post on social media. This can open a world of energy from the good, the bad and the indifferent to send the mind buzzing for hours into the night. By deciding on a time that we simply stop interacting with the external world, we prioritise the self and our quality of work.
Another trick which is really great if you have trouble getting to sleep is to invest in a low-wattage lamp or even some candles for the wind-down time before bed. This is an important stage in our day and one which can have immense benefits on both the physical and mental states of being if we interact with it. When we create the right circumstances for these cycles of rest and wakefulness to happen, we can experience consistent improvements on focus and productivity during our working days. We become present of how we feel “now” rather than slumping into lamentations of the fact that we didn’t sleep enough the evening before or worse… dreading the same fate for the upcoming evening. Bad sleep cycles can be really difficult once we’re in them and so time-consuming to break, becoming a constant state of pseudo-jetlag. Stay strong! Investing in the self and our quality of rest has enormous benefits on our focus, wellbeing and quality of work.
Morning and evening rituals are of equal importance. When building these up it is vital that we don’t judge our progress or become overly frustrated when things have to change some days. Having the gravity of daily cycles and processes creates a natural cadence to our days and is a really beautiful way to live. It helps so much in staying present and being able to respond to our situations as they are, and not how they relate to something from months or years ago. The cycle of each day can be like a miniature version of seasons. For the night-time, it can be a celebration of autumn, its colours and hue a reflection of the day or week past, before transitioning into winter and rest. By the next morning we wake into spring and are ready for a new cycle of seasons to begin. This really helps the mind and body recognise which part of our daily cycle we are up to in any given moment and is a really effective process in balancing our time during longer, more intensive projects.
Predicting the weather
One of the most difficult aspects to working in a creative area is understanding our sense of flow and rhythm. Sitting down to write, compose music, paint… so much of what determines the periods of time in which we work effectively has to do with our state of mind and overall sense of wellbeing. If we are in tune with the self and can tap into the cycles that each day progresses in, it becomes possible to work effectively and intensely for much longer periods of time. Our work then opens into a space of not only prolonged productivity, it most importantly creates the potential for reliability.
Understanding these codes and rhythms of the inner psyche is not in any way easy but it is a process that is most certainly worth interacting with. If we have no idea how our own mind and body function, how do we expect them to support our creative processes? Not looking after the body results in sickness (physical, mental…) or injury; both of which compromise workflow and quality of creative output. It is confronting to face these aspects of our work as suddenly we become responsible for the state which we work from, but it is so necessary to do… especially if we feel a sense frustration blooming in the body and mind or our thoughts staring up against a blank wall.
It is really important to note here that everyone is different. For some people, really strenuous exercise will create a space to understand their physical presence and centre their body awareness – for others this may be yoga, walking in nature, running… anything! Similarly, with the mind, some will find certain types of meditation throughout the day an effective way to check in with thought patterns… there are so many ways to interact with these elements of the self and actually the process of discovering what works can be really enjoyable if we allow it to be.
Relying on the body and state of mind
Creativity needs a steady ground of nurture and self-care if our output is going to be in any way consistent, reliable and of high quality. The best and most effective way is to create a space where we know how the body and mind are functioning simply by checking in with their rhythms. When we are looking after the self in this way, our bodies rhythms and our creative flow become entwined in a way that can be really supportive of one another. The romanticised ‘tortured artists’ of centuries past is perhaps best left in the past. We didn’t really know how they lived and the most important process in creative work is finding our own individual flow to work with and not against. If we can save energy in this way, our rhythms of creative workflow can be uplifted by the state that we are in and not drowned down.
Reliable energy comes from good food and effective sleep. This is an area that I personally fall over in all the time. In fact, I think most of the time I do it wrong… somehow. But – in saying this it is an area that so vital to understand and see as gravity. Like planets orbiting, sometimes our cycles of rhythm, self-care and nourishment go a little astray. The important thing is that we know where the focal point is and can return to this during breaks between projects, small pockets of time, etc. and try to remember as best we can how to sustain these processes during the next wave of work. Consistency is key, and so is patience with our pace of progress.
It is possible to do all of these things in a sustainable way that, believe it or not, saves time in the long-run. In order to survive as an artist, the process of looking after oneself is so important. We are expressing something deeply personal and both the body and mind are connected to one’s instrument of art (musical instruments, paintbrushes, etc.). If the wellbeing of the self, the medium of creating our artform, is compromised, our work will also be compromised in some way. Longer-term reliability on the self is an area of life that is key to the enjoyment of our work, connection to loved ones and presence within surroundings we find ourselves in.
This article is compiled from a collection of notes, thoughts and ideas on what it means to be creative and to work in a state of creative flow. It has expanded into a topic of sustainable workflow in general – how and why we have good and bad days and what to do in the meantime. Hope you have enjoyed!
Picture credits by Linda Warlond at my piano and in Ku-rin-gai chase national park, Australia.