After twenty-six hours of travel that entailed two 10+ hour-long flights, a train ride, a tube ride, and four blocks of tugging a suitcase, I found myself sitting on my sofa in London with eyes at half mast. My to-do list was as long as ever yet my eyes could nearly stay open. Sitting in a dark flat 9,000 miles away and seven time zones ahead, my husband reminded me of something important. “You can’t do it all. You need sleep,” he told me. “Start tomorrow refreshed. You’ll feel better.”
Ten years ago, pushing through all-nighters–and sometimes multiple days–constantly awake and (somehow) designing and creating was no problem. My younger self had an insatiable drive to match my peers’ willingness to work despite all indications for sleep. All nighters are a thing of the past for me, now, but the desire to fill my to-do list and calendar still prevails.
When I fail to check off all the to-do list items at the end of the week (which frequently happens,) I’m angry and disappointed.
Why didn’t I write one more article?
Why couldn’t I fit in one more call with an enthusiastic young designer who needed advice?
Or work on my website design?
Because I am human. We are human. There are limits to our time, energy, and creativity–especially creativity.
The more I force myself to do more, the less I do. An overwhelming feeling of not meeting my expectations causes me to take a step back and prioritization enters the picture.
What do I want to accomplish?
What do I want to focus on?
What means the most to me?
When I ask myself these questions, the heavy load of an overly full to-do list lightens. The worn-down feeling of not being able to accomplish enough leaves the room. The realization that writing and designing are enjoyable leads me back to the canvas. Exploring, discovering, and creating interesting stories is the reason I write.
But creativity is not ever-present. This is the human side that lies in the shadows. We see the polished product and think that it was easy and smooth sailing to arrive at that point. Yet, the process has bumps and bruises, times of nearly giving up and talking yourself back to the canvas. I disregarded the blank canvas for two and a half weeks and it’s been hard to find the words, construct the sentences, and create the stories that I wish to tell.
We each go through this in the creative process. The stop and start. Questioning “why?” The struggle to find meaning when we’ve nearly lost it. Because in the end, we are all human. We can each only do so much. And our empathy and understanding of this will keep us thriving. This is how we can put humanity back into design.
Inspired by Sarah Kathleen Peck’s post on When you fall down, break your routine, or stop writing: notes on re-starting and Justin Davidson’s response to What is the State of Design Criticism? in Metropolis.
Image source: Photographer Gareth Mcconnell from ‘A 21st Century Love Poem’