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July was an incredibly productive month for me. I had created long-term goals and a daily work schedule for my blog. I would wake up at 7.30, start working on my blog at 8.30 and continue working until around 18.30 when Joran gets out of his work. Then there were the additional evenings of technical blog support and weekend photo shoots. I felt on top of the world. I was blogging consistently and got things done that I normally never made time for.

But then I started to discover some side effects of my productivity. While working almost 10 hours a day I managed to get many tasks finished, but I also started to have less ideas. I stopped taking coffee breaks. I stopped taking the time to daydream. Finishing an article within a specific amount of time became more important than how enthusiastic I felt about it. By the end of the day I would feel exhausted, completely empty, sometimes even close to crying. My work ethic is fueled by a passion for what I do, combined with a fear to fail at it. How am I ever going to create a living doing what I love if I don’t put in the time and work? I’m still miles from where I want to be, so every hour that’s not spent in line with my vision feels like it’s no wonder I’m not there yet. As you might expect, this particular view doesn’t contribute much to feeling happy.

I did schedule a little time for play every week, but when I finally got to that scheduled time I would just stare into space and feel like a zombie. It felt more like a much-needed break than another moment to create. I didn’t even want to play. It’s not like I didn’t have any ideas of what I could do, play or create. As a matter of fact, I even had 1001 ideas on my wall, but I just didn’t feel like doing any of them. I felt more like crawling up in fetus position and hiding from the world.

In the past two weeks I started diverging somewhat from my strict schedule. I allowed myself to take a nap when my body was too tired. I took a day off to be a ninja. I decided to end the day early and enjoy the last sun while drinking a glass of wine and reading a book.

Slowly I have regained some creative energy and ideas again. I actually feel excited to do and make things again. But I also know that it’s a slippery slope to go straight back to feeling how I felt. The balance between productivity and being playful is a difficult one. Being productive makes me feel good about myself. It feels like I am in charge of my dreams because I am doing everything in my realm to make them happen. But there is a tipping point as well. If I start being too serious about my productivity, it starts to drain my creative energy. My playfulness suffers, and in the end so does my productivity.

When I started to write this post I had no idea what my happy habit for this month should be. The ideas that I did have didn’t make me feel excited, at all. But then another idea arose: what if I would allow myself to play? Not just at one fixed point in the week, but whenever I felt like it, or at least every day. At first I defined my new habit as: play for an hour a day. But as I thought about it, I decided not to quantify my new habit. One day I may not feel like playing at all. The next I might decide to do something utterly awesome. Then it would be a shame to break my state of flow when I really just want to continue all afternoon.

It feels radical though to allow myself to play whenever. How am I ever going to finish all my work that way? What if I only play and get nothing done? Or what if the habit is way too vague and doesn’t invite me at all to play?

But you know what? This is not the month I am going to care about that. This is going to be the month in which I might not be super productive, but at least the month in which I will do everything I can to find back my eagerness to play. I might blog less consistent. And I am okay if that’s the price I need to pay to allow myself to create something that’s not serving my blog. I will allow myself to stroll around the block for 2 hours if that’s what I feel like. And if it turns out that this approach is the worst idea ever, there is always next month to do things different again. For now though, I am going to try a new approach on being a happier and more playful version of me. Because I kind of miss that happy, playful me.

I started this post by a quote that I used to have hanging in my workspace when I was still studying. I just remembered it. The original quote seems to be from Keri Smith, and this article by her is very much in line with it. I illustrated the quote and put it in a frame on my desk, and use it as my mantra for this month. It’s time I find a way not only to get work done, but get work done AND feel happy about it.

It’s a relief to hear creative, successful people not only talk about this topic, but also voice their struggles with it. It makes me feel like I am not the weird case out. I saw a video last week in which Lisa Congdon said:

I made a committed effort to take regular breaks, to have fun while I had those breaks, and when I take breaks I can still make art but maybe I sketch in my journal something that isn’t an assignment, something that’s more relaxing for me. Everybody who has struggles with working too much or their identity being wrapped up in working, should take a look at that and figure out: is this really what’s feeding me and making me happy?

In a podcast interview I listened to a while back, Austin Kleon explains that an ‘output problem’ is usually an ‘input problem’. In other words; when you are feeling creatively blocked and aren’t producing work that you love, it might be that you just need to expose yourself to new things, inspiring people and allow yourself to play. You cannot force yourself to magically create something out of nothing, if you are not feeding your creative mind with quality food for thought. In my experience, the best input (and output actually) comes from playing.

Do you ever struggle with this balance of play and productivity? Is there anything that helps you?


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