Why it’s important for your business to take time out to be creative

Love to have more energy, passion and ideas for your business? Find out why it’s important to take time out to be creative – and how to do it. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but as soon as you become a parent, time gets sprinkled into your vocabulary, way more than it did pre-kids. Playtime, bath time, nappy time, milk time, tummy time, nap time, mummy time, bedtime, pick up time, reading time, screen time, and even wine o’clock.

When my son was a baby, this really grated on me, so I hesitated before adopting the phrase ‘creative time’. But although scheduling ‘creative time’ seems counterintuitive, it may be just what you need to boost your business and get a valuable sense of perspective.

What’s the benefit of creative time, as opposed to simply taking time off?

Taking time out to be creative helps in at least three ways:

  1. It helps you to relax, especially if you use it to do something totally different from your day job. The ability to switch off and to destress is crucial (and underrated). When you return to work, you’ll be able to focus much more clearly.
  2. It gives you a new way of looking at the world and a different perspective on your day-to-day life and your business. Your subconscious gets time to mull things over. You regain a sense of what’s important.
  3. Two key areas of creativity – novelty, and the ability to connect disparate ideas – have been proven to boost your creative thinking skills, which will spill over and benefit your work life.

What does ‘creative time’ mean anyway?

Sometimes ‘creativity’ is treated as if its meaning is hard to pin down, so I’ll spell it out. In this article, I’m using ‘creative’ to mean anything where you create something from scratch:

  • Music, including singing.
  • Drawing.
  • Painting.
  • Animation.
  • Sculpture.
  • Photography.
  • Writing.
  • Dance.
  • Comedy.
  • Improvisation.
  • Theatre.
  • Cooking or baking.
  • Embroidery.
  • Dressmaking.
  • Gardening.
  • Upcycling, or any making or crafts.

Why scheduling is a creative thing

Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to being creative, constraint is almost always more creative than so-called total freedom. Consider these two sunny day scenarios:

  1. You can go for a walk anywhere you like, but you can’t plan it in advance or take a map.
  2. Your friend suggests two walks: one along a stretch of coastline, another taking a trail through the countryside and some woodland. Both end with a pub lunch.

Which scenario sounds preferable? To me, it’s the second one, which involves guidance from a friend, a plan, a specific route, and a destination. Creativity works in the same way – it helps to have guidance, a plan, plus a specific activity and a destination in mind.

The power of scheduling

Although scheduling time to be creative seems counterintuitive, it is actually extremely powerful. Here’s why:

  • You’re more likely to do it if you’ve planned for it.
  • You’ve let go of the in-the-moment decision. You’ve already decided in advance to turn up, making the next step smaller and therefore much easier to take.
  • You’re in control. You’ve made time for choir practice, or a drama club once a week, or a life drawing class – it’s not going to take over your life.

Which creative outlet should you choose?

When it comes to what to do with your creative time, there are at least two schools of thought. I give the case for both below:

  1. Pick something new, something outside your comfort zone, something totally different from what you do in your day-to-day life.
  2. The opposite approach. Don’t freak yourself out. Pick something familiar that’s firmly inside your comfort zone, perhaps something linked to what you do already or something you did earlier in life and regret giving up.

Why pick something new?

Because you give the ‘working you’ time for recuperation, and the novelty gives you a creative boost, which will benefit your business.

This is the ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ approach. For example, if you’re a website designer by day, taking a stand-up comedy course, or joining a choir, or trying a life drawing class would be novel, and would use a different part of your brain, giving you time to recharge and to develop your creativity.

Why pick something familiar?

Because it will enliven and enhance what you do in your business, and because the familiarity can give you the confidence to go out and do it.

For example, you do video editing by day, so you learn to use animation software, or you love home baking and decide to enrol in a class to take it to the next level, or you used to play clarinet, so you decide to learn the saxophone.

Spice things up by using your ZPD

In the early twentieth century, Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky developed a theory known as the ‘zone of proximal development’ or ZPD. This refers to the area between what you can do and what you can’t do – basically what you can do with some help. Your ZPD is outside your comfort zone, but (crucially) not way outside it.

Think fried egg

It helps to think of ZPD diagrammatically: imagine looking down on a fried egg in a pan. The yoke represents what you can do, the pan represents what you can’t do, the egg white is your ZPD.

In order to learn or develop, according to Vygotsky’s theory, you need to keep working on your ZPD. This is one reason why coaching and mentorship can both be so powerful; they give you the guidance you need to work on your ZPD. Your ZPD changes – moves outwards – as you develop.

How does ZPD help with creativity?

So far, I’ve talked about two approaches to the creative habit: pick something outside your comfort zone, or stay firmly inside it.

The concept of ZPD gives you a third option; deliberately choose a creative activity that’s outside your comfort zone but not way outside it, that you could do if you got some guidance. This makes the activity challenging enough that it will hold your interest, and hopefully still relaxing enough that it allows you to recharge.

Using your creative breaks to enhance your business

An activity located in your ZPD will also be useful to your business – either because it develops a so-called ‘soft skill’ like your communication skills or your ability to come up with creative ideas, or because it develops a specific need.

For example, if you need to start giving presentations, then amateur dramatics might give you a confidence boast, and singing in a choir may develop your vocal skills and breathing, whereas stand-up comedy may scare you witless! Only you know where your comfort zone ends and your ZPD begins.

What to do next?

Sit down with a notebook and brainstorm a list of creative activities that you’ve always wanted to try. Pick one of these. You may need to do some research next, especially if you know nothing about it yet.

Next, work out a small step you could take. Something commitment free. Go along to a try out session. Get a book from the library. Ask friends for recommendations. After that you’ll have a much better idea of what’s out there, and what you want to do with your creative time.

Louise Tondeur is a freelance writer and tutor, novelist and short story writer. You can check out her author website here. She blogs about finding time to write here.

Photo by Autumn Goodman