Ilustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Guilt-Free Creativity: Stop Kicking Yourself & Start Producing

We’ve all been there: You finally carve out the time to work on a big creative project and then you… choke. After counting on this break to really produce something, you’re suddenly paralyzed by performance anxiety. But instead of showing up as fear on the surface, it manifests itself as guilt. If you don’t proceed with caution, you can soon fritter away your creative fortune on nickel and dime activities.

Whether you’re going on a planned sabbatical or retreat, or just in between gigs, the best way to prepare yourself for creative productivity is to decide in advance how you will respond when guilt attempts to frustrate your efforts.  Here are three key temptations and how to thwart them:

Guilt That You Have More Time Than Others

The Challenge: If the people around you – family, friends, colleagues – seem really time-pressed, you can start to feel guilty that you have such unstructured days. To equalize the pressure, you might begin to volunteer to take on tasks such as running errands, attending meetings, and doing special projects because “you have the time.” At first, checking easy tasks off your list feels good, but soon you grow angry and resentful that you can’t make progress on your own big goals.

The Solution: Just because you’re working on a personal project, it doesn’t mean that you have free time. You must remember that any “extra” time has already been allocated toward your important goals. In a practical sense, this could look like blocking off your creative work time on your calendar – and respecting it – just like you would with a regular client meeting. Or if you prefer less structure, you could decide on a minimum number of hours each day and each week that you will spend doing what matters most to you. Everything you do for others will need to fit in the remaining discretionary time.

Just because you’re working on a ‘personal project,’ it doesn’t mean that you have free time.

Guilt That You’re Not Making Money

The Challenge: If you’ve reduced your hours, decided not to pursue a job, or turned down contract work so that you can move your passion project forward, you may struggle with guilt that time spent on this work doesn’t immediately benefit you financially. This can lead you to distract yourself by doing time-consuming things that may save you a bit here and there, like selling things on Craigslist or going to three stores to find the cheapest price on a computer accessory, but ultimately steal time from your highest goal.

The Solution: If you start to feel anxious about finances when there’s nothing to actually worry about, meaning that you can easily pay your bills and put food on the table, remember why you decided to take this time in the first place. Remind yourself of how hard you found it to do your creative work when you had lots of other professional responsibilities. Also, decide to look at this as a long-term investment where you can have a larger pay-off in the end. To help make this idea tangible, look into contest applications, gallery show entries, grant opportunities, or job postings that you will be eligible for by using this time productively. Print them off and post them near your workspace.

Remind yourself of how hard you found it to do your creative work when you had lots of other professional responsibilities.

Guilt That You Are Progressing Too Slowly

The Challenge: Once you have the time to focus on your creative pursuits, you may discover that you completely underestimated how long it would take you to make progress. Your grandiose visions of writing the next great American novel deflate to hopes of completing a few short stories. Or your desire to create a website that makes your designer friends drool diminishes to a hope that you’ll launch a site where all the hyperlinks function.

The Solution: Just because you have what you consider loads of time, doesn’t mean that you can get everything done at once. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the Sistine Chapel and some of the world’s greatest buildings took hundreds of years to construct. Instead of getting discouraged, record what actions you do on a daily and weekly basis and celebrate what you did accomplish. Also, try to find ways to get a sense of completion faster, such as publishing an excerpt of your book as an article, exhibiting the first painting in something that will become a series, or giving a presentation on your findings so far.


How About You?

Do you tend to get less done when you have more time?

How have you used large blocks of time productively?

Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at www.ScheduleMakeover.com.
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