What is something that you used to do, that gave you joy, that you stopped doing because you no longer have time?
I ask this question often, and I’ve learned that everyone has something. Sometimes people can’t think of it right away. They’ll try to escape the question, insisting that there’s nothing. But then I watch as they start digging through the boxes in the back corner of their memories; the ones buried in the storage closet of the mind. I watch as they dig underneath the layers of obligations and demands of adulthood, of business, of family and look behind the expectations that they must present a professional, polished, and packaged demeanor at all times.
And then, from under all that stuff that we acquire, they pull it out. An old musical instrument. A set of paints and an easel. Baking equipment. Journals. And the stories of what they used to do before life and obligations took over.
I used to draw. I loved drawing as a kid.
I used to sing.
I used to play in a band.
I loved doing big jigsaw puzzles.
I loved to paint.
I wrote poetry.
I was a concert-level musician.
I used to cook and bake all the time. Experimenting in the kitchen was like a science project.
When Did You Pack Away Your Creative Hobbies?
We put those things on a shelf when we become “serious” about our careers and our businesses, when we get more “focused” on our “real-world goals” and when we decide that we need to be “more productive.” Some people put those things on a shelf when they get married or start a family.
Whatever the reason, the story is the same:
I don’t have time for it. There’s only so many hours in the day. Time is limited.
Sometimes there’s another version of the story: no room in their home for the puzzles or the baking experiments or the musical instrument.
No time. No space.
These are the same thing in my world. Time is just another form of space.
But without those things, you lose the things that make you you. You lose the essential elements of what give you joy. You lose the things that give your life meaning.
Fill Yourself First
Without those creative outlets, you don’t fill yourself. Then you have nothing to give to others.
Counterintuitive as it may sound, making time for those activities gives you more time for other things. Productivity isn’t just about “getting things done.” Especially if you’re in a service business, one measure of your “productivity” is your presence. How do you show up? How present are you with your clients? How well you can tap into what their needs are, even when they are unable to articulate them.
If you can’t even recognize and meet your own needs, how can you help others?
My work with my clients often begins with helping them remember what gives them joy and what fills them. This is not the presenting issue they bring to me. Usually, their presenting issue is some type of life transition, a need to move, or wanting better strategies to “get more done.” But what’s beneath the surface is a desire for greater meaning and fulfillment, a yearning for a sense of purpose and a way to nourish their soul.
For a client who “knows what I should be doing but I’m not doing it,” or one who is wrapped up in anxiety about a major life transition, it seems counterintuitive to suggest they revisit their old creative hobbies. But within a few weeks — sometimes even a few days — they notice that things start to shift.
Suddenly, the business owner finds energy and time for that thing they knew they “should be doing” but couldn’t get themselves to do before. A homebuyer or seller gets clarity on what kind of space they truly need, and stops wasting time looking at the wrong homes. A client in the throes of anxiety over a career move finds more peace and a deeper sense of purpose, making the shift with more ease.
Create Space For Your Best Work
This is part of what I call “creating space for your best work.”
Your best work, above all else, is you. Nurturing who you are. Filling yourself, so you have something to give to others. Showing up as the whole and complete version of you.
If you want to “boost your productivity” this year, start by doing the things that nurture your soul.
The secret to “doing more” is to start with a full tank.