How to find time to be creative when you’re stretched to snapping point

Creative acts come with a host of benefits – from boosting dopamine to busting stress.

But almost one in three Australians say they don’t have enough time, or are too busy with work to be creative, according to recent research commissioned by Vista Print.

Amid full- or part-time jobs, families, pets, housework, and assorted other demands, carving out time to be creative can be difficult – but not impossible.

Here are a few strategies to get you firing:

Carve up your calendar

The truth is that creativity doesn’t happen by accident, it happens by appointment. If you put your creative projects on the backburner, promising to return to them ‘when you have time’, they will almost certainly be overridden by everything else on your ‘to do’ list.

The fragile, creative spark is quickly extinguished by the hassles of daily life. Pay yourself first – it applies as much to creative time as it does to personal finances. Or, as Amie McNee puts it: ‘Art first. Muggle shit later.’ Schedule regular time in your calendar for pursuing creative interests – whether that’s brainstorming, going on an artist date, or exploring somewhere new. Read more: Why travel boosts your creativity.

Put your foot down

Setting boundaries can help you recover time for creativity. This means you’ll sometimes have to say ‘no’ to others. No, I can’t give you a lift. No, I can’t run that errand. No, I’m not up for a movie tonight. Other times you’ll have to be more ruthless, ring-fencing your creative time and aggressively responding to any incursions. You can’t get into that blissful state of flow described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi if you’re constantly being interrupted.

Surprisingly, though creative time would seem to be what you want more of, you’ll also have to say ‘no’ to yourself. No, I won’t start my day with a time-sucking social media scroll. No, I won’t answer phone calls when I’m supposed to be writing. No, I won’t check my email every five minutes. Read more: Three reasons writers procrastinate and what to do about it.

Make the most of little chunks of time

Writing a book, painting a mural, or composing a score can loom as tasks so large they’re overwhelming. Where to start? The answer is: anywhere. Break big tasks down into small chunks that can be tackled in spare corners of the day, rather than wait until you have an uninterrupted stretch of time. Your progress towards the final goal might be slower, but even 15 or 30 minutes a day adds up.

‘Finish long form article’ is something that probably won’t happen in a single day (at least, not without caffeine). But if you can tick off a handful of other tasks (conduct interviews, read research materials, write a dirty first draft, select accompanying images) you’ll start to see forward momentum.

Declare your creative passion

Don’t downplay the importance of your creative endeavours by declaring it’s ‘just writing’ or ‘just painting’ or ‘just cake decorating’ or ‘just … anything’. Build writing rituals to boost self-discipline, self-trust and self-direction. If others around you aren’t respecting your creative time, it might be because they’re taking their cue from you. There is power and magic in declaring, even if it’s just to yourself, ‘My writing (or whatever it is for you) is an important part of who I am. For my own health and happiness, it’s something I need to make time for.’