I love working from home. A traditional office set-up has never been my thing and I don’t mind that there’s basically no separation between my work and my life.
I like having the freedom to pursue the stories and work with the clients that inspire me. Most days I’m able to balance my ever-increasing workload with the challenges of keeping up with my why-walk-when-you-can-run toddler.
I carve out time to write while he sleeps, before my husband comes home from work, while he plays with his cousin Sailor on the living room floor and during the weekends. I return emails and keep up with social media while I make dinner, after putting the car in park, right after I wake up and right before turning out the light at night.
And even though a carry a notebook, a digital recorder and a half dozen pens wherever I go (just in case), when I’m not working, I really do try to disconnect. Most days I’m pretty productive. Most days it works.
But I’m not gonna lie. Some days it doesn’t work. Some days it doesn’t work at all.
Sometimes all this efficiency makes my brain hurt. I’m getting busy. Really busy. This little business is expanding and I’m running out of places to put it. I’m approaching a 40 hour workweek and this reality leads to a whole new set of decisions that need to be made, not to mention a pinging inbox and a sprawling to-do list.
I battled ferocious burn-out and seriously unhealthy stress levels at my last job, so I know dangerous a demanding job can be. I know how easy it is to adjust to it, to thrive on the pressure and to take a perverse satisfaction in being able to “handle it” better than most people.
So when a deadline’s looming and I can’t even conjure up a sense of purpose or urgency, much less creative brilliance, I know that I need a clean break to clear my head. Sometimes when you really need to work, the best thing to do is play.
Creativity needs room to wander, to experiment, to spend time and energy with glee. It needs spontaneity and childlike wonder. And I’m a firm believer people in any professional, creative or not, can’t actually be productive in the long-term without it.
So when life gets too crazy, I schedule a little time to play. Here’s what works for me. I’d love to know what works for you!
Setting out with no destination in mind is like a reset button for your brain. Whether you’re exploring a new place or a familiar landscape, take time to engage your senses and really notice what’s around you.
Even if you start out without an agenda, you’ll find that certain scenes seem to demand exploring. Listen to your instincts and don’t be afraid to get a little lost.
Get Inspired by Other Creatives:
As creative people, we can get stuck in our routines and habits. Because of the solitary nature of our work, isolation can sneak up on us. And when we get stuck, it can feel like torture. That’s why it helps to develop a network of people and experiences that inspire you.
Go to museums and art galleries. Read other bloggers. Get project ideas on Pinterest. Scroll through Instagram photos to see how others find beauty in their everyday lives. Really look at that cool painting hanging in your living room. Call, text or chat with your creative friends or family members. Beautiful things and creative people are everywhere, you just have to open your eyes.
Read Something New:
I don’t know how I expect to write great things if I’m not reading great things, but I cut out reading all the time. So this summer, I made a vow to read for fun and it’s been amazing.
Book club selections and “important” literature are fine, but don’t let it feel like work. It doesn’t even matter if you finish, so page through a vintage magazine, random selections of poetry or a pretty coffee table book. Re-read that novel you’ve read a hundred times. Judge a book by its cover and read the first thing that looks interesting. Read a stack of magazines or burn through a beach read without feeling guilty. Just keep the words and images flowing and your imagination will thank you.
Take a Nap:
“Just relax,” my dad told me this constantly when I still lived in my parents’ house. “Lie down and it’ll look better when you wake up.” And you know what? He was always right.
I went to Spain in High School and the idea of a culture actually setting aside time to rest midday struck me as both totally logical (these are my people!) and revolutionary. If you’re not a good napper, set your alarm for 15 or 20 minutes. You’ll rest enough to recharge, but you won’t sleep long enough to be groggy and disoriented when you wake up. And even if you don’t sleep, you’ll give your brain time to recharge.
Go Treasure Hunting:
There are two things I love about hitting up thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets. The first is finding something unique for a great price. (Bonus points if its something you needed anyway.)
The second is exploring the sheer variety of absurdly weird stuff that exists in the world. Do I need a marionette made of coconuts or neon beaded afghan or a handmade rope and seashell chandelier or a hand-painted Richard Simmons lunchbox? No. No, I do not. But I see them and they make me laugh out loud (or wonder about someone’s sanity) which is good enough for me.
I’m a water person. I swam right after I walked. I own a half dozen bathing suits. I picked a gym because there was a steam room. Nothing clears my mind like water — swimming in it, floating on it, even staring at it from the shore.
Do laps if they soothe you, but don’t be afraid to just float around to clear your mind. Hit the public pool, lay on the beach or sit in a hot tub at the gym or a hotel. And if you’ve never learned to swim, now might be a great time to sign up for lessons. Being confident in the water is really empowering.
Baking is precise, but cooking is surprisingly flexible. I’ve actually made some pretty good dishes without a recipe, so throw a few ingredients together and see what happens.
Not ready to give up a recipe just yet? Pick a random page in a cookbook and fire up the oven. Pull out that index card and make Grandma’s famous potato salad. Or actually make some of of that stuff that’s languishing on your Pinterest boards. Need a few ideas? Make something from one of mine. And let me know how it turns out, since (let’s be honest) I probably won’t be making it anytime soon.
Start a Project:
I’m not talking a big project here — just something manageable that you can actually complete in less than a half an hour. You want to be able to see results and cross it off your mental to-do list.
Make a mood board to narrow down paint colors. Sew on a button. Organize a shelf. Power clean the bathroom. Dust a bookcase. Completing a task, no matter how small, can have a big emotional pay-off.
There’s something invigorating about getting your hands dirty and it’s strangely satisfying to tend something and watch it grow. Plant a few flowers or herbs in a small container and stick it in a sunny spot.
If you’re already have a garden, cut a bouquet of flowers. Take time to notice how the bees crawl across the blossoms and how the smell of fresh tomatoes lingers on your skin. Or sit and listen to the leaves rustle in the wind. Nature has the power to quietly restore us.
Take a Coffee Break: Hot, iced, blended — I like coffee anyway I can get it. I usually take mine black, but when I’m feeling stuck, it’s fun to treat coffee less like the life-sustaining force it is increasingly becoming and more like a treat.
Splurge on premium beans or take yourself out for a blended drink. You might as well order a cupcake and do a little people watching while you’re at it.
Hit The Road:
This blog was basically founded as a way for me to justify (and fund) my wanderlust, so it’s no surprise that this is my one of my first solutions when I hit a wall. You don’t have to go far to change your perspective — just hop in the car and head to a restaurant you love or a neighborhood you’ve never explored.
If it’s open road you’re craving, bring alone some good music, make the all-important gas station stop to stock up on road food, roll the windows down and hit the road. Keep your eyes and your mind open, and you’ll have a clearer head and a ton of experiences to draw from when you get back.
Tag your pics and tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!