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I know a lot of parents (like me) who feel stretched really, really thin. There’s not a lot of time for routine tasks, let alone big personal creative projects. Here’s how I’m chipping away at a few grand endeavors. And how my yoga teacher reminded me that ‘family time’ is also going into the long-term creative hopper.

1. Welcome delays

“Seek the pause between breaths,” Linda encouraged us yogis to do this morning.

OK. I totally love my family. And I’m so grateful to be a parent. AND it’s also tough to deal with what feels like a big setback to productivity and creativity. Now that my kid is six, parenting is a little less hands-on. But still my creative time, space, and energy are not as abundant as they were six years ago.

And now my yoga teacher is asking me to welcome the pauses. To relax into and embrace all the moments surrounding the doing and the making. To relax into all these times of waiting for my kid at the Kindergarten door, of sitting with my kid while he cries it out, of holding my kid after the last book of the night.

There is calm and clarity–and maybe there is perspective that comes–when I accept stillness… without thinking about the next breath just yet… (And serenity, clarity, and perspective all fuel creativity.)

2. Relax through the lull

I’ll admit that I’ve cooked a lot of family meals while putting laundry away. I’ve checked email while my kid practiced crawling. I probably had a wrinkly brow during most diaper changes. And that’s okay–I needed to get stuff done, and I was doing my best.

This is not me. It’s stock footage, which is easy to find because we are all doing this.

But the times I’ve remembered to drink enough water, or to plant my feet comfortably while rocking my kid to sleep… well, the tasks have gotten done all the same. But I’ve felt better throughout it all. And really, if life is just a series of moments, why not find comfort through all those moments, including the mundane and exhausting ones.

The more I remember to find that extra ease, the better I feel. And when I feel recharged and comfortable, my body and mind tend to cooperate when I DO find those pockets of time for creative work.

3. Use the pause

Practicing an instrument, writing a new composition, producing a podcast episode–it all requires time and space. With little dudes running around the house, it’s hard to just CREATE when the creative impulse sparks. There are supplies I can’t just leave out (my flute, or even a rough draft of a new piece–last time I did that, there were little fighting Ninja drawn all over the viola part…)

But deep creative work doesn’t always have mean doing the work. In fact, I think most insights come when I am “just” listening and paying attention. In Episode 03 of my Irish Music Stories podcast, fiddle player and teacher Laurel Martin spoke about how listening is a powerful act:

“I feel as though what’s being forgotten—and that’s maybe also an American cultural thing—is that we don’t feel that listening is a thing to do. We listen while we’re doing something else. We listen while we’re driving, or we listen to a podcast while we’re cooking. But to just sit and listen.. and just absorb what’s happening—we don’t tend to think of that as a thing to do. And yet it is.”

Laurel goes on to describe what she sees and notices in an Irish music session, outside of the music. “You see people helping each other, reminding each other. It’s such a human thing that’s really about kindness and good spiritedness and generosity. As much as it is about the music itself.”

From Leap Little Frog blog: How To Create More By Welcoming the Pauses

“Listening IS a thing to do.”

  • Just LISTENING and PAYING ATTENTION to kids and to domestic duties is doing something.
  • Being able to listen and pay attention is great practice for creative pursuits
  • And when relaxed, present minds wander while, say, changing diapers, this might lead to GREAT creative work later!

4. Work for JUST 10 minutes

Here’s a non-lofty one, but it’s essential for me. And it’s easy to do if you don’t overthink. WHEN I HAVE JUST 10 MINUTES, I DIVE INTO A BIG CREATIVE PROJECT RIGHT AWAY.

From Leap Little Frog blog: How To Create More By Welcoming the Pauses

10 minutes of work CAN work

Huge chunks of uninterrupted time are mostly a thing of the past for me. So I now do my best to use the title moments I DO have.

And while it’s especially effective for me if I’ve already dreamt up my big project (while making dinner for my family), and I’ve already identified a few concrete action items (while Dad and son are playing Magical Creatures in the backyard), just forcing myself to do 10 minutes of creative work badly is almost always useful. My mantra: Do it badly!

In 10 minutes I can: Write a few bad paragraphs! Write a really crappy 8 bar intro to the new flute piece! Make quick and sloppy edits to an Irish Music Stories Podcast script! Upload a new instructional video.

This is how I’ve begun a lot of work, some of which has ended up being enduring and sustaining. I wrote a post about doing it badly

5. Call distractions out

When I DO make un-hampered, un-hurried time to work… and I find myself putting in a load of laundry or checking my Facebook feed… I try to say this out loud:

“I am procrastinating! This is not where I choose to focus at this moment!!”

I try to yell at my internal call to organize my pens, or dust my desk, or check the mail. I try to remind myself that I can do this stuff when I’m hanging out with my kid. Hell, I can do it with him by putting socks on his hands and telling him to paint in the dust!

And I also try to be kind to myself and remember that I am lulled by these distractions because creative work is really hard and really scary. What if I don’t do a good job? What if I DO?

But I can do it, maybe because of the diaper changes and dinner preparations that I did manage to do mindfully. Because all along, I’ve been doing the most important work of all, which is practicing to listen and to seek stillness.

You can do it, too. You’re doing it right now.

Leap, Little Frog

a musician's musings on nesting, being creative, traveling, and parenting