Creativity and Time

My premise for this post is inspired by my father (a mechanical engineer). Occasionally he would be stumped by a problem at work, and to solve the problem, he would drive home and start mowing the grass. I came to appreciate that if I saw our lawn mower abandoned in a random location in the yard when I got off the school bus in the afternoon, dad would probably come home with a triumphant story of problem solving and success.

I recently read an article on the Art of Creativity, and what caught my eye was the section on creativity in children, and it reminded me of my father’s unique problem solving methodology. The article states:

Our experience of creativity in childhood shapes much of what we do in adulthood, from work to family life. But if creativity is a child’s natural state, what happens on the way to adulthood?

Amabile’s research has identified the main creativity killers:

  • Surveillance: Hovering over kids, making them feel that they’re constantly being watched while they’re working.
  • Evaluation: Making kids worry about how others judge what they are doing. Kids should be concerned primarily with how satisfied they—and not others—are with their accomplishments.
  • Competition: Putting kids in a win/lose situation, where only one person can come out on top. A child should be allowed to progress at his own rate.
  • Overcontrol: Telling kids exactly how to do things. This leaves children feeling that any exploration is a waste of time.
  • Pressure: Establishing grandiose expectations for a child’s performance. Training regimes can easily backfire and end up instilling an aversion for the subject being taught.

One of the greatest creativity killers, however, is more subtle and so deeply rooted in our culture that it is hardly noticed. It has to do with time.

The article continues to discuss how important it is to have uninterrupted periods of “flow” and deep concentration to develop our creative skills. I have noticed that our current way of living has created a surplus of stimulation and placed a high value on multi-tasking and fast-paced living. However, when faced with a problem or need for creative thinking, we need to find space and perhaps even permission to cultivate an idea.

Anne Sullivan gave a wonderful Modern Quilt Guild webinar discussion in 2014 about Quilt Design a Day. Her talk, Discovering Your Creative Process, focused on the simple fact that being creative is something we are all capable of and how the simple act of a daily practice can increase creativity, help you gain confidence, and help you find your own style and process.

How Artists Work

I am a creature of habit. My routine consists of getting up early in the morning and preparing for the day with my husband. I see him out the door for work and then I spend a bit of time on household chores (30 minutes or less). Then I make a cup of tea, sit down with my cat in my lap, and I read the latest blog posts from blogs that I follow. I usually then finish up the remaining household chores. I even have a pretty good chore schedule worked out:

  • Monday: weekday grocery shopping and laundry
  • Tuesday: trash to the curb and vacuuming
  • Wednesday: clean the bathrooms
  • Thursday: laundry and weekend grocery shopping
  • Friday through Sunday are a bit more loose and free form

Mid-morning I make it into my sewing room for the first time of the day. I typically know what project I will be working on and I can work uninterrupted until lunch. At lunchtime, I first take a break to chat with my husband. We used to spend a lot more time in our day together on the commute to work and at lunch, so making the time to chat with him when possible is a big priority for me. Depending on the day, I am either done with sewing for the day and head to the gym for the afternoon, or I have a few more hours that I can dedicate to sewing. I dedicate my evenings to walks with my husband, making dinner with my husband, and one final hour of online time to wrap up the day. Weekends are my blog post preparation time, and I will tweak scheduled posts in the evenings before they are scheduled to be published. Weekends are also my quiet time for design ideas (I work on creative design in the quiet house while my husband sleeps in). This works really well for me, but again, I am a creature of habit! I am definitely still inspired at other random times and locations. I designed the Racetrack Quilt while I was on the treadmill at the gym, in fact!


Have you noticed when you are the most creative? What helps you get into the creative zone? Do you have a system of “mowing the grass” that engages your subconscious mind?

0 thoughts on “Creativity and Time

  1. I’m like your Father (although I’m a mechanical draftsperson) I need to do something mundane and zone out for inspiration to strike … which is pretty hard these days with two little people hot on my heels :) Although in times of need, inspiration does strike to solve the problem at hand Einstein style “Necessity is the mother of all invention”.

