In the past few weeks I have poured my time and energy into launching a new business, YOGICOMM. This is a start-up venture I am funding and running entirely on my own. The business model is simple and limited, as are my technical capabilities, and this allows me to remain highly flexible and responsive whilst I observe and learn with acute interest how the service is used and enjoyed. It is thrilling, but it is also demanding and comes with weighted responsibility; every ounce of work is my own and if I don’t show up, nothing happens.
I have a good habit pattern of writing down to-do lists for everyday, and planning to-do lists for each week. I do this with a clear mind, empty page and blue pen, and I order lists according to the importance of each task. I complete each task before moving onto the next. I review each week and plan forward accordingly. These are habit patterns I learnt through completing a PhD which required - in addition - truck loads of self-motivation, self-discipline, dogged endurance, and an infallibly good sense of humour. Like this business venture, each day of any big long project, requires of you to get stuff done, even if its seemingly little stuff. Its the producing of stuff regularly and with consistency that gets you to the finish line.
In other words, what is needed is a consistent and healthy pattern of productivity. I have tended to - especially in the past few weeks - measure my success in relation to what I produce. This has meant that the more time-heavy tasks of writing, painting, thinking and reading, which are such an important part of who I am and how I tick, have fallen to wayside and withered in neglect. I am exhilarated by new business venture, but my mind aches for deep thought and contemplation. This suspension (hopefully temporary) of the more creative tasks that usually order my life, has got me pondering over the relationship between productivity, creativity and presence.
We live in an age of obsession over the optimisation of creative routines and corresponding maximisation of productivity. If you scroll through the reams of seemingly helpful articles under Medium’s (the long-writing form social media platform) business and entrepreneurial themes, you’ll see this mantra on creativity/productivity repeated over and over again. Creativity is now literary genre unto itself. We are encouraged to be creative at every turn of the workday and this is a prized ‘must-have’ for any perspective employee in everything from finance to HR to marketing to fitness. This is actually fairly ironic given that for many the reality of work-life is the exact opposite of creative - its generally routinised, claustrophobic, frantic and frivolous.
Critically, the conventions on creativity contemporarily are focused on the end result. If you are working on something, be it an sculpture exhibition, literary research paper or an investment brief, and you are not producing the quantifiable steps towards this end goal, we consider you to be ‘blocked’ and flailing in your ‘performance’. From this perspective, creativity is about a workable conclusion, and it is not enough to ‘be’ creative, you have to ‘do’ creative. ‘Creatives’ get shit done and then stage the final product to be measured and affirmed in its creativeness. Successful creatives do this with dizzying frequency.
Yet, this was not always the popular understanding of creativity. It was considered traditionally by many cultures to be an expression of the god(s), and a vibration or frequency of divinity that only a few minds are able to ‘tap’ into. By this understanding, creativity flows through a human and does not come of them. During the Enlightenment this kind of belief was shunned and instead rationality, logic and scientific processes reigned. Indeed, Thomas Hobbes considered creativity to be a “decayed sense”. Yet, during Romanticism in the 18th and 19th centuries there was a flowering fascination with ‘creative imagination’. It was widely considered that we transform things with our imagination. For instance, Wordsworth described creativity in the “Prelude” as “an auxiliary light” that changes everything as it “illuminates it”. From this perspective, creativity is a sort of spiritual energy of life-giving. Creativity was imbued in an inner life; you could be creative by the way you lived and thought.
Writer Annie Dillard has termed this Romantic view on creativity the “life of the spirit” in her astoundingly beautiful work, The Writing Life. Dillard poignantly reminds us that:
What the Romantics were getting at is that creativity is about the process not the product. And I believe this to be a rather important point for not all artists are creative, and some administrators and street-side merchant vendors are very creative. What it takes to live creatively and have a creative disposition is to let go the tyranny of expectation of the result, and begin to invest in and value conscious processing. This is presence. Importantly, this shift in focus does not imply inaction, but rather implies a reordering of values. One can still do stuff, but it is done with conscious awareness and an understanding of creativity in and of itself, rather than invested in a project or product. Admittedly, this may mean you are less of a producer, but it may also mean that your work is more quality and perhaps even something of integrity. This is a delicately navigated balance between productivity, creativity and presence, and it is a balance we all should strive to achieve.