15 Tips from the Trenches for Carving Out Time for Creativity in a Busy Day
When you’re slammed with meetings and a long to-do list on the regular, finding time to think creatively — or just think, period — can be challenging. There’s plenty of advice out there regarding how to be creative in general, but it’s harder to figure out strategies for putting it into practice.
That’s why we’ve rounded up the best advice from entrepreneurs, creatives and leaders across various industries to help you carve out the space you need for brainstorming and big thinking.
Make It a Priority
Nick Glassett, co-founder, Origin, Leadership Group, says:
“Making time to think creatively in a busy day is easy . . . when you make it easy. How do you make it easy? You make it a priority. The most common excuse for anything is, ‘I don’t have time.’ Sure, you have time! We all do. The key here is that time is not found, it’s made. Busy is a choice. You decide what you do and what you don’t do."
"There will always be trade offs, but those tradeoffs are an inherent part of life," Glassett said. "Choose to prune the trivial from your day — replying to an email that you know is unnecessary, attending a meeting that should’ve been an email — to make time for vital things like creative thinking.”
Stay Up Late
Amy Sowder, food and fitness multimedia journalist, says:
“I make a list of story pitches on my cell phone's notes app while riding in the subway train. And sometimes (OK, often) things hit me late at night, and I just go with it. I may have a sluggish morning, but I got done what I needed to get done, even if I have an unproductive morning because I did it after midnight."
"Some of us, especially creatives, are just night owls and shouldn't fight it if we can help it," Sowder said.
Ask Yourself: How Bad Do You Want It?
Jen Wille, a life coach, says:
“Ask yourself: how bad do you want it? If you think you do not have time, you will not make time for the things you might be wanting, deep down. Write out everything you do for a couple of days. I would bet that a lot of things you deem you ‘have to’ do are really choices you’re making based on other people's assumptions or expectations, and even possibly some of your own. Go through the list one by one, and ask, ‘Do I really have to do this?’
"Create some time in your schedule, and choose just one fun, creative thing that is non negotiable," Wille said. "Creativity is a piece of self-care, and self-care should not be negotiable. Give yourself full permission to do the things you are wanting to do—which might mean saying no to other things.”
Schedule Time Alone
Greg Fretz, senior growth marketer, Logojoy, says:
“Even during the busiest of work days, I schedule in at least 30 minutes per day to do my own individual brainstorm. This is when I take a piece of paper, title it as a potential project I wish to create and execute, then I start building my brainstorm tree with words, ideas, and inspiration points."
"If I start to get stuck on building my ideas, I will step away from my desk for a few minutes or even head outside for a quick walk to clear my head and return to brainstorming," Fretz said. "It is great to allow yourself to have your creative time alone and you can even adapt this idea to work with a whole team.”
Spark Unintended Connections
Bree Miller, senior vice president of context design, Habits at Work, says:
“Listening to podcasts on the drive to work usually gets my brain working on the morning commute, which can tend to feel like wasted time. I find a podcast topic that makes my brain stretch, not something that I am already familiar with, and usually 20 minutes in, my brain is going down a million rabbit holes trying to make sense of the podcast content and it sparks a lot of unintended connections: a big source of creative solutions!”
Go For a Run
Annie Sullivan, author, says:
“As a fantasy writer, my entire job depends on how creative I can be. I also work full-time for a publishing company, which doesn’t leave much time for creative thinking during the day, so I’ve had to come up with creative solutions in order to find ways to keep my imagination active."
"During my lunch breaks, I go for a run," Sullivan said. "This allows me time to clear my head and let new ideas surface. It’s a great break in the day and an excellent way to keep creative thoughts continuously following. It also makes it easier when I get home to get back into a creative groove because there hasn’t been such a long stretch between brainstorming and writing sessions."
Thinking on Your Feet
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition, says:
“One of the perks of working for myself is that I control the flow of my day. So when I feel my creativity slowing, I’ll take a walk to pick up groceries or run another errand. If I magically don’t have any errands to run, I’ll walk to pick up a cup of coffee. I do some of my best thinking while on my feet.”
Alex Kelsey, marketing manager, GreenVelope, says:
“Instead of overthinking it, I instead stop thinking so much, and let the creativity come to me. I put on headphones with my favorite playlist, sit on the couch, and scroll through my inspiration folder, Pinterest feed, or even Instagram."
"As I see things that speak to me, I jot down notes," Kelsey said. "'What did I like about it?' 'How did it make me feel?' 'Were there particular creative tools, visuals, or messaging that made me feel that way?’ Those notes can help you find inspiration for that next creative project.”
Remember to Breathe
Terra Wellington, lifestyle personality, actor and author, says:
“Being an artist and businesswoman, it’s incredibly important that I check in during the day to breathe and see how I feel. Feeling is part of being an artist. And if I spend 8-10 hours a day with no feeling, then the brain has taken over and done me no good in the creativity sector."
"I start and end every day with a short meditation that is often more about being in the present moment," Wellington said. "Sometimes it’s setting an intention. This helps with the creative process by being in touch with my life and what’s happening, versus just being a robot with tasks.”
Creativity Occurs When It Wants To
James A. Schiel, CEO, Artisan Software Consulting, says:
“The trouble with thinking creatively is that you can’t ‘turn on’ the creative juices when you necessarily want to. Whether a day is busy or not has everything to do with how many different tasks you decide to do in a given day, and whether or not you slot time to get things done. I tried to create a 'timebox' for doing creative work but discovered that creativity occurs when it wants to, not when I wanted it to."
"So, I tried a different approach: In the morning, first thing, consider the problem you want to solve. Write it down. Stick it on some empty wall space, a whiteboard, or even empty table space," Schiel said. "Look at it from a couple different perspectives, and write those down separately. Now, schedule the rest of your day in 25 or 50 minute blocks of time, plus a final block of time to consider the “creative” work."
"After each block, spend a couple minutes reviewing what you wrote down in the morning. Capture some additional ideas — don’t filter, just write. Keep doing this throughout the day until you get to the block where you need to put together everything that came to mind during the day. You can do this for a few days until you have what you need.”
Go to the Bathroom More Often
Emily Farris, food and lifestyle writer at FestiveAF, says:
“I have a full-time job and also about 17 different freelance gigs. And because I obviously needed more to keep me busy, I started a craft and cocktail blog last year. Whenever I need a few minutes to collect my thoughts — whether I'm at work or at home — I head to the bathroom."
"I'd like to say it's the only place no one will bother me, but I have a 2-year-old so that's not exactly true at home," Farris said. "The place I have my best ideas, though, is the shower because (at least until the waterproof iPhone) it is the only time I am truly forced to be completely screen-free.”
Channel the Time Crunch
Katie Hellmuth Martin, co-founder, Tin Shingle, says:
“Find a quiet space, often with headphones on with music, and do not look at emails. Get in touch with what it is you need to produce. The most creative writing can often come during an unexpected moment. It is usually of passion, or if you have been marinating on the concept for a while, and the words are ready to come. Or, you are extremely busy, and you type very quickly in a way that self-edits because you have such little time. "
"If you need a new concept," Martin said, "you need to walk away from what you are doing, from any deadlines, and just plug into music and be separated from a connected world.”
Take a Class
Lesley Logan, Profitable Pilates, says:
“My advice: do the creative work first! Turn off your notifications on your phone or computer until you’ve have spent 10 ten minutes in the morning writing or meditating on what you want to do creatively. Create ‘white space’ in your calendar. If you’re busy and have a team that demands meetings with you, simply block out times that no one can schedule over, including you!"
"Sign up for a class that requires you to attend for your creative outlet." Logan said. "It’s hard to be creative at home or at work when you’re busy — so many other things feel more important and demand your attention. But if you’re held accountable to go to a class that you paid for, then you’re more likely to go.”
Get Out of the Office
Chelsea Cole, food blogger, A Duck’s Oven, says:
“Every Wednesday morning, I head to a coffee shop first thing — before checking my emails, community management, anything — because it isn’t my home or my office where distractions, to-dos, and chores live. I put an internal out-of-office message on, letting my colleagues know I wouldn't be checking emails for a couple hours but I'd get back to them shortly, which relieves any anxiety I had about not responding quickly."
"Then I'd finally get to all those strategy, planning, and creativity articles I'd been bookmarking but never gotten around to reading, and open a brain dump document," Cole said. "I'd read these and ideate for a couple of hours and spend the last half hour picking a few of those ideas to make real and adding next steps to my to-do list.”
Anis Litim, creative designer, 9thCO, says:
“Usually when days get busy, I see them coming. So when I know that I'm about to face one of these days, I prepare myself in advance. I wake up 30 minutes or one hour earlier than I usually do and use that time to fix myself a breakdown schedule for the day and order my tasks by priority or urgency. I focus one thing at a time and set myself a deadline for each project within the day. I sketch my ideas on paper before I start designing, as this gives me a better vision of the creative project as a whole before I have even started."
"I spend 10-15 minutes before I start to find some creative inspirations related to the project I'm about to work on," Litim said. "I give myself a 10-minute break from my computer between projects, where I go for a quick walk, just to reset my mindset and not get too burned out. And I work offline and stay away as much as possible from distractions, phone, messages, and social media to stay focus on the work itself.”