Are We Getting Less Creative?

Scores on tests of creativity (e.g. the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking) have been declining since the 1990’s, says Michael Easter, author of the ‘Comfort Crisis.’ Skills measured by the test include curiosity, open-mindedness, imagination, and problem-solving, all abilities necessary for success in life and art. Studies have shown that children with higher creativity scores on the Torrance Test become more accomplished adults. 

DISSATISFACTION.

Scientists believe that several factors affect creativity scores. One factor is the cultural Puritan work ethic – the expectation that to be a success, a person must hustle and be industrious. As adults, we often believe we should be more productive with our time, get more done, and be more efficient. To-do lists get longer and longer. Yet, try as we might, we are unable to get everything done that we think we should. We look hopefully to productivity experts for hacks to improve our time management. Busyness may at times seem like the only path to success. 

Related to our feelings of busyness are the many interruptions and distractions from screens – the average American devotes about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media, approximately 65% of waking hours, according to a 2016 Nielson report – on their phone, T.V., computer. Further, many people are interrupted repeatedly throughout the day by numerous notifications from their digital media. 

Wachusett Reservoir Watercolor Painting.

DECLINING CREATIVITY.

It’s no wonder many complain of feeling overworked, dissatisfied, missing out on the beauty in life, feeling time is passing too quickly, having no time to relax, always rushing. Scientists suggest that our hurried, stressful, over scheduled lives and large amounts of time spent on digital devices contribute to declining creativity.

DIGITAL MEDIA CAN BE ADDICTIVE.

Social media, in fact, has been designed to grab our attention, to encourage addiction! Metrics, algorithms, and optimization tools are sensitive to POPULARITY (what gets clicked on), not necessarily to the TRUTH. You’ve heard of click-bait – sensational rumors, salacious images, outrage-driven rants that get shared, a lot. The more you pay attention to your devices, the more you encourage ads and clips (that the algorithms deem to be of interest to you) to be shown to you. Too many interruptions, and the result can be uncertainty, disorientation, upset, cynicism, even a short-circuit in your ability to think rationally.

REDUCE DISTRACTIONS TO IMPROVE CREATIVITY.

With so much rushing and increasing use of digital media, there is seldom time for relaxing, daydreaming, unfocused thought — all things necessary for creativity. It’s not very realistic to think you can rush to squeeze a productive painting session into a free 15 minutes between other demands. Despite all the recommendations to use your time more productively and get more done, perhaps we should be doing FEWER things! Do less, and do it better. 

Swamp Watercolor Painting.

We may be TOO BUSY for creativity to blossom. Is it even possible to be productive AND creative? Childhood used to be a time of unsupervised puttering and exploring, and lots of imaginary play (NOT organized sports, tutoring, educational T.V. or computer games). Kids and adults need time to daydream, ponder, and be creative. We all need time to “moodle,” as Brenda Ueland says in ‘If You Want To Write.’ By moodling she means “long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering” in the present, as opposed to desperately rushing, worrying about the future, striving to accomplish more, “always briskly doing something.”

GET BORED TO BECOME MORE CREATIVE.

To increase creativity, we need calm and unscheduled time. Perhaps we even need to be BORED. By automatically grabbing your phone to check texts or watch an entertaining YouTube video when you have a free moment, you may rush right past an important observation or a creative thought of your own. Try something new. Pause and let your mind wander. Rest and reset. We don’t always have to be productive.

Sam’s Hill Watercolor Painting.

Science has shown that boredom, unscheduled down time, and daydreaming increase creativity by allowing our brain the space to think freely and come up with new ideas. In contrast, constant busyness inadvertently reduces creativity. 

Many successful people have shared their high opinions of boredom. Austin Kleon refers to the following people in his blog (https://austinkleon.com/2015/12/17/the-benefits-of-boredom/). Author Neil Gaiman believes “The best way to come up with new ideas is to get really bored.” Steve Jobs maintained “I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything.” Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, says “Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that’s where creativity arises… My best ideas come to me when I am unproductive.” Writer Scott Adams admits  “I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.” Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky thinks  “Boredom is your window… Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.” And Albert Einstein concluded “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”

RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN AND NURTURE CREATIVITY.

So, how can you retrain your brain to allow for more creativity and inventiveness? 

First, get in the habit of scheduling FREE TIME and allowing yourself to daydream. Constant busyness actually makes you exhausted and prevents you from working at maximum efficiency. 

Second, put in a concentrated effort to RESIST your cell phone (you can disable notifications, shut it off for awhile, or put it in another room) so you will not be interrupted. You DON’T have to respond to every text or email immediately since being ‘busy’ all the time does NOT make you more productive. 

Third, VARY your routine – doing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place everyday can be a creativity killer. Instead, take a different route to your destination, check out a new location, hang out with different people. Be more spontaneous. 

Fourth, take a WALK. Walking energizes your brain. You don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, so your attention is free to wander, invent, think, observe. ‘Eureka’ moments tend to come to us not when we’re intensely focused on a problem but when we’re idly thinking about something else, allowing our subconscious mind to contemplate the issue in the background. (A hot shower may work in a similar way.)

MAKE YOUR CHOICE.

It does seem that “You have to CHOOSE between endless distractions and innovative ideas.” as author Jessica Stillman says.

If you’re interested in reading more on creativity, see my related blog posts, titled “Creativity Can Be Learned”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/01/08/creativity-can-be-learned/, published January 8, 2019, and “Fostering Creativity.”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/09/24/fostering-creativity/, uploaded September 24, 2019.

Shelburne Vermont Field Watercolor Painting.

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Busy, Busy, Busy… How Can I Make More Time To Paint?

