Creativity is what many people crave in their work lives. Creativity makes you feel alive. Most of us want to make something “cool,” something that we can point to and say, “See that? I did that. I made that. It’s mine.” Creating gives us a sense of pride and accomplishment.

If it makes us feel so good, why aren’t more of us doing it?

Part of the issue is the need to look busy at work. If we are sitting at our desks thinking, it might look like we’re doing nothing. And we don’t get paid to do nothing! In fact, this is one of the central challenges of our current work construct — there is no space for creation. In a sense, we’ve developed work environments that value activity overthinking. Seems like thinking ought to be an important part of the job, though, doesn’t it?

There’s also the simple reality that, on any given day, there can be a whole host of things you have to pay attention to. They’re constantly shoving their way to the front of your mind. If you don’t attend to them right when they demand your attention, you feel anxious about it. So you do it. And then you’re swallowed up by the external demands on your time and energy, leaving you with nothing at all for your creativity and ideas.

Learning to Live a Creative Life in a World of Distractions

I have a friend named Blanche. She’s one of the most creative people I know. Whenever I get to work with her, it’s like a breath of fresh air. We laugh. We have fun creating cool stuff. We make magic. She’s inspiring to be around. And she’s fearless. She’ll try stuff and not get all wound up if it doesn’t turn out. She just tries another way. She’s not persnickety. She’s flexible and persistent.

Motivated by Blanche’s example, I am learning how to be more creative at work. I dedicate most of my mornings to make space for it. I’ll get up early and go for a big walk with my dog. Then I’ll meditate and do some writing. I make a point to listen for the voice that is unrecognizable as my own — a voice that is something more.

Occasionally, that voice will tell me a little something about what to write about that day, and sometimes, I’ll follow it. But often, I am undisciplined and unfocused. I hear the voice and then, before I know it, I pick up my phone and check my Instagram account or wander into the kitchen for more coffee. I am easily distracted.

To access creativity you have to give yourself the space to do nothing. You have to put your phone down. Nothing means nothing.

What I’ve noticed is that my mind is impatient with nothing. It thinks I should be doing something, anything. I hear a voice that might be my cranky grandma’s: “Get up. Get going. Make something of yourself.”

My grandmother didn’t live a creative life. She was pragmatic and practical, as most of the women of her generation were. There was work to be done. My current challenge is to not live my life with her pragmatism in my head but instead to listen to the voice of creativity that is more encouraging and inspiring. It’s not easy. This voice is quieter and gentler, harder to hear.

To amplify that voice, I’m reminding myself that, to be more creative at work, you have to make space. And that means:

  1. Get better at discerning the highest and best use of your hours and days.
  2. Stop devoting so much time to the stuff that you could do in your sleep and could delegate to someone else.
  3. Schedule more time to think, to plan, to play with ideas, to let your mind wander.
  4. Give yourself permission to do it wrong. There is very little perfection in the creative process.

Creativity and inspiration won’t be forced. You can’t demand that it show up between your leadership team meeting and your Ops review. Instead, take more quiet walks. Sit down and listen. Then an idea can come to you, unbidden, like magic.

If your hours are filled up with drama and doing and anxiety and rushing around, you won’t be able to grab the edge of the idea long enough to hold onto it.

It will slip away from you and onto the next person who can get a better grip. Ideas and inspiration are like that — ethereal and slippery. And if an idea doesn’t stay with you? Odds are, you didn’t make the space for it.


  • Dede Henley


    Henley Leadership Group

    I have been in the field of leadership development since 1982. I founded Henley Leadership Group 20 years ago to help leaders and organizations create more equitable and productive workplaces and ignite the nascent leadership potential of employees at all levels. Through individual coaching and programs designed to generate positive business results, Henley Leadership Group has served thousands of corporate leaders in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, energy and finance. Away from work, I live with my husband, and try not to meddle too much in the lives of my half-dozen kids.