What You Can Achieve in 15-Minute Bursts of Creativity
“Many people die with their music still in them,” Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said. “Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.”
It’s a sad truth that despite our aspirations and best intentions, our lives are full of factors beyond our control as we juggle daily errands and demands. The result, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, is that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” True creativity, that “music” within each of us, too often falls by the wayside. We start the year with resolutions to do more, be more. Then, halfway through the year, we realize, with that “quiet desperation,” that our resolutions have not come to fruition.
Often we are told that to truly commit to being a “maker,” we must clear our calendars of meetings and other distractions, that creativity requires “vast, unbroken slabs of time.” But the truth is most of us don’t have — and can’t create — many of these precious slabs in our schedules. Even if we triage our commitments, shed entertainments, and juggle our responsibilities, we may optimistically carve out just a few hours to ourselves each week.
The more determined may choose to go scorched-earth on their calendars in ruthless pursuit of their goal. But there’s another option for those of us unwilling to make such a disruptive change:
Work toward the goal of 15 minutes per day.
Even the brightest among us struggle with finding time for true creativity, and many have managed to do so without those great, unbroken slabs in their schedules. Historian and biochemist Joseph Needham, for example, found himself strapped for time while traveling around developing China to compile research for his history of Chinese civilization, which became a series of 17 books on the topic that were released periodically over the latter half of the 20th century.
“The Chinese have a proverb to describe a hard-working scholar reading books all the time, even reading while traveling on horseback,” wrote historian Wang Ling, one of Needham’s close collaborators. “Needham travels by train, always buying a first-class…