On Other Days: Creative Structure

If you’ve read Talking Story for any longer-than-recently length of time, you know that I’m a big fan of creative structure. I like to test new habits and shift my routines, to explore and experiment with variation, but I also do so with the hope that I’ll nalu it, and fall into a cool, unexpected, and pleasing rhythm of some new sort.

Structure is comforting, and I like structure. But nobody said it had to be stagnant, stodgy and boring. So I willingly devote whole weekends to designing trusted systems. I especially love values-based structure (no surprise there, huh), for it serves as a kind of good-habit filtering of all that life can throw at you.

However I like change too. That is, I like it the way most people will discover they actually like it: When they’ve been the ones to choose the change, being more proactive about it versus being swept away in the tide because someone else decided to “make waves” and rock the boat.

If you can become a person who chooses change, you begin to dabble, and play with it. You reveal creativity you hadn’t thought you had, but do! What others choose to do doesn’t bother you as much, because you’re too busy with your own thing. The boat might be rocking, but you’re standing in the best place — next to the life preservers — and you already have a plan.

Frank Merriwell's Discovery Yale Story
Vintage poster courtesy of The Happy Rower on Flickr

Time is finite. Content isn’t.

We all get 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year. What we choose to fill those time frames with, represents an abundance of choice — sky’s the limit. The question I have for you is this: Do you make all the choices you get to make?

Note the distinction: Not choices you have to make, but choices you get to make.

One consequence of the conventional 40-hour work week, is that most of us have created our ‘weekday’ and ‘weekend’ paradigms, even if our schedules dictate when the weekend will actually be (mine will happen this coming Tuesday and Wednesday this particular week).

Well, what if you got more than that?

If you are successful at designing a 20-hour work week for yourself like we talked about last time, a supremely wonderful get-to moment the world is paying serious attention to now, this is what you’ll get:

  • Work days
  • Weekends
  • Other days

The creative structure of your ‘Other Days’ is completely up to you. How would you design them?

Making life different, and doing it on purpose.

For instance, my Work Days typically go like this:
Wake up, brush my teeth, wash my face, fit in my run or workout as possible. Shower, dress the part in store for the day, have a light breakfast. Go to work in the way I’d planned to ‘hit the ground running’ the night before, and by merit of my Weekly Review (told ya, I like structure: Deliberate Inputs).

In comparison, my Other Days go like this:
Wake up at 5am. Brush and floss my teeth, as I make faces at myself in the mirror and read whatever affirmations I stuck up there on post-its. Capture whatever they make me think about in the Voice Memos app on my phone. Get dressed in the most comfortable, clean clothes I have in reach; no match, no matter (to be truthful, I usually go for more color, and the purposely unprofessional). Start the fixings of a good breakfast, including firing up my Krups cappuccino maker and grinding some good Kona beans. Sit on our porch with my coffee, and find something to take at least one photo of as the sun comes up. Decide how to use the photo as I finish my breakfast. Read whatever is on my Kindle for at least an hour, and for as long as I want to. Write something, and see if I can illustrate it (I want to learn to draw in some distinctive-to-me way). Use the rest of the day being unencumbered, and however my spirit moves me.

In the values-speak of Managing with Aloha:
…Work Days are for Ho‘ohana, Kuleana and KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u
…Weekends are for ‘Ohana, Mālama and Mahalo
…Other Days are for ‘Imi ola, ‘Ike loa and Nānā i ke kumu

Kindling with my morning coffee
I never check my email on Other Days, and I force myself to ignore my computer’s Work Day bookmarks. If I open my laptop I’ll go straight to my G-Reader and follow links for the 5,6, or 7 degrees of separation my inspiring stable of blogging accomplices and instigators send me toward, and I merrily wander away the time, stopping occasionally to curate my Commonplace Book in Evernote. I seek to remember the good by dipping into the older archives of Ho‘ohana Aloha (my Tumblr) so I can Ho‘omau with it (stretch it out, and make it last). I read a lot on Other Days; deep reading, resisting all urges to scan or skim.

Other Days are for discovering how much of a weather-wise person you are (different from weather-lucky). I get outside as much as possible and take a lot of walks on my Other Days, and I call people just to talk story on the phone for a while, or I write letters and thank you notes. Sometimes I simply stay inside the entire day long, and savor the spots of refuge and rejuvenation of my home – absolutely heavenly when it rains! (Home is different on the weekends, for then I share it with family …I’m cleaning and catching up with chores.)

