What do you need in order to be your most creative and productive?

Creative/ Know what you need

Cold, grey, dark winters are my jam.

Easy for me to say, perched as I am here on Oahu, having moved here from indisputably gorgeous and un-wintry San Diego. But I’ve also lived in Virginia, Scotland, England, Belgium and Germany. I know a thing or two about winter, is what I’m saying, even if my data is a few years old. And having lived without a proper winter—and for the last 4 years running, at the moment—I can tell you that I miss the dark, introspective tone that winter casts over my mood and my creative potential.

For those of you who are, understandably, skeptical—perhaps because it’s cold and dark where you are, so a hot day sounds appealing!—here’s what I long for.

My dog Jim and I are crunching down the snowy sidewalk toward home. It’s late morning, and the sun is draped over by thin, grey clouds. We climb the wooden stairs to the porch, and I stomp the snow off my boots before I reach down to wipe the snow from Jim’s feet with my gloved hands.

Once inside, I put on my slippers and head to the kitchen. The the sound of Jim’s claws on the wood floor recedes into the living room; he’s on his way to the couch for his post-walk nap. The cats jump down from the windowsill and rub against my legs as I begin to warm milk on the stove.

Once the cats are fed, I pour the milk into a hot cup of coffee and head to my studio. I sit at my desk, and turn on the lamp. The window is cold, but the radiator is clicking softly; outside, the trees look like they’ve been dipped in glass.

Not enough? In this little vignette, I didn’t even get to the bread dough that’s rising downstairs, and the soup simmering on the stove. Sure, I fetishize winter a bit, but I know it’s when I’m at peak contentment, and when I can most easily develop and produce my best creative work.

Since I won’t see winter again until late this year, I’m still using trickery to convince my brain, and my soul, really, that they’re getting at least an occasional “winter” recharge.

How?

I’ve discovered that if I work in the evenings, or early in the morning, I can emulate the feeling of weak winter sunlight, even down here below the Tropic of Cancer. If that’s not possible, and I’m working daylight hours, I adjust the shades, get cozy with Simply Rain or Rainy Mood, brew some spicy tea and work by the light of a table lamp. Wearing socks helps. Moving to a room with a lot of sound absorbing items like carpet and upholstered furniture helps give the world that muffled quality that I associate with snowy weather. None of these strategies are perfect, and of course, intellectually, I know it’s 80ºF and sunny nearly every day all winter. But if I can fool myself long enough to get into a flow state, I can ride the illusion of winter long enough to get a lot of good work done.

My point?

It’s worth paying attention to the things you like to surround yourself with when you’re doing your best work. Note that this is not the same thing as needing these things in order to do good work. If you want to be a productive creative professional, you need to be able to work in a variety of settings, whether you feel inspired by them or not. But more often than not, you have some amount of control over your work atmosphere, so you might as well use this control to your best advantage. Think about light, music, decor and office setup. What do you like to wear? Do you like a particular beverage? What kind of music, if any, do you like to work to? When it’s possible, try to be kind to yourself, and provide as many of the things you prefer as you can. Give yourself this gift. Then, go do good work.

Photo: A gorgeous winter scene on the walking trail outside of Holzgerlingen, Germany, where I used to live. 

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