creativity is how I show my soul
The Creative Life

Limits and Creativity

A ‘no limits’ philosophy — “Break away – The sky is the limit – Be all you can be” — is popular, especially among life coaches and motivational speakers.

As a society it appears we’ve accepted this philosophy without question. In fact, I couldn’t find any positive images depicting limits, constraints and boundaries to use with this post.

So let me play the devil’s advocate here and argue for the other side because I know my creative practice benefits from some well-placed boundaries.

“Time” Limits

Parkinson’s Law states, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

I’ve known a number of people who took a year off from work to write or paint or compose. They start out with good intentions, excited and committed but hey, there’s LOTS of time. I’ll just do this… And then that…And then one morning they wake up and realize the year is over with little to nothing to show for it.

As a freelance writer I understood Parkinson’s Law so I’d request tight deadlines. Nothing eliminated web surfing and other distractions than a commitment breathing down my neck.

Creative productivity doesn’t need huge swathes of time. Rather, it requires focus and making good use of the time I have. Tight schedules or short windows of opportunity create urgency. An empty calendar does not.

Work expands to fill the time available. Time constraints focus your creativity.

limits focus your energy

“Focus” Limits

Last year when we moved to Nova Scotia, most of the second floor apartment became my studio space. Luxury! I stretched out and filled  the rooms but it wasn’t long before I spent too much time looking for stuff, rearranging things, cleaning, organizing…

In short, all that space wasn’t the advantage I thought it was. Then, this past summer, we opened a BnB on the first floor of our home. That created constraints on my studio space as we moved upstairs while guests occupied the lower level.

I had to downsize – which held a certain irony after our long distance move. Less than a year later and here I was, purging again. I got real about what was a true creative priority to me. I chose my painting, quilting and writing over other creative outlets like paper crafts and soap-making.

“Stuff” Limits

Clarity about my creative priorities made it easier to sort through art supplies, storage systems and furniture. I packed up and gave the extra things to someone who would actually use it (and not just store it like I was).

One artist’s junk is another’s treasure, after all.

It was all good. Getting rid of the extraneous stuff often forced me to find alternative solutions to achieve my vision. My creative muscle (aka my brain) got a lot of exercise.

“Space” Limits

limits create focusOnce I completed the purge, I moved my desk and computer to a cozy alcove in our upstairs kitchen. Moving my computer off to one side held an unexpected benefit. Because the computer is off to one side and no longer sits between me and my paints, the siren call of email and social media isn’t as loud.

“Psst. Over here….that’s right…C’mon…you know you wanna…it will only take a couple of minutes…”

In fact, I put my painting table and supplies where my desk had been because that room has the best light in the house. I don’t know why I didn’t set up in there right from Day One. (Who knows why we do these things?) Now I step into my studio BEFORE I go anywhere near my desk.

I gave a lot of thought to what I needed to paint and pared down to the essentials only. I have two tables, one where I can be seated and one where I work standing up. My supplies and equipment are all within easy reach. The happy result is that I’m painting more because most of the time everything is right there, ready to go.

Limits, self-imposed and otherwise, force me to come up with better, more creative solutions. They keep me focused on my priorities by eliminating temptations and distractions. Too much time, space or stuff can lull me into feeling I’m being creative because I’m thinking about it or sorting through things or ‘researching’. By setting reasonable limits, I’m motivated to take action and stuff gets done.

How about you? Share your experience in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

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