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1 Lesson Learned by Playing Like an Artist

I like to get my to-do list done. I even draw little boxes next to my to-do items, so I can experience the satisfaction of putting a big fat check mark in the box when I finished my task.

The problem is that the list never goes away for good, and sometimes I don’t allow myself to relax until everything on the list is done. This stuff HAS to get done; otherwise, I won’t have a car to drive, money in the bank or food for the dog.

It didn’t occur to me that I had any other options about how to approach my to-do list, until…

Last Tuesday I randomly had a couple hours free in the morning because a client cancelled. In my head, the Very Serious and Disciplined Task Master started to lecture me: Everyone else is working. Think of what you could accomplish in a couple hours. This is what it takes to be successful. There’s no time for play.


If it weren't for the commitment I made to my Artist's Way group, I would've spent that time checking email or taking care of other administrative tasks. I decided to ignore the Very Serious and Disciplined Task Master, and instead found some old tubes of watercolors, scrap paper and crayons. I doodled and painted for about half an hour. It was FUN. Energizing. It elevated my mood and it even sharpened my brain.

I felt like a kid on a snow day. When I allowed myself to play hooky for half an hour, the result was a better mood, more energy, more creativity AND I still got everything on my to-do list done. With vim and vigor, even.

Research shows I’m not an anomaly. Creativity and play boost productivity, heighten performance and aid recovery from work burnout.

In one study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, researchers found that “creative activity was positively associated with recovery experiences (i.e., mastery, control, and relaxation) and performance‐related outcomes.” Furthermore, the study suggested that companies encourage their employees to pursue creative activities while at work as well as outside of work, such as paying for art classes or an art studio membership.

“Creative activities are likely to provide valuable experiences of mastery and control, but may also provide employees experiences of discovery that uniquely influence performance‐related outcomes.”

What I found important was that I gave myself permission to play. What I did during that playtime was less important than just setting aside time to do it, and adhering to the commitment I made to myself.

Not only did this little painting play session improve that day, it also improved the rest of my week. Instead of worrying about all the stuff I normally worry about, I mused about what other ways I could play with my student paint set and paper. I collected leaves and found a way to preserve them. I finished a mosaic I started in August 2018. Seriously, 30 minutes of messing around with paint went a long, long way.

So anyway, when was the last time you started your day with something creative? Try it and see what it does for your energy, mood, productivity and problem solving. Then tell me about it. ;)

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