How Constraints Can Help Your Creativity
Have you ever sat down to do a piece of work and found yourself staring at the blank page, not knowing what to do next? This is a common problem for those on the creative treadmill of developing content regularly. This problem is not only reserved for regular content creators. Perhaps you need to write an important business email and you can’t find the right words. It might be a university assignment that you have been procrastinating on. Some might call it writer’s block.
I’m reminded of the work of Jocko Willink. One of his many books is called “Discipline Equals Freedom”. He explores, amongst many topics, how financial discipline can bring about financial freedom. Another example is to have disciplined time management so that you can create free time. Discipline implies constraints. The constraints are the boundaries or rules that one uses to focus the mind.
Recently, I have spent time observing closely how my thinking mind operates. I have observed how my mind does not always complete a line of thinking. My mind jumps to another subject, picks up a new thread, and is off down a rabbit hole. In conversation with others, I have discovered that I am not unique when it comes to the challenges of trying to focus my mind on a specific subject.
Here are some tips and tricks that I use every day to help me with my creative discipline. There is an element of ritual that acts as a trigger to get my mind tuned into the important task at hand.
Tip #1: Allocate a specific slot in your diary that is reserved for your creative pursuit. This is especially important if you are a regular creator. You may be tempted to say, “but I have to be creative all day”. If you look closely, you may be saying that to avoid being constrained to a specific time block. That is the point; constraint creates focus. Do your best to remove all distractions during this time, especially those message and email notifications that will tempt you away from the important task.
Tip #2: Develop a structure or a framework in which your creativity can be held. That is like pouring water into a flask. If there is no container, you end up with an uncontrolled mess. The best example I can give is the construct of this page. There is a border, a heading, an article number and date, and a space holder for a picture. These “easy wins” create a framework, which is the constraint, to hold the creative content. These easy wins apply to most work products, a letter and assignment or a new presentation. Getting them done first helps you feel like the task is well underway and creates momentum for the creative process to follow.
Tip #3: Know where the finish line is when you start. An open-ended task is overwhelming. Being overwhelmed dilutes the creative flow. The borderline at the bottom of this page or the 250-word count is the finish line.
The three constraints of TIME, STRUCTURE and LENGTH (finish line) will act as the container into which your creative content can flow. The ritual of doing this will trigger your creative ability. Over time you will produce better and better content.
A final tip is a LOCATION. That is the place where you do your creative work. The ritual of going to the same place at the same time, every day, acts as a series of triggers to unlock your creative floodgates.