Academy for Wayward Authors: Coping With Productivity Slumps and Anxiety as a Creative

The intersection of creativity and productivity

Creating is an endeavor that allows you to bring new and unique things into the world. Whether it is a product, a piece of art, or an idea, the process brings a certain level of excitement and fulfillment.

However, as a creator, you may experience a slump in productivity at some point in your career. This is not uncommon, but it can be frustrating and overwhelming. Identifying the root cause of this slump and addressing it with the appropriate measures to get back on track and continue creating is crucial.

Recognize that creativity and productivity are not the same thing.

In its best form, productivity is an emergent property of creativity. As a creator, you don’t set out to be merely productive. You produce work because of an outswelling of your imagination.

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More often than not, there are blocks where the conclusion to your idea lurks on the edge of your subconscious. Getting it to reveal itself can feel like a never-ending hide-and-seek game.

Your brain uses 20% of your calories. The creation process is energy-intensive; manifesting something new requires effort and concentration. Managing the cognitive load can feel exhausting, leaving you feeling like you’re not productive. But just because you’re not producing something in the moment does not mean you’re unproductive.

Creation takes time. And in that time, you’ll need patience and process management. I hope some of the FitMind work has improved your capacity to endure the cognitive load of creating and raised your level of creativity.

Creativity has unproductive stages.

I call it chasing butterflies. This is where your capacity to imagine gets you so excited that you abandon your current work.

This tendency is natural for creatives because nothing is as pure as the vision of a project unrealized. It hasn’t been tarnished with the toil of turning thought into reality in this state.

Chasing butterflies is also the undoing of most creatives. A big part of audience-building is staying in your lane and doing the same thing repeatedly.

As you design your one-page business plan and lay out what you will create, recognize the friction of the creative process and the natural tendency to abandon a project because it requires more work than expected.

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I speak from my own experience. I’m currently working on a complex project that requires me to do all the day-to-day work to maintain my existing business while solving one of the most complex issues successful indie authors face. Sometimes, climbers have multiple failed ascents to reach the final summit while trying to find the best route to the top.

So, it goes with creativity, and I’m learning it now with my current (top secret) project. This is what earned success looks like. The silent, lonely toil that creates something extraordinary.

Reducing productivity anxiety

Productivity can have another ugly side that manifests as productivity anxiety.

This is when you feel that you are constantly sliding further behind and can never do enough because there is not enough time in the day.

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This last year has been big for me, especially in reducing productivity anxiety. I am recognizing that doing the right work well rather than doing many things poorly is the fastest way to where I want to go.

When we try to get to the next level and feel financial pressure, the anxiety only increases. We can get overwhelmed with the urgency to hustle. I’ve found that for me, the real solution is to do less and do that right.

This goes back to last week’s article about selecting one big goal and then putting your effort into it. Not a goal like becoming a six-figure author but something more like delighting 1,000 paying readers.

How you approach the accomplishment of those two goals would be different. Are you being incremental or 100x in your approach?

Remember, all you have is the present. What happens in the present and continues as time passes changes your trajectory for a better future and eliminates past regrets.

Read: Harnessing Emergent Properties to Build Cumulative Advantage