It’s easy getting stuck in the rat-race of getting things done every day. We have an agenda set for ourselves, have our to-do lists guide us, or have to answer to someone or some entity that demands we do certain things (that would be our jobs).
But, it’s no way to live to constantly be working on something and not give ourselves the time to explore new interests, technologies, and other things that spark our creativity.
Google has been known for giving their employees 20% of their time during the week to work on their own projects that are unrelated to their current work (of course, they are owned by Google) where they can try new things or work on something that they are truly interested in with Google’s full resources. This type of leeway is meant to make Google engineers more creative, feel like they have more freedom, and keep them interested in their jobs and Google as a whole.
It’s a smart move, really. Engineers get to make cool stuff that they like and learn some stuff along the way and Google gets cool stuff made for them under their roof. But, we all don’t work at Google and don’t have a cool, short-and-sandle work environment where we can explore. So, what do we do? How do we get to explore?
Setting up creative time
I was blown away by the recent Cal Newport piece regarding setting up a GCTD (Getting Creative Things Done) system with an age-old productivity trick; time-blocking. I’m not going to explain Cal’s piece in its entirety (because if you are into getting stuff done, you need to read this one), but he basically suggests setting up chunks of time of an hour or more to do our creative work throughout the day. Cal suggests setting these chunks up at the beginning of the week and relating them to one or two important projects that you are working on. These chunks aren’t to be considered single tasks that need done at the end of the time chunk; they are open ended areas of time where you can concentrate on creative tasks like writing, problem solving, planning, etc.
The idea is to put a process in place, one that you trust, where you can get your creative work done, not to simply “get something done”. It’s important to leave this time “open-ended” and free. Once again, go read Cal’s post.
This idea can be used not only for work that you have to do, but also for work that you want to do and new things that you want to explore.
Giving yourself permission
So, rather than thinking that spinning your wheels on learning something new or getting nowhere with something that you find interesting is a total waste of time, remember that you need this type of creative exploration to enhance your current skills. Without taking the time and giving yourself the permission to explore, you will never know exactly what you interests you and what you want to do, even if it’s a “hobby” or “side-work”.
I started writing online about 5 years ago. I started a crappy gadget blog with the (naive) hopes of making some money online. But in that process I learned that I actually enjoyed writing and did more of it outside of that crappy gadget blog. I got into technical writing and writing about business and productivity. I started this site with hopes to take creativity and productivity with technology to a valuable place end and create something fun and useful for others. I now write for Lifehack and other online publications.
Without giving myself the permission to take the time to try something new and be creative, I would have never found my passion for writing. And the best thing is that I am still learning and exploring this creative endeavor today.
There is a lot of advice about how to make this time to explore, but I suggest that you look no further than the piece that Cal wrote (one last time, read this thing now) and also a recent Back to Work episode about calendaring and how it means more than just calendaring.
We have to be able to take the time to let ourselves fool around and not really go anywhere. We all have important work to do, but without this time to explore, we will eventually not know what other important work there is for us to do.