Can limitation enhance creativity?
Both the joy and the pain of having a creative career is that no two days will look the same. There will be projects that take months, alongside those that need to be done in just a matter of days. There may be jobs that require one type of creative skill, and others that require something completely different of you. A creative career can feel impossible to contain within set hours - your creative thinking is not confined to the boundaries of 'office hours'. Finding routine is tough when it is also a requirement of you to be extremely versatile.
A lot of people think that creative people thrive off chaos, and that having freedom is what gives creatives more capacity to think outside the box. For me it's important that I get free space to do this; thinking time in which there are no boundaries. But how will I get that time if I don't schedule it in? And how will I get my other projects done if I don't limit my free thinking time?
It's the same with anything we do – new skills we want to learn, self initiated projects, pushing the boundaries of an idea – we feel we don't have time because we need to focus on the paid work, but once we slip into that mentality we truly stop creating. How do we make time for both? Is it possible that routine can not only help us to use our time more wisely but that it can actually enhance creativity, not stifle it?
Freedom isn't always helpful. I could set myself no boundaries for a job and in turn I could miss the deadline for it because I ran away with an idea. And you may be thinking, well, that's all well and good, but surely this is about being productive as opposed to actually being more creative?
Have you ever decided to write a book? Or paint a picture? Or learn an instrument? The thought of starting a huge task on a blank piece of paper or page can be too daunting to even start. How about you just decide to write a paragraph? Or paint a few brush strokes? Or learn a few chords? And suddenly you have the capacity to start something you perhaps otherwise wouldn't. I can't count the number of people who've told me they wish they could 'learn the piano' or 'write a children's book'. And the fact is that it's not that they don't have enough freedom to do so but it is, in fact, that they have too much.
It's challenging when your project list gets bigger - how do you make sure you are limiting yourself enough so you can pursue the right things or be more intentional about your work? Does it mean limiting the time you spend on certain tasks? If you're a creative director or manager, how do you create the right boundaries within the work place to ensure that creativity is being cultivated, rather than taking it for granted?
And how about limitations within the projects themselves? What happens if you experiment with using only black and white, for example? What if you specialise in just one area of design, even temporarily, to see how far you could stretch the boundaries of it? Suddenly limiting yourself actually brings about new possibilities because you can push that limitation as far as it can go and, who knows, you may well end up producing your best work.
So, maybe we should embrace more limitations. Perhaps I am better to write for an hour a week than to attempt to write a novel I would likely be too daunted to start. And surely half an hour of learning is better than none? Formulating structure and routine to your day is not dismissing creative freedom – you are in fact making time for its importance. Try writing a list of all the creative things you wish to accomplish and start breaking them down into small chunks. So you want to write a book? Write a paragraph a day, or for an hour a week. So you want to learn develop your lettering skills? Spend an hour a week experimenting. Start small. Limit it. Force yourself to stop when your time is up.
As Steve Jobs said "Real artists ship". They get the things done that they say they will; they meet deadlines because they have committed to them. They aren't put off by the lure of perfectionism, or the fear of failure. So embrace the limitations, the deadlines, less resources. This is not about playing it safe or avoiding risk, it's about facilitating and enhancing creativity, not stifling it.