In my post of yesterday I started talking about Todd Henry’s new book, The Accidental Creative. I explained that the acronym for his program is FRESH and shared his key advice for the F and the R- focus and relationships. We are now ready for E, which stands for energy.
Todd’s coaching business focuses, as I understand it, on highly creative, inventive people who tend to have so much creative energy that they drive themselves to burnout. His counsel is very much not to pace themselves to “bunt for singles” but rather to respect and play to the creative’s nature rhythm.
Managing energy to Todd has three components. The first he calls whole life planning. In whole life planning we recognize that our lives do not consist of discrete, independent boxes for creative time, work time, family time, and hobby time. Planning energy effectively requires us to take account of all the things we will be doing each week that demand energy and to be intentional in balancing their energy demands. He advises that creatives maintain a single calendar with all their commitments rather than separate calendars for home and work.
I didn’t realize anyone keeps separate calendars for home and work. My calendar has one column for my projects and appointments but alongside that individual columns for nonroutine commitments in which I expect to be involved for my husband, my kids, and the dog.
Todd’s second area of advice on energy he calls pruning. Many of us would-be Energizer-bunnies spread ourselves too thin not only with projects that are vital and interest us but also with commitments we take on because we hate to say no, because someone nice asked us a favor, because it is expected in our social circle, or because it has become a habit even though it no longer benefits us.
It’s common sense that we have to learn to say no even to some interesting and worthy projects and to commitments nice people ask us to make but which stretch us too thin. When someone says, “Let’s all do this new project! Who is in?” each of us needs to learn to say, “Not this time for me.” Those who always say yes are typically the same people who never quite get the big things done well. Which is fine if they are happy to live that way.
The rest of us need to have faith that new, interesting projects will continue to surface when we will have time for them.
The third part of Todd’s advice on energy is to identify which activities we find energizing and build those in between activities that are draining. For many active people a brisk walk is ideal, for another perhaps listening to a favorite type of music, meditating, or being with people whose company is uplifting or engaging.
Todd says not to stack all the draining stuff back to back and the energizing stuff back to back. He also suggests avoiding the company of draining people when one needs the reverse. A draining person might be what Julia Cameron calls a crazy-maker. Or it could be someone who is tiresomely repetitive or consistently negative. You know exactly who these people are in your life. Avoid them and their blogs when you don’t need the let down. Catch up with them when you can afford to.
I admit that my favorite part of The Accidental Creative was the s for stimuli. Todd reminds us that “we are what we eat” and that if our diet consists of sound-bites and pre-digested bits of this and that from tweets, blogs, and websurfing, our insights are unlikely to be rich and deep. If our diets consist of little snippets we seek that tell us we are right in the beliefs we hold dear and that don’t challenge us, we are unlikely to grow or to be inventive.
Todd makes what today might be the radical suggestion of maintaining an ongoing program of study. He argues this study should include some classic works that have stood the test of time, vigorous debates about big ideas, great works, and so forth. It is well known that breakthrough ideas often come when analogies are drawn between unrelated disciplines. So Todd encourages us to study what interests us and to do that in depth rather than staying close to the subject we think we need and skimming off the ideas that seem profound to us only because we already believe them.
Study includes not just reading but also taking notes! That means recording not just what the book said but the ideas we have in response to what we read- the associations and questions that spring from it.
And once we have taken those notes, don’t forget to go back and read them, not just once but often. People mistakenly believe that they will always remember what is most insightful and important, but human memory does not work that way. If we want access to our best ideas, we need to record them and review them.
I have done this in my books and notebooks for a very long time- decades- both the notetaking and the review. My name is __, and I am a study and note nut.
Todd’s final recommendation on stimuli is what he calls purposeful experiences, which are very much like what Julia Cameron calls artists’ dates. A purposeful experience is not just a new activity or place to enjoy but also an attitude of observing and collecting ideas and sensations.
One reason Todd encourages us to know in each week our Big Three open loops is that we are then able to assimilate every experience of that week opportunistically. That is, we can approach our purposeful experiences as well as our study with an eye toward the insights that would be most useful to us in the moment. Creativity research consistently shows the practical value of this advice!
So we have now gotten through FRES- focus, relationships, energy, and stimuli. In the final post in this series I will summarize what Todd means by H as well as his system of checkpoints for pulling his whole system together.