If you want not only to be creative, but to get the fruits of your creative labor out into the world, there is one word that can make all the difference.
I’m indebted to an article by Yasha Wallin on the good.is blog. That article pointed out that when Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi contacted 275 creative people in order to interview them for his book, Creativity, a third of them said no.
Not because they didn’t respect him or didn’t think the study was worth doing but because they were too busy doing their own thing.
Management guru Peter Drucker answered, “….one of the secrets of productivity…is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours—productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well."
Many others said pretty much the same thing, especially the ones who were into the second half of their lives.
My late friend Al Collins used to refer to the shortening of the time we have left by saying “It’s getting dark out.” We get in touch with our mortality at different ages, but as a rule of thumb I think at twenty you believe you have time for everything, at forty you believe you can still conquer new worlds, at sixty you realize you’d better do as much as you can of what you do best.
At some point we realize it’s the things that only we can do—that is, the stories only we can tell in exactly the way we tell them, or the way we can be a close friend to a few people rather than a casual friend to many, for instance—that are the best use of our precious time. That means accepting limitations as well as embracing strengths.
That’s not to say we can’t help people or have to become totally obsessed with our own work but it’s all too easy to push our projects into the background, to please people, or else to take on too many projects.
I plead guilty. It wasn’t until I was in Panama for almost a month recently with very few distractions and worked on only one project that I was reminded how much more I get done that way.
Since then, I’ve started using “no” more often—to others but also to myself when I have what seems like a great new idea and want to jump right into it without stopping to consider all the other things I’m already committed to. It has also meant abandoning, for now, a couple of projects I’d committed to, which makes me uncomfortable when others are involved but it’s still the best way forward.
When I wrote above that I was “reminded” of the need to say no, I think that’s the key—it’s not a lesson we learn only once. I, at least, seem to have a great capacity for learning these things, writing about them…and after some time suddenly realizing somehow I’ve forgotten them again. Oh well, as long as those reminders keep coming before it gets too dark out…(The best strategies I learned--and probably will learn again!--are im my book, Focus: Use the Power of Targeted Thinking to Get More Done. It's published by Pearson and you can get it from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)