 

Do you have too much to do and too little time? Do you ever feel overwhelmed, exhausted by chores and commitments? Do you wish you could find the time for your creative pursuits, or even just a bit of relaxation? Do you ever say “I don’t have time!” for the things you want and yearn most to do?

Our culture has raised us to believe that the more you do, and the BUSIER you are , the more valuable and worthy you are. “No sitting around daydreaming!!!”, my father used to bellow. Or at other times,“Get your nose out of that book!!!” We sometimes feel we have to do it all or we’ll be seen as lazy, less successful.

’Busyness’ can, however, also be a distraction from dealing with important issues in your life. It can be a way we NUMB ourselves and even a way we AVOID taking time to think about who we are, what we want, and what we need to change in our lives.

Lost In Time, Pepperell, MA.

Lost In Time, Pepperell, MA.

STOP DOING SO MUCH AND SET PRIORITIES.

Perhaps you are trying to do too much and need to be more selective. Are you getting the right things done?

Have you heard about the 80/20 Rule? It’s also called the Pareto Principle, named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, who in 1896 discovered that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. The Pareto Principle states that 80% of consequences usually come about from only 20% of all efforts, suggesting an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. In my art business, for instance, I have found that about 80% of my sales come from only 20% of my customers no matter how much work I put in. So, instead of marketing to the general public (who may not care about art or watercolor), my efforts are made more effective by prioritizing my relationships with that 20%.

Fenceline, Shelburne, VT.

Fence Line, Shelburne, VT.

Wouldn’t you like to use your time more efficiently? All the tasks on your ‘To-Do List’ are NOT equally important! You DON’T have to do it all! You can (and should) CHOOSE your own priorities. (No one can tell you what is a priority for you.)

Think about what works (and what doesn’t) FOR YOU. (I need to stop worrying about being a ‘good girl’ and doing what other people think I should.) What gives you the most bang for your buck? Do MORE of that and less of the nonessential. (I want to spend more time actually painting.) What gives you the best outcomes and most satisfaction? What works best with the least amount of effort? Can you stop doing some of the less important tasks? (Be honest.) Do they actually have to be done now? (Put them on your calendar to be done at a later date.) Do you even care about this task? Might it be something you’ve done for years but don’t need or want to do any longer? (I don’t need to be part of a co-op anymore.  I still use healthful foods but don’t need to invest hours placing orders, sorting goods, or writing co-op newsletters when I could be painting or working on my blog.) Can you delegate some jobs, so you can start spending more time on the activities that make a difference, or that you enjoy? (My husband does more of the cooking these days.)

Clarify what you want to learn, where you want to go, who you want to be. Prioritize, and WRITE DOWN three things to do today; ignore the rest for now.

Apples, Marlboro, VT.

Winter Apples, Marlboro, VT.

ESSENTIALS FIRST.

Often we do unimportant or low-priority tasks on our ‘To-Do List’ before we do something that would add real value or satisfaction to life, perhaps because we want to ‘get something DONE’ or ‘get warmed up’. No! Instead, START with the important or difficult job that will offer you the BIGGEST PAY-OFF.  This insures that what matters most is done first – it is a PRIORITY and should be treated as such, not left to do if you have any leftover time. Don’t work non-stop with no time reserved for relaxing, but choose to squeeze a few of the less pressing tasks in around the essential.

DO ONE THING AT A TIME AND FOCUS.

Trying to do TOO MANY things can actually be a PRODUCTIVITY KILLER! ‘Busy, busy, busy’ DOESN’T mean you’re getting more done. (This may seem counter-intuitive – some people try to multi-task, thinking they can get more done.) But when you FOCUS on one thing at a time, rather than many, you are more effective. When I’m writing a blog post, every interruption takes time away from actual writing and adds time to re-focus and recover my train of thought. Paying attention to what you’re doing can actually save time.

Keep your eyes on the MAIN GOAL you have chosen. (I will make the time to do more watercolor painting.) Establish short-term goals and sub-tasks that revolve around your big goal. (I plan to clean up and reorganize my painting area, make sure my palette is filled with paint, plan and set up my next painting, decide the time and day I plan to start. Related to my main goal is taking advantage of the online art courses that I have previously lined up.) Be intentional about how you use your time. (I will share my plans with people like my husband, who might unknowingly interrupt.)

LIMIT DISTRACTIONS. DEVELOP SELF-DISCIPLINE.

Don’t allow yourself to be sucked in by distractions. IDENTIFY what distracts YOU most and prevents you from being productive. Strive not to pay attention to things that upset you or that you don’t really want to be involved with. (No twitter for me!) Take the dog outside before you begin your work. Reduce any distracting input. Don’t watch the news on TV – watch only your favorite shows, and do it later. Stay away from your phone, stop scrolling on social media, turn notifications off, and even unsubscribe from some apps. Shut your door (or politely say “No” when people interrupt or ask questions when you’re trying to focus).

reflection-townsend-ma.

Reflections, Townsend, MA.

IN SUMMARY.

All the tasks on your ‘To-Do List’ are NOT equally important! When you know what’s important, it’s a lot easier to IGNORE what’s not. So, focus on what matters to YOU, do it first, and eliminate some of the busywork. Don’t work non-stop, but reserve some time to relax. Do less and get more done, and spend more time doing what you want to do!

Footnote: This blog addresses issues that I continue to struggle with. Some days, I’m more successful at focusing than others. Some days, life gets in the way. As in painting, we must be kind and patient with ourselves, and not expect perfection. Just don’t give up!

Join me and get painting tips, inspiration, the latest news about classes, new art or products for sale, sent to you in my newsletter. Subscribe here. I’ll give you a free copy of my Color Blending Tips pdf., that you can download and print.

Photos taken and copyrighted by Tristan T. Haman (https://www.instagram.com/thaman15/).