Finding New Ways to Be Creative with Dan Milnor

In 2020, we’ve found ourselves in uncharted water. The global pandemic has forced us to rethink our lives, structure, routines, and our future. This has been an unprecedented challenge, at least in the modern era, and has forced us to adapt in a myriad of ways. Many of us find ourselves spending more time at home. Remote working from home is the new norm and looks to be, at least in certain regions, for the foreseeable future. So how do we stay motivated and creative while working from home for extended periods of time?

My prior work life was all about routine, but now I’m just at home all the time. How do I find structure?

You can absolutely find a new routine for working at home. This could and should include the things you do outside of your working hours; working out, reading, writing, going for walks, reflecting on the day. That’s when you should be turning your devices off. You can also create a time schedule for start and stop time as well as what duties you tackle depending on the day of the week. I think you can create a truly finite routine if that is helpful and allows you to stay creative.

When I left work I felt like I could leave my job behind, so how do I set boundaries?

I have several suggestions. Doors are your best friend. A home office with a door is a natural, physical boundary that allows you to literally seal off your work environment. One of the biggest misconceptions about remote working is that it is much easier and you have more free time. I have found, without taking precautions, working from home can easily take over your life. So, set alarms for when you start and stop. If possible, create a separate workspace you can walk away from.

Are there any other techniques that might help?

It’s really about finding a natural balance that works for you. My schedule starts at 5 AM. I know that might sound early, but it’s a beautiful time of day. And getting up early allows for incredible early productivity. I’m up at 5 AM but only to make coffee and read. I find that reading book-length material helps set my mind in the right mode for focus and long-form thinking. I read until my coffee is gone then I ride between 20-30 miles on my bike. I’m often home by 7:30 or 8 AM which still leaves me ample time before I have to start my workday. By 10 AM I have done my first round of calls, emails, and social media needs which often leaves me a good part of the day for focusing on the creative side of my work.

With everything on lockdown, I feel like I’m losing my motivation, any tips?

This I totally understand. The extroverts among us are particularly challenged. I totally get it. I would look for outside sources of inspiration. Little things you have probably overlooked for YEARS. For me, this was finally taking time to look closely at my physical surroundings. This came in the form of animal life. I began to study and catalog all species of animal, plant, bug, bird, and insect I found around my house and property. It could not believe what I had missed. Two Woodhouse Scrub-Jays nested in the tree outside our bedroom window and my wife and I named them. We followed along as the chicks were hatched and taught to fly. The pair still flies by and waits for us to come and acknowledge them. This little exercise allowed me to reset my brain to something totally unrelated to work so that when it came time to work I was energized and focused.

I’m so tired of online conference calls but don’t know any other way of communicating?

You will laugh. Write letters. I know, I know, throwback. Yes, for sure, but start writing letters and don’t bother telling the recipients you are sending them a letter. Just do it and see what happens.

How do I get feedback on my work when I can’t meet with anyone?

I am a huge fan of mentorship. When we face serious challenges, it makes a huge difference to have someone you trust, someone you admire, to fall back on. I think that ONE serious relationship with a mentor does wonders for when we feel a bit lost.

My spouse is now working from home as well and sometimes it feels like we are both in different worlds. Any ideas for how to remedy this?

This is a great question and I too face the same situation. This might sound cheesy but I’ve found that as long as I dedicate MORE time to thinking about my spouse than I do to thinking about myself the balance and harmony tend to be much, much stronger. If I’m sitting at my desk and feeling tired, overworked, or stressed, I realized that my wife might be feeling the same way. So if I can think about a remedy for her, and I help her first, it tends to make my situation improve exponentially.

I used to do art when I was younger but now my life is much more about business. Should I start up my art practice and how do I do this without embarrassing myself?

Short answer, YES. Absolutely. Art is total freedom, which often runs in direct opposition to the business world. Art is a permission slip for personal expression, and remember, there is no right and wrong. As for how not to embarrass yourself. Just don’t share until you are ready. Just live with your work and see how it speaks to you. Maybe you will share or maybe not. As long as the art is challenging you and making you happy then nothing else really matters.

What if creativity for me isn’t about making anything?

That’s totally fine. I think one of the most incredible things any of us can do is sit and think. Nothing else. No distractions. Just the thoughts in our head. That is how Einstein came to several of his more important discoveries. He gave himself time to “do nothing.”

Any last tips?

I spent most of my adult life as a photographer, so much of what I know from a creative standpoint revolves around professional photography. This means that the rest of the creative world is still mostly unknown to me. Art, design, illustration, writing, etc. There are so many creative people I have yet to discover. I realized being at home was the perfect time to try to expand my creative horizons. So, each week I do research to investigate someone new. Yesterday it was author Joan Didion. Last week it was artist/educator Josef Albers. There is an endless list of people I can learn from.

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