You don’t have to be a painter or musician to be an artist. In fact, just living day to day is an art. Our lives our like canvases, and what we do with our precious time here is the paint on that canvas. I believe we are all artists in need of creativity. I find that in order to be creative I need to be open to insights and my intuition. In order to be a better Life Artist, I have created a simple approach that has allowed me to become more aware and perceptive, so that I can be more effective and creative.
1. Get into the Present Moment with Ritual
Life today is non-stop. It often feels like there is no time, and that we jump from one task to another, without any space for actual joy. Enter Ritual. No, not the kind of ritual associated with archaic, outdated, or overly complex or foreign concepts or languages. By ritual, I mean an action, or even non-action that is so easy and repeatable, it requires virtually no thought. Anything can become a ritual. My kind of ritual is simple, repeatable without memorization, requires little thinking, offers little stimulation, and yet is relaxing. My rituals create space.
I find that being present, and relaxed are really optimal states, and far more enjoyable and productive than being stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed. And, although we are blessed with so many phenomenal tools of the day to manage life, it’s simple rituals that I find most useful. After all, if I am present to the moment, and relaxed, I am able to make the most effective decisions, large or small. I become aware, and much more capable of accomplishing virtually anything.
Some rituals I have created that follow these rules (simple, repeatable, require no thought…). You will notice these are really mundane, and uninteresting, just basic life tasks. That’s why they’re perfect.
- Waking at 4am, meditating for 30 minutes, writing with pen and paper for 30 minutes
- Pranayama (focused, yogic breathing)
- Walking with the phone turned off
- Making and drinking tea
- Reading real books
- Listening to Vinyl
- Brushing my teeth
- Shaving with a straight edge razor
2. Capturing Tools: Hardware
I like to use real pen and paper. There is something different and special and more casual and less distracting about applying real ink to paper.
– The special pen: Pilot G2. I like it because it offers a really fine line, allowing me to put a lot of ideas into a small space, and, because it’s a pushbutton, I can write without delay (no fun dealing with pen caps).
– The Levenger Pocket Briefcase is way better than a mini notepad because it fits easily into the back pocket, looks professional, and can hold a LOT of ideas. It uses 3×5” blank notecards to capture ideas on and is the perfect tool for taking down ideas anywhere, from the beach to the boardroom.
– For elegant writing, the Lamy–Moleskine system. Nothing beats the feel of having your ideas flow from brain, to hand, through the ink of a fountain pen. The Lamy is not fancy. With the reusable cartridge, you can swap ink colors and incorporate refilling the ink part of the ritual. Paired with the classiness of a Molskine journal…the system just begs for good ideas. I use the 6×9” lined moleskine for basic notetaking, and the 11×17” for “big idea” brainstorming.
3. Capturing Tools: Software
Old school tools are great for getting in the mood. But I’m no luddite, so in terms of practicality I do need a bit of technology.
- Notational Velocity is a Mac application that allows for super fast text entry, and really easy lookup. I use if for capturing phone call notes, ideas, urls, anything I need a quick note for.
- SimpleNote is for the iphone or iPad. It syncs with notational velocity and allows for easy access of those notes.
- Evernote allows for capturing everything other than these quick notes, and although is a little more complex and cumbersome than the above software, it does the same kind of syncing but for bigger files, website, images, pdfs, etc.
4. Big Rock Philosophy
If there is just ONE big thing that needs to be dealt with, start with that. I write it down, look at it, and keep it by my side until it’s done. After that, anything can happen, but I’m good to go because I’ve dealt with it. It’s easy to get distracted by the ‘little things’ and let the day slip by doing those little things while procrastinating the big one. The analogy I’ve heard is of putting the big rocks into a glass of water, to ensure there is enough room for them. After that, you can fill in with the little rocks. If however, you fill your glass with little rocks, by the end of the day, there won’t be any room for the big, important rocks. Sure, the big rocks are big and scary and beg procrastination. But things are better when you deal with them first.
5. Keep Email in its Place
Email feels good because it offers a “new” piece of information that pleases our nervous system. We’re hardwired to flock to anything new, and so email, text, and every other techie distraction pulls us like ants to honey. But with the pull, we are pulled away from what’s actually important. I try to stick by these email rules to keep on track and create the space for creativity to flourish, not email:
- Never check email first thing in the morning. Rarely is email the most important thing to do in the day. So why not relegate it to its level of its true importance?
- Determine a specific time of day to deal with email. Even try to take a day or two off of it to see what happens. The book Hamlet’s Blackberry speaks to the value of creating email and technology free zones in life, and the benefits that come with them.
- Remember that using the slightest bit of energy to address an email means that I am not using that energy for something else. Ask myself: Can I afford to just delete the email and not address it?
- Sort by sender, to deal with just one subject at a time.
- Be ruthless: Trash it, Archive it, Delegate it, Do it, and finally the hardest part of email: Think and Do. I try to whittle email down as quickly as possible to the critical things that actually require thought and doing.
- Who’s involved in the email – And can I let someone else decide what to do with it?
- Do I have all the information I need to make an answer?
- Can I answer it in 2 minutes or less? If so – do it (courtesy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system)
6. Do One Thing at a Time
Getting creative requires getting into the zone, or Flow as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it. That’s when we lose sense of time and ourselves. Flow is generally the special space reserved for artists, dancers, and writers; people who get so immersed in their activity that they are just flowing, becoming a channel for the activity. Flow is awesome, and I believe that anyone can enjoy it if they allow it to happen and create the space. But it does require focus, and focus requires freedom from distraction. Turn everything off and just focus.