This week I've had time constraints and what creativity means to me on my mind...
Based on my reading and general observations, allotting time to be creative (which the definition of is usually subjective to an individual) is one of the more difficult things people juggle with. I know I do.
I am grateful that the professional work I do is primarily creative. Developing software can be routine and a slog, but I am lucky to be at a place in my career where I have choices as to where I wish to work. (which has resulted in me being at an early stage startup)
When I was younger, I found my creative time primarily fell in the evenings. Fond memories of staying late at my first job hacking away on a Django project and driving home at 2am with the windows down. There was no order to it, but it could be categorized as time where I was no longer going to be bothered by the day's happenings (the boss asking a question, customers, emails, friends/family)
Now with the responsibilities of parental life, I face the challenge every other parent has gone through: How do I fit in all these things I want when the little kids take up most of my time, have a strict schedule, and are going to lose their godamn minds if dinner isn't ready by 5:30pm sharp as it each and every day?
The thing with parenting is everyone sucks at it because it's the first time you are doing it. When my first kid turned 6, that was the first time I parented a six year old. When my second child became a toddler, that was the first time I parented a toddler alongside a six year old. Parenting is hard.
So my time for being creative has become constrained, less flexible, and mostly falls into very specific time slots. In the grand scheme of things, the adjustment is temporary — before I know it, my children will be teenagers and I'll have more time than I know what to do with. However, right now, they are young. At a high level, my days follow the exact same routine (Ah, there's that hedonic treadmill!):
5:30am: Get up and go for a run (5k). This is mostly my preferred approach to starting my day. It works with the exception of times where my toddler gets up early or has a bad night of wake ups (she goes in phases, like most toddlers do)
7-9am: Family time. Breakfast, getting the kids dressed, bit of play, and school / daycare drop off.
9am-1pm: Mostly focused creative time. Usually break for a light lunch or will include a run if I was not able to get it in during the morning. Activity helps to reduce the need for a coffee jolt.
1-3pm: Mostly work meetings. Standups, syncs, etc
3-4:30pm'ish: Wrap up work, maybe knock out a few small things or wrap up what I was doing in the morning. Kids home soon
4:30'ish-8pm: Family time. Play, dinner, more play, bed time routines, clean up, etc.
8-10pm: Attempt to be creative but I'm exhausted so instead usually tinker with a small project, watch TV, play video games, or read a book.
10pm: Sleep because I've been up since 5am and I value my sleep.
As I've grown up as a parent I've done my best to recalculate what I define as creative time. This was an important adjustment in thinking, as I found myself growing frustrated and anxious with the fact that my creative time was only available in such a short window. I dreamed of taking vacation in a small shack somewhere away from home just so I could get things done.
It has been a process, but the adjustment has allowed me to see creative time differently. When my kids were at their youngest, it was the simplest of things: building LEGO structures, leaning block towers to see how high we can go before everything collapses. Now as my oldest kid grows up, I see that time spent with him much differently. This morning we spent some time making a black hole space cat mask (use your imagination) for his day at camp. A few days prior at the library, we made a fun scene with Scratch. My toddler, she loves to paint. So we go to the backyard and make a bigger mess at her outdoor painting station.
No doubt there are times where I still get anxious about not having that time. Sometimes I really just want to get that one project done! The desire to run away to a shack in the woods exists, but I've learned in order to enable that I need to organize my life to allow for a smoother transition into that space. If I booked a shack tomorrow for 5 days, I wouldn't know what to do with myself. But if I become consistent with taking 30 minutes a day to work on something creative (for me, not work) with the intent to build towards something larger? Then I have a foundation and can think about that big push. (of course, if I leave for 5 days somewhere, the family and my partner need the appropriate supports too; not one to just up and leave :-))
But no shack retreat this time. For now, I've come to appreciate the times outside that short window of opportunity. Now my creative time shows up in bursts throughout the day. It will look different next year and five years from now. As well, if I am less anxious and stressed about missing that window of opportunity, I find I actually have more energy in the evenings, or other opportunistic times to be creative solely for myself!
The window to be creative in ways that aren't particular to how I think I want to be creative is short, and closes quickly. So for now, I'm going to enjoy what I have, be less anxious, and direct my energy more appropriately.