    1. It is really random when inspiration will strike for me sometimes. I like that being creative allows me to find and cultivate quiet time for myself, that is something that is sorely lacking in modern life. Having kids, by necessity, means things are going to be more tricky, though. I am so happy to hear that it still strikes when needed for you!

  2. pbarretthill says:

    Yep, by the time one finished high school, there was no creative thought nor was there any of the desire to make music! I have spent the last 40+ years recovering from being “raised” ! On the positive side, music and art is an essential part of my life now. You look like you are having a fun time! The quilt pictures you posted are just so fabulous! Thank you.

    1. My husband and I talk all the time about how school doesn’t teach you that anything is possible…. More like that only X, Y, or Z are acceptable and how hard that can be to recover from.

  3. I appreciate your creativity posts. They resonate here. Funny thing: I do a lot of mowing. Sometimes 8 hours or more a week. Last summer my husband came home to giant circles in the fields. I was spending my time thinking about FMQ, and testing them out in large scale. It was an extremely efficient method of covering great distance is a short time, and gave me uninterrupted time to think. I told him I was working on my large motor muscle memory!

    Julie @ Pink Doxies

    1. Crop circles are made by quilters, I am convinced of it! My husband and I live out west and don’t have grass (xeriscaping) but he used to love the challenge of mowing patterns, so he would appreciate your giant circles. :)

  4. Okay, I officially want your schedule! I am a creature of habit and love the predictability of set schedule but having a child has thrown everything off. It wasn’t until I read your post that I realized that I missed it so much. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a definite schedule in my home, but little of it revolves around me or what I’d like to accomplish. I think I need to re-evaluate how I can get more creative to accomplish the things that I want to get done. Just pulled up the entire article and plan on reading it this morning with my tea! Thanks!

    1. I am spoiled in that I really only have me and my husband to take care of. And I don’t work. I totally understand that I am super lucky and that it gets more difficult to balance with each added responsibility.

  5. sally says:

    Really interesting, particularly how children lose their creativity. I often find ideas come to me either when I’m just dropping off to sleep or in the mornings when I’m lying in bed not wanting to get up – it always seems a good excuse to stay in bed for an extra 5 minutes! But then, as you say, they can hit all over the place, depending on surroundings. I read a post recently by someone who was going to start a short, daily practice of creating just a small picture – almost like a warm up exercise. I don’t know whether I want it to be as a warm up, but I do quite like the idea of something small every day, and being able to look back on it. It’s something I’ve been mulling over the last few weeks.

    1. I am spacing out on the blog name at the moment… Oh! The not so dramatic life is challenging herself to make a mini quilt a week this year. I think challenges and things like that can be both fun, frustrating, and hugely beneficial.

  6. lalinsocal says:

    my dad (mechanical engineer) would take tinker under the hood of the car. . .changing or refilling fluids :)

    1. That makes a lot if sense!

  7. Your post made me think of a radio interview I was listening to not long ago about creativity. All children think they are creative. Few adults do. What happens in the years in between? Is our definition of ‘creativity’ too narrow?

    1. I think lots of things contribute to that, Carla. I think we lose confidence in ourselves through education where there is one right answer. I was a smart kid and never wanted to raise my hand to answer a question posed by a teacher because if not worded 100% correctly! you would get corrected. And if I answered too many questions I would get teased. And if you are corrected or told no enough you start to doubt what your mind develops as thoughts and ideas, and creativity requires a bold and adventurous spirit and a willingness to fail sometimes. We don’t teach that, not in the schools across America that I attended, anyway. I will stop there for now, but, yeah, lots of thoughts about that.

