Help me built an inspiration battery
January 15, 2014 6:36 AM   Subscribe

Like a lot of people, I juggle creative pursuits with a day job. Annoyingly, my daily period of greatest creative motivation occurs early in the morning and overlaps with about the first four hours of my work day. How can I transfer that energy to the evening, when I have more time? Complication: I can't change my work or sleep schedules at all.

I know the easiest solution is to wake up earlier to do my thing, but I can't. I have phase-delay insomnia and it has taken most of a lifetime just to train my body to fall asleep by midnight so I can get up at 6 a.m. for work--for me, going to bed at 9 is like going to bed in the middle of the afternoon for everyone else. My brain cannot do it. For a year I tried getting up at 4 to do my thing and it wrecked both my physical and mental health because I could not fall asleep any earlier no matter how tired I was--I just ended up being so sleep deprived I would doze off while driving and began having some really painful mental health problems. It had to stop.

Anyway. So sleep can't change. I always have my eye out for new jobs that could better fit my schedule, but it's not raining jobs, and I have a mortgage and student loans to pay off--so for now, the job can't change.

I do take notes during my "morning burn" but it's not enough to help me recapture the momentum during the long hours of the evening when I'm awake and the rest of the house is asleep and I can work undisturbed. The ideas are still there, but I can't seem to execute them as well as I can in the morning. The clarity is just gone. I can no longer see how the pieces fit together, and my output ends up being very fragmented and disconnected. I am not averse to the work--I do the work, but the output always feels flat and perfunctory compared to what I can produce on days off or weekends, when I can work in the mornings. When I can work in the morning, I produce more, I can sustain my concentration for longer, and the quality is much higher.

So how can I trick my mind into storing my morning burn until nighttime?
posted by elizeh to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Is it the morning burn that's running out, or is it just straight-up energy? I also find it very difficult to do any kind of creative work in the evening, but I think it's basically because, you know, I'm tired. When I get home from work I've been awake for 12 hours and I've walked a couple of miles and I've done a lot of thinking and my mind and body need the rest.

I'm guessing naps and evening caffeine are not an option, given your sleep issues? Are some of your days at work slower and easier? Could you do some of your day job work during the evening and shift some of your creative work to the morning (obviously this is a luxury that not everyone has)?

Alternately, maybe just manage your energy levels and your expectations - if you have a really great idea that you know is going to need your full attention, put it off until you have a day off or weekend day, and save grunt work (hard to know exactly what this is without knowing what your creative pursuits are) for regular workday evenings.

Sorry, not the answer you're looking for. I hope someone else has an awesome suggestion for how to have creative energy in the evenings, because I'd love to hear it.
posted by mskyle at 6:48 AM on January 15, 2014

When you are starting an evening session you might want to try some form of self-hypnosis like autogenics. I had a writing teacher who started classes with autogenic exercises. They are relaxation exercises but they help you focus too. Some of the autogenics scripts include a last step of turning your palms up and lifting your hands from the elbow or some other motion that directs the energy upwards. This step seems to make the exercise more invigorating. You can use it again without that when you want to wind down. (My big problem with doing creative things in the evening is that it keeps me from getting to sleep.)
posted by BibiRose at 7:13 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

No, I generally have the energy to work in the evenings--I am not too tired or burnt out--it's just something about that just-waking state that where all the neurons are firing and making crazy connections that I want to capture.

Yes, I think a nap is not a good solution for me, although maybe it would help others without sleep issues.
posted by elizeh at 7:39 AM on January 15, 2014

Our creative and sleep patterns sound very, very similar; I wrote about my difficulties here. Unfortunately, I never found a solution beyond working evening shifts and being a kind of suck employee; when I worked normal day jobs with normal hours, I'd sit down and get writing done first thing and then do all of my day job duties after (luckily, I could do this while appearing to work). Maximizing creative productivity on weekends helped, too, as did finding a job where I could telecommute (and therefore sleep in).

I wish I had a better answer for you. It's a shame that our society is so hostile to creatives who operate like we do! We'd be so productive if only we were allowed to sleep in.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:58 AM on January 15, 2014

Not knowing what your creative pursuits are, could you do some prep work in the evening and finish the next morning? (That works for more manual stuff)
Or try to sketch out/outline your idea in the morning and work on it after work? (could work for writing)

Re: Execution. Did you try to get into "the zone" in the evening? Sometimes this might be helped through music or a movie or a quiet room with lit candles - whatever works for you. If you can, try a different space altogether - like an artist's studio or co-working/maker space. Freedom from even small distractions might be helpful.

I want to add though, that my most energetic, creative time is at night and it is really hard to get the same momentum in the morning. Whatever it is that makes up creativity is endogenous, it seems.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:05 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Good luck. I am a natural-born owl and at various times, like now, required to be productive at times when I am not. The only thing that helps me is to make lists (which are more like flow charts) at night and rap out what I can in the early morning.
Being able to see what I gave done, reviewing the list, improves my attitude which is still slightly sour from feeling rushed and bitter about have to run on less than full power.

For creative pursuits, as distinguished from personal projects, this may not help.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2014

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