Creativity requires and deserves our best focused attention. Eliminating clutter and noise we know will distract us can be the easy part of opening and maintaining space for our creative work.
Preventing people from entering that space and interrupting good work-flow can be a harder task.
People we love and care about, people who are important to us otherwise… can become the destroyers of creative focus – sometimes at the very worst moments, when something brilliant is about to emerge – and then become a source of non-productivity, if not irritation.
Rather than risk losing that ephemeral thread of creativity, maybe for good, and rather than building up a charge of anger, here’s what I suggest:
Create a support team. And start by deciding who is in your inner and outer circle. You want to create a positive atmosphere among you and your circles of friends and loved ones, not a negative atmosphere.
“You’re bothering me” and “You just ruined what I was doing” creates a very definitely negative vibe. “Creating is hard work. And I sometimes have trouble staying focused myself. I want you on my support team, protecting my creative space” – that creates a positive vibe and welcomes people into your circle of trust. Who doesn’t like that?
Invite people into that circle of trust.
Tell them your work times. Letting your family and friends know you are not available, for instance, Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays for coffee or trail run or to drive them somewhere – and that you will not be answering the phone or the knock at your door if they forget and call you anyway, is a great way to set time-boundaries.
Tell them the circumstances under which they can connect with you, during your work times. When I was an at-home dad, working full-time to supporting 5 people, 3 dogs, 2 cats and countless lizards and tree frogs – while consulting with two publishers as associate publisher of 2 lines of books – clear signals and distinct boundaries were necessary between me and my children. They knew the things for which I could always be interrupted and the things for which I could never be interrupted.
They also knew they were part of my support team, protecting the time in which I created… and earned money for stuff like food, clothes, baseball gloves, soccer shoes, video games, dolls. Sometimes I would hear one or the other stopping a sibling from coming to interrupt me, saying in stage-whisper, “Stop! Dad’s working!”
While to this day I keep my email program turned off I do keep my smartphone turned to vibrate, should one of my children have an emergency and need me. They know they are the only ones whose call or text I will answer.
Enforce boundaries. The truth is, we are the ones who train others how to treat us. Too often, we suspend boundaries around creative space and allow others in, which destroys the flow. Then we’re irritated with them. Boo.
I once had a therapist, a professional woman in her 60s, tell me she could not write mornings because her husband invariably interrupted, needing her to make his breakfast sandwich. I suggested that if an adult male cannot ingest calories on their own, their genes should probably pass from the gene pool. She did not take the subtle hint. She also did not finish her book.
Learn how to hold up your hand in a “Stop, not now” signal… learn to keep ignoring even pleading and whining… and to continue working. It does works.
Remember that retraining takes time. We mammals are all creatures of habit, and it does take a bit of time to retrain us. Set your inner circle. Make your boundaries clear. Enforce them. In time, people do get the message and change.
The main thing you have to do is to decide that you and your creative work are important enough to protect. (Are they?) And then get your family and friends on your support team, to help police your creative space and time.