Creativity, Cape Cod, and Clean Clothes

A good friend emails me and asks “do you have any organizational tips for creative people?”

What she really means is “when I am working on a critical task with a deadline, how do I resist the urge to pick up my knitting needles and knit a sweater, particularly when I have just purchased the most beautiful Angora sage green yarn – and there are people in my house who want to eat and wear clean clothes?”

It’s the bane of every creative person I know – how do we achieve focus during our day when there are a thousand things to do, and we’d much rather be making something pretty? I certainly do not claim to be a time management or organizational expert. In fact, the only reason I am organized at all is if I weren’t, I would accomplish precisely zero tasks. Ever. I swear I’d just watch re-runs of Friends and eat Cape Cod Salt and Vinegar chips while my house fell down around my ankles.
Obviously that existence is unacceptable on many different levels (though I am not opposed to living off those chips for the rest of my days.) So I’ve come up with a system that helps me scratch items off my to-do list, and arrive at appointments on time - without squashing my creativity. Maybe one or two will work for you.

Mix the fun-to-do with the have-to-do. If I am staring at a list of mundane tasks from dawn until dusk, I know I will procrastinate and get essentially nothing accomplished. Therefore, I inject fun tasks (shop for new shoes, lunch with friends, purchase mums for porch) with the tedious (doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, throwing out the mums I killed because they were never watered because that was boring.)

Create a system and segment your day. If I have to figure out what to do when every single day, I’ll spend an hour vacillating on whether or not to exercise, or write that proposal, or vacuum the baseboards. So, I exercise first thing in the morning. Then I work for a few hours. Then I do a couple of household tasks or run errands. Then I get the kids… get the picture.

Pleasing environments encourage task completion. My planner is cute and organized. My desk is relatively clear. I listen to upbeat music when I’m writing. I try to keep pretty flowers, or a favorite picture of the girls, or a bulletin board full of tear sheets I love. For me, if my surroundings are pretty, I’ll stick with the task longer and be distracted less.

Make “I’ll do that when I’m done with this” your new mantra. On days when I am running in a million different directions and trying to get a thousand things done, I keep paper and pen with me at all times. That way, when I’m, say, folding a load of laundry and I think of a unique idea for this year’s Christmas cards, I jot the idea down and keep folding the laundry. This keeps me from jumping from task to task and never actually getting any one thing finished.

So there you have it. The reasons I am able to walk around every day as an apparently fully functional human, showered, dressed and ready to go most days by 9 a.m. Of course, I’ve created a little list while I’ve been writing.

Since I’m done here, I’ll get to that next task.

XO – Amy Mac


Jenny said...


Great blog post! I have decided that for me (and this also might help other freelancers or entrepreneurs), the key to my productivity is letting go of the fact that I don't have long blocks of time to work with anymore. I have accepted that I may only have 30 minutes here, or an hour there, so the short bursts of time I can find in my day I have to truly get (and stay) focused and prioritize my to-do list.

Also, keeping not just a to-do list, but a project portfolio list is essential to know where I left off with what project since I juggle multiple writing projects at one time.



Gena said...

Great post... just when I needed it! I've always been very organised, but then I worked in a corporate job, and ran a home, so had no real choice, now that I'm a "cretive being" so to speak, not sure where all the organisational ability has gone?!?!? LOL!!! Alas, I'll put on some great music, and dance my way into organisation. G

Anonymous said...

Amy, you'll be pleased to know that I just finished my first bag of Cape Cod Salt & Vinegar Chips. I'm hooked! Let's do lunch, or chips at least, soon!