  8. Sarah Goer says:

    My husband is a software engineer and “queues up” a problem to think about while doing more mundane tasks (including mowing the lawn). Your discussion on uninterrupted work time really screamed Montessori to me. My son is in Montessori preschool and they have a three hour work period that they can use how they choose… giving them time to get deep into something that interests them. I like that as Montessori education progresses into the elementary years they still have uninterrupted work time, but the kids self monitor to make sure that they are getting through all of the things on their own to do list. Lastly, your schedule sounds delightful. I’ve been thinking a lot about schedule and routine… I provide routines for my kids, but have a harder time keeping one for myself. With my youngest starting school, I have a chance to reorganize my schedule to fit in more of what I want to be doing. It’s a little like a blank canvas, considering over and over what my priorities are and how they can/should fit into my mornings now.

    1. Yes! I love the sound of 3 hours for a work period, that is very cool. I know schedules are not for everyone, but it sure is really helpful for me. Good luck reorganizing your time as life flows and your little ones grow.

  9. Jasmine says:

    The article you mentioned really resonated with me. I just re-learned that this week with my boys. I found a bunch of cute and cheap stickers at JoAnns. I brought them home and my boys wanted to make something. I start thinking of cards and things like that. Projects. My boys just wanted to use stickers. I gave each of them a sheet of stickers and a piece of paper. They had so much fun and I had to learn to let go. Pretty soon they had a stack of paper and a bunch more stickers. They created and had fun. I am now going through my sticker collection for more unstructured creativity. (Although I did draw a line when Monkey started putting stickers on the floor.)

    I have a schedule similar to yours. I get up and get the boys ready. Spend time one on one time with Monkey and then blog reading. Sew for a couple hours while he plays nearby. (Creativity with duplos.) Take a break and fix lunch. One on one time with Panda. Spend a couple hours sewing or doing things around the house. Once Cheetah comes home we focus on homework, dinner and family. I usually do more blog reading at night. Weekends are family time unless it is Father/Son time while mommy sews.

    My creativity really comes when I have a purpose. Are my projects for family, friends, or to give away. I love making and finishing useful things. :)

    1. I don’t blame you for limiting the sticker use to the paper and not he floor. :) Having a goal or purpose is huge for me, too. Like the new fabric I just acquired… having some goal or plan or focus really helps me.

  10. Renee says:

    This is such a great post, and a topic we can all relate to! My best quilty designs have come in the moments before sleep. I have few uninterrupted periods of time throughout the day (this is why nap time is so sacred, and sadly a thing of the past here. I do have the kids do an hour or so of “quiet time” in their rooms, which is rarely quiet, and they still frequently interrupt me), and I think at night many things finally can come together and my brain is able to unravel things. I would prefer a good schedule like yours, but I feel like MY life and schedule revolve so much around the kid’s schedules that I need flexibility in my daily schedule so I don’t go crazy with interruptions (like cleaning up poop for 15 minutes in the middle of working on a project or making dinner…).

    1. Oh, the moments before sleep are an awesome time for inspiration to strike. That is a really great time for Michael, too. I think that right now your life will revolve around your kids out of necessity, and I think that it will continue to evolve as they grow up. That cleaning up poop comment makes me think you have a recent story… and even with just a cat, I spent time this morning wiping up the floor where he dragged his butt across it to wipe off a dingleberry while I was away, so I can totally relate to cleaning up poop… kind of, anyway. ;)

  11. RuthB says:

    I’m definitely best in the mornings – Sat and sun mornings I usually have all to myself as G and the 2 dogs like to lie in. Guess I need a quiet space. I try not to look at social media on just get the idea sketched out on paper. Later in the day I take it to the computer!

    1. Keeping away from social media and cultivating your quiet time and space sounds like an awesome creative ritual. There is something about weekend mornings that gets me up and moving, and knowing my husband is cozy in bed just makes it a kind of special time.

  12. Vera says:

    I experience all those killers at work and it sucks! Anyway I noticed I usually get creative under time pressure. Otherwise I just use my creativity as an escape from the real world. Just shut down everything and concentrate on creating instead.

    1. Oh very interesting, Vera. I think that I feel much less creative under pressure, but I think that there are many who do great work close to a deadline.

