Posted by: Liz Massey | April 1, 2009

Surf’s Up, Spring Cleaning Edition: Top creativity links for April 1, 2009


Photo courtesy SXC.

As we experience the first days of spring, it’s a good time to tackle those organizing projects that seemed so daunting all winter. All though fall is the season when Mother Nature sheds her excess leaves, spring seems to be the time when human beings lighten their load by hosting garage sales, donating to library book sales and making seemingly endless trips to Goodwill.

I’ve been gathering a few links over the past few weeks that can help creative folks clean out one of the areas of life most sensitive to clutter—the mind.

De-cluttering doesn’t have to take very long

Lots of us—myself included—balk at de-cluttering work, feeling as if it will take too long or take too much energy to get started. But Carole Fogarty, author of the Rejuvenation Lounge blog, recently uploaded a good guest post at the somewhat unsettlingly named Dumb Little Man blog on how to change your life in 30 seconds.

She gives good advice for quick changes that can mature into long-term healthy habits. Here’s her advice on how to do nothing for 30 seconds:

“Put some space between you and your hectic schedule. Treat yourself to regular 30 second breaks and give your body an opportunity to re-balance itself. Close your eyes, cup the palm of your hands over your ears and listen to the blissful sounds of the ocean playing inside your head.”

I also like her take on how to adjust the speed of your day:

“Take some time out and notice if your mind is racing, your breathing shallow or your body feels rushed and uptight. Simply by taking thirty seconds to observe your body, you can slow down your thoughts, your breath and the speed of your day. You might even realize that your body is hungry, thirsty or simply needs some fresh air.”

By breaking down the concept of de-cluttering to bite-sized pieces, it’s much easier to actually do.

Boost your productivity by letting your mind run free

If you work in a job or run a business that challenges your creativity on a daily basis, it can be difficult to produce quality results that are truly innovative. A tantalizing abstract of an article in a 2006 issue of Organization Science (sorry, I don’t have access to the journal or a PDF of the article) offers an interesting idea for boosting creativity when demands on productivity are intense.

The article, written by Kimberly D. Elsbach and Andrew B. Hargadon, professors at the UC-Davis Graduate School of Management, suggests that the development of models of work design meant to increase the stimulants of creativity (e.g., intrinsic motivation), have not resulted in models that effectively reduce the obstacles to creativity (e.g., workload pressures). Their proposed solution is to introduce “mindless” work—tasks that are low in both cognitive difficulty and performance pressures—as an integral part of the workday mix. Elsbach and Hargadon suggest that chronically overworked professionals should design their workdays to alternate between bouts of cognitively challenging and high-pressure work and bouts of mindless work.

While I don’t have access to their discussion, I would be willing to bet that this suggested model would boost creativity and productivity. Having a mind that is too full of information crowds out contributions from our subconscious mind, often our best “silent partner” and collaborator! And many of us have seen the performance vs. pressure chart that demonstrates that challenge increases productivity levels, but only to a certain point, after which it just stresses people out.

To put this tip into action, look at your work schedule. Do you cram one “productive” activity after another into your day, or are you booked in back-to-back meetings or interviews for days on end? Pencil in some down time every day (call it “planning” or “review” or something important-sounding if you have to) and … organize your office supplies … look out the window … make a phone call to catch up with a colleague (reminding him or her of an impending deadline doesn’t count) … or free-write or doodle for five minutes. If your doodles or jottings end up being a brain-dump about work or your creative challenge, fine. But remember the point of this practice is to provide a rest for your mind, so that the creative muscles can recover for another workout.

Be more, do less

I’ve quoted Leo Babauta of Zen Habits a number of times, and recently interviewed him in conjunction with the release of his 2009 book, “The Power of Less.” He’s written very persuasively on the importance of mental de-cluttering, including in one of his classic posts from 2007, “15 Can’t-Miss Ways to De-clutter Your Mind.”

One of the things I love about Leo’s thoughts on this topic is that he makes simplifying one’s life, well, simple. He definitely has thoughts on how to do it, but he hasn’t evolved a complex system of planners, books and related paraphernalia that you must buy to stave off chaos.

Here’s what he has to say about one of the most important aspects of mental de-cluttering, especially as it relates to creativity: identifying the essential.

“This one is practically a mantra here at Zen Habits. (Can you imagine it? All of us here at Zen Habits, sitting on a mat in lotus position, chanting slowly: ‘Identify the essential … identify … the essen … tial …’) But that’s because it’s crucial to everything I write about: if you want to simplify or declutter, the first step is identifying what is most important. In this case, identify what is most important in your life, and what’s most important for you to focus on right now. Make a short list for each of these things.”

Later in the post, he gets to my favorite steps in the de-cluttering process—do less, go slower, and let go. In other words, resist the temptation to make de-cluttering just as frenzied as the over-consumption or over-collecting that preceded it and stay focused.

Leo explains why doing less enhances productivity this way:

“Take your to-do list and cross off half the things on it. Just pick a few things to get done today, and focus on those. Let the rest go away. If you do less, you’ll have less on your mind.”

Very simple. Very thoughtful. And, in my experience, very effective.

Bonus Links

De-cluttering Your Digital Workspace

From Web Worker Daily blog. As long as you’re de-cluttering your mind, you might as well clean up your cyber-presence, as well.

Energy Suckers vs. Energy Givers

Self-care is an important part of mental and creative hygiene, and this guest post by Jennifer Jefferies at the Rejuvenation Lounge blog focuses on ways to reduce energy drains and increase the presence of energy boosters in one’s life.


  1. Wow, thanks so much for sharing the gift that every 30 seconds has in our lives.

    The question is, are you going to use your next 30 seconds wisely?

    Peace, love and chocolate

    Carole Fogarty

  2. “Be more , Do less” , I like this, it’s a great thinking.

  3. Thanks for this..just read it through twitter..uoi are such a good writer and this is so helpful..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: