Creativity and Productivity: Paper and Plastic

Photo by  Colton Sturgeon  on  Unsplash

Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

When I go to a coffee shop, whether it is to write and work or just be, I am consistently surprised at the number of people that have headphones, laptops, and various “productivity” paraphernalia. I mean, I guess it makes sense, and I often have some measure of the same, but I can’t help wondering if people are truly being productive, let alone creative. Really, it’s because I know myself, I know MY process, and if I don’t start with writing or ideating with pen and paper, I often spend lots of time but am less focused. For me, I have found that the best solution is to “double-bag” my creativity and my productivity with paper AND plastic. What do I mean by that?

By “double-bag,” I mean starting with a non-digital medium (paper) and finishing or publishing with the digital medium.

Much of my work is writing. My best writing occurs when I first write in my journal, allow space for stream-of-consciousness and then refine or expand on my laptop. Sometimes the work of organizing thought and action is the tricky part. It’s one thing to use my computer when I know what emails/blogs/etc. I am going to send and for what purpose. But getting there for me is usually through pen and paper. Yesterday I left my phone off, my laptop elsewhere, and borrowed a pen and paper from the coffee shop staff. In the space without being distracted by various digital accoutrements, more “deep work” was accomplished than on many mornings where I had all the “productivity stuff” with me. Able to mind-map the different projects for the week and break down a sequence of tasks and action steps, when I came to my digital work that day it was efficient and focused and fun. It’s why I use a paper planner first, because something about drawing with pens and highlighters and having blank paper helps me think outside the box and be more focused at the same time. Creating this paper->plastic sequence is also about batching our tasks to make them efficient, and also about holding space for raw creativity.

An axiom I have heard and hold is, “Busy does not mean productive.” Merely accomplishing a high quantity of tasks does not mean your best work is getting done. Often, I think what is missing from our “productivity” is “creativity.” Looking at a project a different way. Deeply considering the topics that are important to you. Writing or painting or photographing or doing pottery without the end in sight. Consistent creative practice is like compost that in its decay process brings life to everything else. Don’t be afraid to have a little compost in your creative life. :)

There is also a quality of life and quality of mind component here as well. I feel better when most of my time is unplugged, when I am not checking my phone or glued with my face to a screen. When i have already written a lot by hand and can copy from a journal and flow from there, or even when i close my eyes and just let my fingers dance across the keyboard letting the words in my mind flow. In my relationship to technology, I can go in a thousand different directions and get little done. Or, I can let the braindump happen first (on paper) and then assess the next thing to create.

Instagram is fun and inspiring, but is not the place where I uncover my creative breakthroughs.

My computer has an amazing toolkit, but it is my raw creativity and focused work supported by the toolkit that matters.

This does not mean that using a laptop is “unproductive” or “uncreative,” only that we are potentially missing insight, beauty, and ideas that we are already carrying within us by rushing straight to the screen.

So however you create, whatever you make, whatever you do, give some space to consider the relationship to the work you do and the technology you use. Here are some questions to inspire reflection and action:

Are you happy with your relationship to “plastic” tools, or do things seem out of balance?

How do you incorporate hands-on mediums and digital technology with your creative/productive work?

What compost is needed for bringing life to your creative work?

What can you let go of in your creativity? What can you reclaim?

Comment below or shoot me an email with any answers or thoughts to this post!

Much more could be said about synthesizing “paper” (non-digital) and “plastic” (digital) in your life for the creative, productive, and reflective spaces you inhabit, but the interplay and balance is really up to you!

Here’s to holding space for creative work and enjoying the process,

Barefoot Ben