The Hidden Price of Increased Productivity Every Creative Needs to Know

The hidden price of "productivity" every creative needs to know -

You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more reading, more writing, more education, more promotion, more everything.

Add in all the great podcasts, webinars, online classes, and audiobooks available–not to mention the fact that most Kindle devices will read your digital book aloud for you–and it’s easy to be more productive. Simply fill all those open, unused spaces in our lives with educational audio. You can listen during your commute, while exercising, or while doing chores. The only limit is your imagination! Sounds great, right?…

…except that what these tips don’t mention is the hidden price you pay for filling up your mindless moments. You might be getting more done, but in the process, you’re probably also sabotaging your most important, most creative work.

You may be sabotaging your creative process by trying to “get more done.”

A Wandering Mind Is a Creative Mind

Have you ever noticed that some of your best ideas come to you when you’re in the shower? That’s because the shower provides you with a safe, relaxing environment where you don’t have to concentrate very hard.

Safety + Relaxation -> Your alpha brain waves (important for creative thinking) increase. Your inner critic takes a nap; your brain starts playing with wild and crazy connections, and coming up with creative solutions.

Pro Tip: When you fill your spare moments with podcasts and audiobooks and other information-packed audio, you take away opportunities for your brain to wander into that relaxed state where free association is more likely to occur.

Boredom Encourages Creative Connections

Perhaps, though, you’re easily bored. It’s not just that you’re trying to learn more and be more productive; you want to avoid thumb-twiddling and time-wasting.

If that’s the case, it’s time to increase your boredom tolerance. Recent research shows that boredom in the workplace may increase creativity by providing the opportunity to daydream.

Pro Tip: If you combat boredom by focusing on email, webinars, reading and other “productive” activities, you switch your brain from its wandering, creative mode back to focused, attentive mode–and creativity suffers.

Stressed Brains Aren’t Creative Brains

According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules,

Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function. It can hurt your motor skills. When you are stressed out over a long period of time it disrupts your immune response. You get sicker more often. It disrupts your ability to sleep. You get depressed.” — Brain Rules website, Brain Rule #8

Remember how alpha brain waves encourage creativity? You see them when you’re relaxed, daydreaming, or practicing meditation. A stressed brain produces beta waves, a “fast” type of brain wave that occurs when you’re focused, solving a problem, or making a decision. 

Pro Tip: If you want to be more creative, don’t increase stress by packing every spare moment with things that require focus and attention.

Increased productivity is a fabulous goal–unless it interferes with getting your most important, most creative, work done. What do you think? Do you fill up your free moments with all those wonderful podcasts, audiobooks, recorded class sessions, or other great information sources? How do you strike a balance and make sure you have enough “down time” to nurture creativity?


Henry, A. Why Great Ideas Always Come in the Shower (and How to Harness Them). Lifehacker website.

Cheryl K. Stress and Brain WavesAmerican Nutrition Association website.

British Psychological Society. Being bored at work may make us more creativeScienceDaily website.

Bergland, C. Alpha Brain Waves Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression. Psychology Today website.

Herrmann, N. What is the function of the various brainwaves? Scientific American website.

Novotney, A. The science of creativity. American Psychological Association website.

3 Easy Ways to Make NaNoWriMo (Practically) Stress Free

As the temperature outside creeps downward and autumn winds swirl leaves from the trees, writers around the world shiver in anticipation. The season approacheth: NANOWRIMO IS ALMOST HERE! Oooooh…so exciting! And daunting :). Exciting AND daunting–but worth it, and with a little advance prep, you can totally rock this 50K-words-in-30-days thing. Let me show you how! But first, in case you haven’t heard of NaNo… NANOWRIMO Survival Guide

What’s NaNoWriMo?

Here’s the quick-and-simple definition:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing…. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.” —NaNoWriMo, “About”

What’s the Point?

