How time poverty kills creativity

One reason I like my blog so much is that I never get writer’s block. I only write when I feel inspired and ideas for posts just come to me when I have time to think, like when cooking dinner or when I’m in the shower. If I can, I stop everything (which sometimes is a bit unfortunate, especially if I’m in the middle of preparing dinner) and I just quickly write it all down, and then come back later to edit and modify. So my blog really doesn’t cause me very much anxiety. On the contrary, I would say I get more energy out of it than I put in. And it’s perfect because I never sit in front of an empty screen not knowing what to write.

Except now.

For the first time since I started my blog, I sat at my desk thinking I need to post something, but I have no idea what. I have had a lot to do these past few weeks, and unfortunately I have been so busy and stressed that I have had little or no time for reflection. Which is actually pretty bad for an academic, because it is our ideas we live off, as well as the ability to write these ideas down. I have simply had too much to do. Since it never rains but pours, it seems like almost everything I’m supposed to do this academic year basically has to happen between August and November.

But not having time for reflection is really not that unusual. On the contrary, it is more unusual to actually have the time and space to think. In my previous career as a consultant I saw this all the time. When facilitating workshops or coaching business professionals, we would often hear how great it is to actually have a chance to stop and think, because that is something you usually never really get to do.

While living standards have gone up during the past decades, time has become a valuable but scarce resource. We use terms like time-poverty to describe what professionals deal with today. The pace is fast and hectic and having a (more than) full schedule is somehow strangely associated with importance or status. And research has shown just how detrimental this can be to our wellbeing and sense of self. Still, this is the way we live our lives, and it generates nervous energy in people, making it difficult to just sit around and do nothing. Have you noticed how when waiting for something or someone, you promptly whip out your cellphone and start checking social media or surfing the web? Try not doing that next time and see what happens.

But ironically, even though hectic is the norm, it doesn’t inspire or allow for creativity. Greatness isn’t borne out of stress and anxiety. In fact, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, many of the greatest inventions and creations of all time have come about in moments of quiet solitude. That is, in places and spaces where reflection has been possible.

I want to share a poem, or part of a poem actually. It’s by one of my favorite poets and it seems to epitomize the multiple and sometimes overwhelming nature of contemporary life. In addition, I also think it quite accurately describes the struggle we often experience when opting out and in. At least it struck a chord with me:

But when I call upon my dashing being,

out comes the same old lazy self,

and so I never know just who I am,

nor how many I am, nor who we will be being.

I would like to be able to touch a bell

and call up my real self, the truly me,

because if I really need my proper self,

I must not allow myself to disappear.

  • Pablo Neruda
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