Computers are killing my creativity

I had an inspiring time at UX Australia last week and was able to take a workshop on productive creativity with Denise Jacobs. Denise is a wonderfully energetic and passionate person who lives and breathes creativity, and helps breathe that life into the creative habits of others.

I’m a front end web developer and UX design aspirant by day, and an electronic musician by night. While I spent a long time feeling that programming was not creative in the same way music and design are, I have come to see that the common factor that ties all of these things together in my life is creativity.

The problem? For me personally, too much time behind a screen has hampered my productivity. It’s not specifically just sitting behind a screen, but the habits that brings to my life and daily headspace.

I can look back over the past six months or so and pinpoint a few things that were hampering my creativity, but it wasn’t until the workshop last week that I started to truly understand why these were blocks for me.

Writing everything in a text editor

When I want to remember something or write a list of to-dos, I open up a text editor and start typing. I used to do this on paper, but paper has a number of downsides — it’s easy to lose, it takes longer (I can type quicker than I can write), it can be wasteful — that make a text editor more compelling. A text file can be shared across devices, changed at will without a big inky mess and it doesn’t clutter up a physical space.

It’s not hard to see why I stopped using paper in the first place.

But since the creativity workshop, I have been using paper a lot more. Not 100% of the time, there are many situations where capturing notes digitally makes more sense or is more convenient. But particularly when I am thinking of ideas, making notes in a meeting or just capturing thoughts and inspiration.

I have been seeing a few benefits from this:

  • Less screen time. I am looking away from the screen more, or taking a notebook to where I would previously have taken a laptop (such as meetings). That has to be better for my eyes!
  • More movement. One of the pitfalls of a desk job is the sheer amount of time spent sitting. At the very least, writing notes gets me to move a *tiny* bit more, but it has often meant that I’ll move elsewhere or stand up to capture notes. I’m getting out of the chair more and engaging different parts of my body.
  • More drawing / sketching. I used to draw a lot when I was younger, and somewhere along the line I stopped. I’m not exactly sitting here sketching award-winning artistic pieces, but I’m doodling while writing and encouraging that creativity more.

Some of these are small benefits, but it’s the little things that add up, right?

Facebook (and other social media)

An obvious and familiar one to many, Facebook and other forms of social media are our drip-fed link to the people and events around us. I love connecting with friends, but I’ve come to feel that Facebook doesn’t really serve me. For the longest time, typing CMD+T+fa+Enter from my browser was the single worst key combination for my productivity — it took me straight to Facebook and down the rabbit hole. Check notifications, click on an article, join a conversation on a photo — begin the cycle and before I knew it, half an hour has passed and I’m thinking about everything possible except the task in front of me.

The worst part about it? I felt dirty. Maybe that’s overstating it a little, but it was the same feeling as opening a bag of lollies and consuming too many, leading to a stomach full of sugar and a head full of regret. Sure, I saw some great photos, had some interactions and read a few interesting articles (which will probably fly right out the other side of my brain), but it ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied and unproductive.

Solution: Don’t use it (much).

I appreciate Facebook, I truly do, but I don’t feel it adds as much positivity to my life as I once believed. Sadly I do miss some shared moments of joy when a friends’ young child does something cute or funny, or a big news item that goes out on Facebook (I’ve already had a few instances where I’ve found out friends were engaged or having a child months after everyone else knows). I feel the loss of these things, but balanced against the negative impacts of Facebook in my life, it isn’t quite enough for me to go back.

I haven’t fully quit Facebook, but the key for me is that it no longer feels like a constant hook. Breaking the habit of opening Facebook all the time is the single best thing I’ve done for my productivity. I still use Messenger for direct contact and I still occasionally (once a week or so) check my Facebook notifications (still the most common place for events, dammit!), but it becomes 5 minutes a week and I don’t get sucked into the news feed black hole.

You know what else? Time spent with friends feels more connecting and more valuable to me. I perhaps need to make a little more effort to keep in touch with people now that I’m not up to date with their daily activities, but that is something for me to work on.

I definitely feel a little more disconnected from the lives of people I care about, particularly those who live across the globe. But do we need to be connected all the time? It wasn’t always this way.

Just turn it off

This is pretty much a common theme in the two above points so it feels a little superfluous here, but considering both of those are relevant to when a computer is actually being used I think this point is worth emphasising.

I have been spending more time away from the computer. Actually just perhaps sitting somewhere and thinking or taking notes, or talking with my wife or a friend, or going for a walk. This is super obvious and I continuously wonder why I am constantly having to remind myself of it, but it keeps slipping.

What are you going to NOT do in order to make time for creativity?

Computers have been such a huge part of my life for a very long time now. They are my most default activity — play a game, write some music, play with code, explore the tunnels of the internet — there are so many parts of my life that involve a computer. But sometimes, in order to get the most out of them, I need to step away — for an hour, a minute, a day — and just be a human being on earth without a digital lifeline.

A more creative life

I feel incredibly inspired after my time at the conference last week, and I am very excited to continue on the path to removing elements of my day to day workflow that hamper creativity and productivity, and focus on the things that add momentum and positivity (and ruthlessly remove those that don’t!)

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading. Writing thoughts here is part of my commitment to creativity (a homework item from the workshop, not to mention something I’ve intended to do for years). I’m still learning, and look forward to sharing more random brain dumps in the future.

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