I love NaNoWriMo for many reasons. Here are a few:

  1. It encourages writers of all stripes to make a month-long commitment to creativity. Do you suffer from “Someday I’ll write that book…” syndrome? NaNoWriMo helps you conquer it!
  2. It helps writers establish a writing practice. Have you been meaning to write more, or write more regularly? Nothing like making a public commitment to help you make the change!
  3. With its ambitious word count goals, it pushes writers to accomplish more than they might otherwise. You know that feeling you get when you reach a seemingly impossible goal? It’s fantabulous–and it will provide you writing energy and enthusiasm for months to come!
  4. It inspires writers with a sense of community. When you aren’t the only one working on a difficult task–writing a novel–that sense of community can often provide that little extra something you need to keep going.
  5. It inspires writers with regular pep talks and encouraging emails from published authors. I love the author lineups they’ve put together for previous years–and the diversity of encouragement and advice they’ve offered.
  6. It helps writers practice writing without letting that inner critic interfere…an essential skill for any would-be prolific and productive writer. Anyone else fight with perfectionism? NaNoWriMo is the (perfect) antidote!

This video sums up the “WHY” of NaNoWriMo:

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4 Easy Tips to Sidestep Perfectionism and Rediscover Joy in Writing

We started talking about perfectionism–and how to bypass it–in last week’s post.

If you haven’t already read it, it takes a deep dive into Tip #1 – Reframe Writing as Playing. You’ll also hear a bit about how perfectionism has held me back from some types of writing (cough**picture books**cough) for waaaaaay too long.

Go take a look, then return here for tips 2 through 4!

Hillary Rettig quote

Tip #2: Remove Artificial Constraints

If you’re feeling stuck, it often helps to broaden your definition of what counts as “writing.”

  • Don’t feel like writing the next scene? Feel free to skip around in the narrative.
  • Not sure where your story is going? Try writing about your writing — journaling about the writing process.
  • Consider making lists to help you brainstorm. For example, list
    • Actions your character might take
    • Words that elicit a specific mood
    • Potential rhymes to serve as reference when stringing words together
  • Or simply select an intriguing entry from your idea log and start freewriting!

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How to Sidestep Perfectionism and Rediscover Joy in Writing

I haven’t worked seriously on a picture book for years.

Although I do fine during the planning and conceptualization phases, perfectionism kicks in as soon as I actually start to try to write the text. My inner critic gets a front row seat, where she can peer over my shoulder, megaphone in hand, and shout warnings at me. “That rhyme is boring!” “The rhythm’s shaky!” “Your word choice isn’t original or evocative!” –and so on and so on.

If I slip up and give her any attention at all, my inner critic starts in on the big picture criticisms. Your story concept is unoriginal—you’re not really a picture book writer—you freeze up when you try to write poetry—so why are you wasting time here?


But I figured out how to sidestep my inner critic and her megaphone. I don’t try to shut her out or argue or contradict her — I just smile and nod and keep on writing, because none of the criticisms actually apply. You see, I’m writing in pretty colors on unlined paper, which isn’t really writing. And I’m not writing a PICTURE BOOK; I’m simply playing with words, creating long lists and fitting together lines like so many puzzle pieces.

Besides, half the time I’m “working” in my PJs, curled up in bed with a cup of hot chai. How serious can it be?

By using this technique, and limiting the amount of time I’m “allowed” to work on my story, I’ve made it so that my mind can’t stop playing around with ideas. Phrases pop into my head while I’m walking the dog or relaxing in the hot tub. And despite two days when a virus pretty much knocked me out of commission, I’ve drafted half the story in the past week. Is it perfect? No! But it’s a solid start, the sort I might be able to revise into something actually worth submitting someday.

Does perfectionism get in your way when you’re trying to write?

It’s tempting to tackle perfectionism head on. We become self-analytical, searching for cognitive distortions and, when we find them, arguing about them with our perfectionistic alter egos.

I think that this sort of self-analysis and deep thinking can be helpful—but it can also create an unwanted distraction that prevents you from writing.

After all, if you’re journaling about cognitive distortions, black-and-white thinking, and unrealistic expectations, you’re not writing your story. If the “goal” of perfectionism is to avoid criticism or rejection, then doesn’t that mean perfectionism wins?

The unwritten story can’t be rejected…but it can’t be read, either.

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