You know the scene; you live in this picture every day.
Rows of desks march down an open floor plan; coworking spaces nestle in niches and corners; LED computer screens add their eerie white glow to the ceiling lights set overhead. Fingers click on keys and mouses brush against tables; conversations float at eye level, sometimes reaching for the ceiling in a gout of laughter; somewhere someone is shouting, but it’s not an angry shout, it’s an excited shout. It smells like coffee (cliche but true), chipotle, maybe incense if your coworkers are trendy. It’s fun, it’s upbeat, it’s fast-paced, it’s engaging, it’s distracting, it’s… your office?
Ok, fine, not the best kept surprise in the world, maybe the title gave it away. But yes, I’m talking about your office. My office, actually.
I work as a management consultant for a medium sized firm in DC. Despite what some (still-not-famous) artists might tell you about how shackled they feel by a day job, I actually love mine. I get to work with and advise C-level executives at Fortune 500 companies in and around NYC; I work with many of the largest institutions in Toronto, including the Big Five Banks of Canada. I have the opportunity to travel to both of these cities on a regular basis. The work is interesting, engaging, fun, and I love the 40-some-odd people on my team. When I arrive at the office in the morning I get to see and hang out with real friends all day (and often all through happy hour and the night). It’s great. It’s cool. As Donald Trump would say: ‘It’s fantastic, believe me.’ It’s almost enough to make me forget what my greatest desire is – my biggest dream. It’s the most dangerous kind of distraction, because it’s one I thoroughly enjoy.
But I don’t want to be a consultant for the rest of my life, no matter how fun or engaging it is. I want to be an author, as many of the people reading this post do. A writer. A storyteller. A teacher of tales, whatever shape that may end up looking like.
So how do we stay creative at work?
I could give you the list – you know, the one you’ve heard before: write every day, keep a journal, take advantage of down time, protect your writing time at all costs, etc. But who can actually keep up with all that crap (if you do, no offense, I’m actually very impressed).
Instead of giving you the list, here is my list:
- I use Evernotes. Actually, I wrote this post on Evernotes, switching between my phone and my iPad. By keeping a lot of my work in Evernotes, I can work on my projects no matter where I am. Stuck on a delayed flight? Evernotes has synced my work and I can outline / brainstorm and write on my phone. Taking the train? I grab my iPad. Back home again? I pull up Evernotes on my computer, take everything that has copied over from my phone and iPad, and put it back into Scrivener. I make a habit to copy my works in progress into Evernotes at least a few times a week so I can always be ready to go.
- I read on the Metro to and from work. We all have some form of down time (whether it’s commuting to work, waiting for our kids to get out of school, pretending to watch The Bachelor with our girlfriend) that can be used to sneak in reading. There is absolutely nothing – 0 single thing – in the world that will spur your creativity like reading will. Read often. And when ideas strike you, write them down (in Evernotes, perhaps? No, I swear this is not an ad).
- I’ve found my writing spot. In the past, I would try to write in my apartment. It sucked. I’d end up watching TV, get distracted by my roommate, fall asleep. I firmly believe that we all need a special place to work. Because writing is not relaxing; it’s often extremely hard. Just like you work better in the office, you’ll get more writing down outside your home. Now for some of you home may be better, you might have a special nook. That’s great. For me, I go to this coffee shop in Chinatown in DC called La Colombe, bring my Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and like magic I can concentrate fully for as long as I want. I usually leave work and go straight there. So find your spot.
- Figure out what you love to do, then write directly before you do it. For me, I love going to the gym. I go about five times a week, I blast music, I have fun, I feel awesome. It’s my thing. I used to go to the gym after work, come home, shower, and try to write in my apartment. It rarely ever worked. Now I go to La Colombe right after work, knowing that as soon as I’m done I’ll be rewarded by getting to go to the gym. It’s a huge incentive. If the gym isn’t your thing, maybe it’s watching a specific TV show, or relaxing in a nice long bath, or having a few glasses of wine (or a 6-pack of beer – Loose Cannon is my favorite by the way); whatever your thing is, it’s yours. Write before you do it.
Those are just a few of the things I do, but they’re the ones I do day in and day out. If your list gets too long, it’ll be too hard to keep track of. Find what works for you and stick to it. No excuses.
For those of you with engaging/exhausting day jobs, how do you find the time to stay creative? To write? What works best for you?