How to Retain and Develop Your Creativity — While Parenting Full-Time
“I have yet to peak in my career — far from it. I have too much energy and contribution left to give and experiment with to even start contemplating about slowing down. I don’t want to lose this.”
It started with this, just like with most things that drive me: FEAR. I don’t underestimate it nor am I ashamed to be motivated by it. It is my fuel and for the most part, it has worked to my advantage.
I can’t think of a bigger life change that is more heavily governed by fear than parenting. There’s an unlimited amount of it but this post isn’t about fear. It is about creativity and what happens when you start using fear as a leverage rather than a liability.
I have a fear and it is one that I’m sure a lot of ambitious working mothers also share: FEAR OF SLOWLY LOSING OUR CAREERS WHICH WE WORKED SO HARD TO BUILD.
This fear manifests in so many ways. For me, it comes in the form of inner voices:
- ‘My ideas will get lousier and lousier over time.’
- ‘I wouldn’t care as much about the outcome and the impact of my work as much I used to’
- ‘I would lose my stamina: physical, emotional and mental. All essential to performing and delivering well.’
- ‘Competition would eat me alive.’
- ‘I will be irrelevant. Maybe not today — but soon.’
And the worst part, it all ends with this:
‘AND THEY* WILL NOTICE.’
I refuse to subscribe to the idea that, just because I became a mother, I will slow down, inevitably. I think it is possible to be both, to juggle both roles and succeed with flying colors. This deserves a follow-up post though. Right now, I’m writing about what I can do and what I can control to set myself up for success on BOTH roles.
Here are just some of the principles I use to retain and develop my creativity — while parenting full-time:
Turn downtime into writing time.
(Bottle) Feeding my baby & daily pumping are just some of the recurring activities that essentially force me to be in one place and stay still. During which, I have two choices to pass the time: 1. browse social media (easy) OR 2. take out my notes app and just write (hard).
If I want to succeed, the answer is a no-brainer: Take the hard every time, every day until it becomes a pleasure (which now it is). If I absolutely have to browse social media (which I still do), it has to be less than the amount of time I spend on the #2.
Mute nonessential communication lines.
Access to you should be a privilege because it is. It is quite tempting to respond in real time to a lot of things but the truth is, that is an energy-sucker. Don’t get used to being distracted and disturbed all the time for the sake of politeness or some other virtue. Schedule multiple times in the day to check in and keep it that way. It’ll give you something to look forward to everyday.
“You can have all the time in the world but if your energy is depleted, there is no point. Guard both ferociously.” — myself, from my previous post, “Motherhood — It’s My Hardest Role Yet. The Five Big Things I’ve Learned So Far.”
Minimize news consumption.
Following a general rule: everything in moderation. With the news though, I think it is even worth going below that. Unless you personally get a lot of value in being informed by basically everything, your attention is probably better spent elsewhere. Or, alternatively, you can also double down on topics you care more about and lessen those that you don’t.
In case you are curious, this is, by far, the best time and energy management book I’ve ever read: The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More With Less by Richard Koch. This is a huge influence to how I’ve approached this subject.
Find ways to learn and create on the job.
Kids are a wonderful source of inspiration to life. What excites me the most about parenting is the shiny, new lens I get to share with mine: learning about the world. There will be a lot of moments where you will be forced to see things differently, things we, as adults, probably stopped thinking about a long time ago. This is an opportunity to embrace the beginner’s mindset back and enjoy the thrill of rediscovering new and old things all over again. Just some examples of this on my end:
- New technologies to play with
- Modular toys (playmats, educational cards etc)
- Observing nature
- Documentation — personal portraits (photography) and notes / diary (writing)
- Introducing music
Use your free time extremely wisely.
Do an inventory of all your activities and tasks, personal and professional work. Put them into different categories. To keep things simpler, I’ve labeled everything as ‘Work’ regardless if it’s personal or professional. It looks something like this one:
- Work I enjoy doing
- Work I HAVE to do
- Work I can outsource
- Work that can wait
Use jira, notion or any software of your choice. It could even be as practical as a pen and paper. Whatever you’re comfortable with. The point of this exercise to give a face to your biggest energy and time investments. (and start designing a lifestyle that fits your current needs, as an individual and as a family). This is a work-in-progress for me.
I don’t need to deep dive into this further as the buckets are pretty obvious: outsource what you can and keep what you want to keep. Factoring in financial capacities, cultural norms and access to certain resources, ideally, almost every task (‘Work’) should be accounted for.
My metric for success with this is:
- ‘Work I enjoy doing’ is > the ‘Work I don’t enjoy doing’, ‘Work I can outsource’
- ‘Work that can wait’ has the heaviest load — this is probably 90% of all the tasks that it should be treated as a distraction
- ‘Work I HAVE to do’ becomes a lot more pleasurable and pleasant of an experience over time
- ‘Work I can outsource’ automates my life
And so on.
The goal is not just to eliminate as much of the energy-sucking activities as humanly possible. It is also to fill your everyday life with the opposite: insanely fulfilling, energy-giving activities that bring you (& your family, by extension) an incredible amount of happiness and growth. After all, this is what a lot of us optimize for, isn’t it?
I certainly don’t wake up everyday with the intention of being miserable and/or directionless. Not as an individual and certainly not as a parent.
Exercising creativity is one of the best things you can do to keep that from ever happening. Remember, alongside your kid, you have to grow as a person too.
To growing well and absurdly happy and thriving together, kid.
Thank you to all the people who are helping us make this happen, in small and big ways. You are heroes in my book.
I normally write about Design, Technology and Business. This is a new frontier, a small experiment, a fresh change. To go back to my usual stuff, please read, Working Title at https://nikkiespartinez.substack.com/
About the author
Nikki is a Sr. UX Designer working for a data company in New Jersey. In the last 2 years, she has helped design & build a holographic platform, contracted for a research team inside Fidelity Investments, worked in the Design Operations side of an e-commerce company, mentored brilliant design students/career-changers, advocated for UX best practices at RookieUp, have co-taught UX courses at General Assembly and have also contributed directly to the growth of the Mentorship program on UXPA-New York. Designing for a better world is her life. She also runs her own newsletter, working title, about her thoughts on the future and more.