  13. Laura says:

    Love this post! I laughed out loud at the mental picture of your dad’s mower sitting neglected in the middle of the lawn. And I really like the visual list photograph you chose, as well as your own well-organized schedule. I don’t have any grand inspirations about when I’m my most creative, other than to say, it is usually after some intense emotion or thoughts, prompted by a great book/movie or an experience in life… Clearly, I’ll have to spend more time thinking on that question. Thanks for the thought!

    1. If only I had a photograph of the lawn mower in the middle of the yard… that would be priceless. I’ll have to ask mom if he still does this. I’m not so sure because I think mom has been enjoying mowing the yard recently (now that they have a riding mower and a larger yard). :)

  14. soma1773 says:

    I am like your father too, I need to do something really mundane when I am stumped. Cooking works for me really well, shower is a good place too :) I follow a certain schedule for most things, but I try to toss in a bit of randomness now and then, otherwise I get bored. I become a lot more productive if I don’t have to follow a certain schedule. Quiet time is also a must for me :) Thanks for posting this.


    1. Oh, the shower or bath is another wonderfully creative place, I agree. :)

  15. Great story about your Dad and the abandoned lawn mower! I find I tend to mull things over while doing other things, like washing dishes and folding laundry or while I’m in the shower. Now that my own kids are getting older I find it easier to make time for sewing, though my work hours include four preschool kids, so my time is not entirely my own. I am home while babysitting, though, so I can often take pictures for my blog (with their ‘help’), write new posts while they play or even read a few posts from other blogs. I’d love to have your schedule for a few weeks…I’d be amazed at the sudden increase in productivity, I’m sure!

    1. I am definitely very fortunate to have the time to dedicate to quilting that I do right now. I might not always have the freedom to be able to do this, so I am trying to enjoy and treasure it.

  16. I think I didn’t read this post until now for a reason! I needed to read this and I am saving this. It is so true, the world around us has put so much stimulation in front of us at our fingertips that there are so many factors that take away from the ‘exploration’ of other things. I know that I struggle with ‘what society wants’ and merely because I remember that being repeated to me in my head with what was always thought to be ‘wanted’ by everyone. I know that no matter what anyone makes, there is definitely a group of people that appreciate it just as well and there will always be others who don’t necessarily go for it. All in all, it’s all great in its own way! I thrive off of creativity and love experiencing the new things while always appreciating the old. My favorite time of any time, is when I am able to play my music real loud, dance and jam around the cutting table in my sewing room while walking from the sewing machine to the ironing board, and back. I find I have consistent moments where I am literally so utterly happy that I want to cry because I am that happy. I love those moments and those moments mean every bit of my sanity.

  17. How did I miss this post? I’m so glad that Kitty linked to it today. I find that when I want to achieve a creative goal or design something, I need to obsess over it and actively think for a day or two, then set it aside. I usually have an epiphany in the shower or the car or when I’m watching the kids on the playground. Some of my best ideas have come on vacation, when I’m not thinking about anything at all. Time is really so super important to me. Thanks also for the bit about creativity in kids– I think it has given me some parenting inspiration.

  18. Kelsey says:

    Oh, I need to start following your philosophy posts! I didn’t realize they were going on, and I don’t want to miss out on another one!

    Creative time. I’ve considered this a lot. I found last spring when I was trying to be creative quite constantly that I needed to have a routine when I sat down in order to settle my mind and make space for new ideas. I like to have a clear workspace, something inspirational (preferably in hand, not online), a cup of hot tea, a candle burning (although this is not allowed by my lease anymore), and my phone on Do Not Disturb. Then my mind feels like it has the space to relax and enjoy the moment. It’s like a piece out of time that deadlines and rushing around are not taking up space in my mind.

    Your rhythms sound lovely. Perhaps I can work some more intentional rhythms into my week.

    Your Dad and lawnmower story reminds me of my mom. She used to say that when she was struggling with a computer engineering problem at work, she would often find that she would wake up in the middle of the night with an answer. Thank you for sharing these bits of philosophical debate.

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)