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Knowing When to Quit in Creativity

This is one of those other tough things that no one talks about - when to say ‘no’ in creativity.

Photo Credit - Ryan McGuire of Gratisography

Years ago I said ‘yes’ to everything. When you get started on creative flow, that’s what you do.

Now I’ve quit more times than I can remember. And the funny thing is - my success rate on projects has gone up.

Unlike a lot of the most successful entrepreneurs - Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs - I actually did well in school. In fact, getting good grades came easy - until it got hard.

Imagine my shock when I got my first ‘F’ as an engineering undergrad after getting straight A’s all through high school.

Shaken I asked my academic advisor what I could do. I thought he’d tell me to study smarter or some other generic advice. Instead he was frank and told me that I was trying to do too much.

“One of the main things you’re going to have to learn is to quit,” my advisor said. “Not everything is going to get done - maybe today it’s your laundry, maybe tomorrow it’s a set of homework problems. Only you can decide what you can afford to not do so that what you need to do gets done.”

It took a while for it to sink in. Stubbornly I tried harder to cram more into that daily planner. But no matter what I did, I always ended up in the same place - needing to cut back.

Eventually, I learned about the teachings of Stephen Covey in The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People. The most profound lesson for me was the idea that unless we choose the Big Rocks of our lives, the Little Rocks will take up all our time buckets.

I love the analogy that Liz Gilbert shares with one of her callers on her new Magic Lessons podcast - that if we treat our creativity as an illicit affair, we’ll find the time.

Knowing which ones are the Big Rocks of our lives isn’t easy. But unless you say ‘no’ to the Little ones, you’ll never have a chance to find out!