Creativity research has a lot to say about the work habits of creative people. Let us look at the issue of working on one thing at a time versus having a number of projects going all at once. What approach do you take with your creative process? Are you among those who single-mindedly work on just one project and carefully avoid being “sidetracked” by something else? Or do you happily juggle several projects at once, switching back and forth among them as you see fit or the mood takes you?
Creators often have several intuitively-related projects in progress at the same time and exploit the situation to synergize their creative powers with constant cross-fertilization. (Image: public domain)
The Power of Monomania
It can be tempting to insist on working with just one project at a time, starting it, and then continuing with it until it is completed. The idea is simple, straightforward, and produces finished work faster than any other technique. If you can keep going, that is. It may surprise you to learn that many creators are unable to do this. At some point, for any number of reasons, they run into difficulties that prevent them from finishing what they have started. Sometimes they abandon the project and start another – hopefully more easily completed – work. A small number cease working altogether and go through a period of renewed gestation or learning before resuming the interrupted project. Among authors, writer’s block is a frustrating form of this poorly understood process. In the situations with the best outcome, the creator will set the stalled work aside and begin with something else, something new, yet thematically related to what they had previously been doing.
The Benefits of Having Multiple Projects
The tendency to sideline a project and then restart with something new means it is common for creators to have a set of projects under way at the same time. Contrary to what one might expect, what seems at first glance an unfocussed approach actually conceals an effective method. The key here is that the assorted projects are intuitively related. Once they have a few underway, the creator shifts back and forth among them in a way that extracts insights they might otherwise have overlooked. They shuffle ideas, bits of information, and insights into fresh contexts and place them in new relationships with each other, periodically switching from a stalled project to one that is, or has become, more clear.
The scheme is an ongoing effort to express more clearly the creator’s overall artistic vision. The capacity for absorption, so characteristic of the creative individual, applies not just to a single work in progress but also to the creator’s work as a whole, the pursuit of their overarching creative, artistic, and philosophical vision. Creators strive to express their innermost being, their worldview, and the subtlety others so often miss.
Do Not Emulate Leonardo da Vinci
Excessive use of the multiple project strategy would be a bad thing, obviously. Leonardo da Vinci provides a prime example. As a young man, he started project after project until he had a vast store of unfinished works. When he grew old, he realized he could never complete so many. He spent the last years of his life desperately trying to finish those he considered most important. Yet the right number of concurrent projects enables creators to keep busy all the time, thereby, in the end, increasing their productivity.