Your schedule is jammed. Every day this week you have at least one double-booked slot on your calendar, and at 10 a.m. next Monday you’re triple-booked. Your to-do list keeps growing, your phone keeps ringing, your inbox keeps filling, your messages keep pinging. You barely have time to pee.
And yet you have creative goals. A message to send. An idea to pitch. A story to tell.
Fortunately, creativity thrives in nooks and crannies.
Look carefully at those giant slabs of booked-solid time, and you’ll discover some hairline fractures:
- Three minutes between meetings or conference calls
- Three minutes waiting for your train or Lyft to arrive
- Three minutes in the carpool line or fast food drive-thru
Three minutes is all it takes to do a little something creative.
When leading creativity workshops or facilitating strategic meetings, I routinely guide participants through three-minute exercises. I set my iPhone timer and off they go: writing quietly, sharing ideas with a partner, brainstorming ideas with a group.
In these circumstances, a three-minute timer is a practical way to keep a meeting on schedule. It also keeps people engaged. You can do anything for three minutes, right? A tiny bit of time pressure turns any activity into a game.
The big aha is that you can do something in three minutes.
Frame the challenge right, and three minutes is always enough time to get started and often enough time to finish. It’s not just a game, but a high-speed, short-lived chase that results in getting something accomplished.
Here’s how you can squeeze creativity into those narrow, three-minute cracks in your schedule:
Write something. A first draft of an email message. Or at least the first paragraph. Or the call to action. Or the subject line and recipients.
Read something. An email message. Today’s headlines. A poem.
Brainstorm something. Blog post topics. Reasons to buy your product or service. A more fitting title for your role than “senior manager.” Set a timer—alone or with a buddy—and see how many ideas you can generate in three minutes. (Can you get all the way to 39?)
Say something. Return a phone call. Record a voice memo to capture an idea you don’t want to forget. Pop into a friend’s cubicle or FaceTime, just to chat.
Make something. A paper clip chain. A happy face on the nearest white board. A tower of sticky note pads. Occupy your hands and let your mind wander.
Ignore something. Set your phone aside and look out the window. Close your laptop, close your eyes, and breathe. Push your chair away from your desk, stand up, and take a stretch break.
Consume something. Not calories, necessarily (though if you’re due for a snack, go for it). What can you take in through your other senses? Listen to your favorite song. Watch a short video. Splash your face with cool water.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, talks about “filling the well”—a way of restocking your creative resources. This image feels useful to me when I have the luxury of time to take a long walk, read a few chapters of a book, or go to the movies.
But when time is short, I can’t reach that well. It’s too big, too deep, too far away.
Instead, I focus on filling the cracks.
Imagine that the thin, blank spaces on your calendar (those pale lines that separate one hour from the next) are like cracks in the sidewalk. Plant a few creative seeds in there, three minutes at a time. You might not notice the difference at first, but the more creativity you wedge into those cracks, the more that creativity will take root. Soon, it will sprout up where you—and maybe even others—can see it. Let it grow. Before you know it, your creativity will extend over and around the solid slabs of your work day.
That’s how creativity thrives. From the nooks and crannies.