Nothing is quite as stressful as a time crunch. Whether it’s working late at night to meet a deadline, rushing to be on time to an important meeting, or something else, we’ve all experienced moments when the clock elevates our stress to new heights. But when you’re creating, this can put a damper on your creative process. That’s why it’s important to learn how to manage your time to manage your stress when creating.
Stress and creativity
As a creative, stress can sometimes work to your advantage. But that only works when stress is handled in a healthy, proactive, and productive way.
More often than not, however, we don’t handle our stress in ways that will benefit us. In fact, too often, we don’t “handle” it at all. Instead, stress runs amok in our brains, initiating fight or flight responses over and over again until we get caught in endless loops that never allow the stress cycle to complete.
This kind of stress is emotionally, mentally, and even physically exhausting. It can cause chronic and lasting effects in your body and mind, contributing to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and more. (Not to mention, being stressed all the time is just not fun.)
Under circumstances like these, how can you expect your mind to feel free enough to create? How can you ask yourself to embrace the risk and the uncertainty that comes with creativity? How can you break through fear and be creative when every signal your body sends out is a fearful one?
Stress and creativity may be able to produce the occasional spark, but their relationship is not built for longevity.
Time and stress
It stands to reason, then, that managing your stress can help you tap into your creativity more frequently and more fully.
Which brings us back to time.
Time management is not the only solution to chronic stress, but it is certainly a piece of the puzzle. After all, time is one thing that every human being constantly struggles with and has no control over. We all have the same number of hours in a day, and no matter what your job is—movie star, stay-at-home parent, corporate designer, electrician, you name it—we all have those days when we wish we had more time.
Why is that? Because often, it feels like we don’t have enough time to accomplish everything we want or need to do, and that causes (you guessed it) stress. The time we have (or don’t have) to do chores, run errands, attend meetings, finish projects, socialize, work out, and so on is a source of stress for each one of us. And stress, as we’ve already discussed, stifles our creative efforts.
In short, manage your time and you can manage your stress. Manage your stress and you can more fully enjoy creating.
How to manage your time to manage your stress when creating
Managing time is a skill that comes naturally to some people, but I’ve found that creatives don’t usually possess that particular strength. In fact, some creatives I know actively push against proactive time management, thinking that it will restrict them and their creative flow.
More than anything else, here’s what I want you to take from this post: your time is yours to manage. You can have as much or as little structure to your schedule as you want. The key is to be deliberate about how you use your time in order to avoid becoming stressed about it.
To do that, you really just need to keep a few key principles in mind.
Know your time-related stress triggers
I hate feeling like I’m under pressure from a deadline. I also really hate the feeling of being late and stuck in traffic. Both of those things are huge stress triggers for me. Because I know that, I know that I have to space big projects out so I don’t feel a ton of deadline pressure, and that I need to leave extra early if there’s any chance of running into traffic on the way to a meeting.
Take a moment to think about your own time-related stress triggers. Do you feel extra stressed when you have too much on your plate? When you sleep in? When you haven’t cleared out your inbox for several days? What about those circumstances makes you feel stressed? Identifying these triggers is the first step toward taking steps to avoid them.
Using your list of triggers as a guide, create a couple ground rules that will help you avoid the time-related situations that stress you out the most.
For example, one of my rules might be “I always add 30 minutes to my travel time when I’m going to a meeting.”
By establishing that one simple rule, I can significantly lower my chances of getting myself into a stressful travel situation.
(A quick tip: don’t create too many of these rules. The key is to find one or two of the worst triggers to focus on, so that you set realistic expectations for yourself while also noticeably impacting your happiness.)
Plan ahead (aka use your calendar)
I know you’re tempted to skip this section, but hear me out. Your “plan” doesn’t have to define what you do every minute of every day. There are plenty of ways for creatives to implement daily or weekly planning into their lives while still allowing for flexibility, like:
- Try time blocking to add general structure to your days without chaining you to specific tasks. Time blocking encourages you to do similar tasks all at the same time rather than jumping back and forth between tasks. For example, instead of checking your email every few minutes and responding to each new message, you would check and respond to emails between specific hours (e.g. 1 and 3 pm).
- Consider centering each day of the week around a specific theme (e.g. Brainstorming Mondays, Content Tuesdays, and so on). This gives you a general direction to work in without restricting you to a specific “to-do” list item.
- Schedule free time into your day. Use this time to work on whatever you feel like working on.
- Plan with purpose. Instead of task-focused calendar items, schedule your day around big-picture ideas or your vision/mission statement. For example, instead of saying “I’ll spend that hour answering emails,” say “I’ll spend that hour building relationships with my clients.”
These are all ideas for how you can manage your time to manage your stress when creating—without feeling like you are a slave to your calendar.
Time-related stress is made that much worse when we feel like the things taking up our time are not the things that are most important to us. This is where prioritizing becomes essential.
If you were confident that you always got the most important things done on any given day, chances are, you would be less stressed about the other, less important things you didn’t get to.
Decide what’s most important. Put those things on your calendar first and make sure they get done. Stress, relieved.
Routines are a great way to anchor yourself throughout the day. They bring stability and familiarity to even the mot stressful days or situations. Morning and night routines are certainly important, but think about smaller routines you can insert throughout your day as well. Maybe you take a quick water break every hour, on the hour. Maybe you take a quick power nap right after lunch. Each of these little rituals creates time for mini resets throughout your day, hopefully allowing you to complete stress cycles and get your creative juices flowing again.
Knowing how to manage your time so you can manage your stress while creating is a vital skill for any creative. If you can make the most of your time—not just in terms of productivity, but also in terms of stress management—then you and your creative efforts will reap the benefits.
Less stress. More happy.
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