Building a Habit of Creative Productivity

It’s counter intuitive but “playing the rest” is actually the key to productive, satisfying creative output.

faceless musician playing piano using music paper

When I was in middle school, I took piano lessons begrudgingly. I loved the idea of playing complicated, beautiful pieces on the piano, but loathed practice with every fiber of my being.

As you can imagine, my playing was not so great.

I would sit with the music in front of me on the piano, fingers poised, foot hovering over the pedal and launch into the tricky bits, racing past the rests, stumbling through (and slaughtering) the music. At each “practice” my mom would stick her head in and remind me to slow down but, instead I would just give up.

Sometimes it’s tempting to blow right through those musical commas and periods on the way to the great big, exciting exclamation mark! But the musical rests aren’t merely speedbumps.

Even though the notes aren’t played the music hasn’t stopped. You continue counting the beat and your hands and ears are simply at rest.

You can’t skip the rests.

They have equal weight and value as the notes. So, if you don’t “play the rest” you aren’t playing the music as written any more than if you skipped a few notes!

The rests give the music meaning. Without the rests the music is jumbled, chaotic, frenetic and meaningless.

Essentially, the rests make the notes into music.

So, here’s the question – how often are you playing the rests in your life?

It’s counter intuitive but playing the rest is actually the key to productive, satisfying creative output.

The difference between wasted time and generative rest is intention. A composer chooses where each rest must go, how long it will last and how many are needed in each piece of music. We can choose our rest appropriately too and avoid meaningless distractions and burnout. Without breaks in our “productive activity” there would be no shape or meaning to our lives.

Our lives only make sense in the context of the rests.

It can be hard to build a new habit alone. If you’d like some company on the journey maybe, you should check our Spiritual Collectives and take the next six weeks to build a habit of playing the rest with other creatives like you.

Learn more about Spiritual Collectives at Convergence…

Lisa Smith is the pastor and artistic director of Convergence