I’m an obsessive planner with my Work Days, necessary by merit of the travel and island-hopping I do, yet I am very diligent about fitting in my Daily 5 Minutes and having other conversations. On Other Days I plan nothing but creative pursuits I want to try (handwork, crafty things mostly), and just fall into the environmental structure I have described. My Other Days aren’t exactly hobby days though, for my goal is more variety. More random life-immersion. More other-ness.

I write a a lot, for that’s how I tend to think, and reason things out. As you might guess, most of what I publish on Talking Story got written on my Other Days, at least in draft form.

Here’s something I just read on my Kindle that was pretty reaffirming:

“What kind of environment creates good ideas? The simplest way to answer it is this: innovative environments are better at helping their inhabitants explore the adjacent possible (defined in this post’s footnote), because they expose a wide and diverse sample of spare parts—mechanical or conceptual—and they encourage novel ways of recombining those parts. Environments that block or limit those new combinations—by punishing experimentation, by obscuring certain branches of possibility, by making the current state so satisfying that no one bothers to explore the edges—will, on average, generate and circulate fewer innovations than environments that encourage exploration.”
— Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

These days, managers are pretty good at thinking about the environmental creativity fostered in the workplace. But what about in those places where everything else happens?

I propose that you can have Other Days right now, even if you start with just one day a week, and no matter what the rest of the world is doing in battling or keeping with their existing conventions.

Try it.
Your dentist will be very happy about the flossing thing.

Just in case you missed these:

  1. Value Verbing: Theme 2012 with your Aloha Spirit
  2. An Aloha Business for 2012
  3. On the 20-hour work week: All in favor?


  1. says

    I think structure is as important as our skeleton is, for it enables us to shape ourselves through certain movements, though of course much of that movement is subject to flexibility of that which is attached to our skeleton.

    Our skeleton isn’t body, it is the structure around which flows our breath and blood and supports our flesh and form. I am not talking about our actual skeleton here, but the skeleton of structure through which we interact and seek meaning in our lives.

    Structure is important to me in that context. Far more important it is in being of the “nalu it” persuasion. There are various structures which act as a skeleton framework in my life today, twitter is one of those structures I utilize, toastmasters is another structure and a third structure is my public library.

    Work isn’t purely structure, but the form of work is – if it has a definition, it has a structure. Another aspect of work is spatial. Spatial is where flow exists – breath and blood are spatial, so is travel, so is the building I work in.

    Let me not confuse building as a structure, and structure that is a part of my life. When I come home, the work building does not come home with me, but my movement within that building creates a story, which is spatial. My thinking should be spatial, if it is not bogged down by structure.

    It is because I have the capacity to be spatial, that I can alter the structures in my life. Hopefully, the structures I support in my life are the ones I want to support, there is nothing worse in my opinion, than having structure imposed on us. There are certain people who may prefer structure as imposition because it serves to enrich their identity or whatever, but that isn’t me.

    Structural and spatial are two dimensions, but they mean little if they are not a part of a compass of other thoughtspaces, the other two for now I would describe as relational and practical.

    It is in the relational that I speak of creativity, not as creative structure, but creative relationship. Any of the structures I have described above are not creative until it is subject to a relationship. From relationship creativity flows.

    The fourth dimension, is that of the practical. It is where the structural, spatial and relational dimensions of my life come together, into a transformation, into lived meaning, into a life well lived or whatever. That does not mean that a year from now I will still be looking at things this way.

    Unless of course someone convinces me that these dimensions should be encoded in a book, and then of course – such a book becomes another form of structure. A blog like a book is structure, but what we write is spatial. How we connect to what we write is a relational, and how that writing serves to transform us is practical.

    That is why I too, love writing for the spatial purposes, and thus I have learned over the last few years to really nalu it, (of course if I focused on structure, I would say that I want to nail it) – but to nalu it, is far more significant as far as I am concerned :-)

    “emeri gent” @thoughtspaces

    • Rosa Say says

      Aloha Em, and mahalo nui for your thoughtful comment. I have been fascinated by the structure I’ve seen you design for your learning on Twitter, and it is so wonderful to hear from you here.

      I love what you have written, with your description of structure as flexible (form and function), spatial for design, flow and story, relational for creativity and transformation, all culminating in a practical usefulness that has given our spirit its fullest expression. To nalu it with this kind of self awareness is keen confidence — it’s the strength of character-building in play, blessing us with the warmest gratitude for what our lives can be.

      • says

        Rosa, it is for me all about welcoming learning as life, what a wonderful gift life has given us most of us have a potential to seek it. I say most because there are people that life has challenged to the extreme, brain injuries are one of the saddest of these challenges, but even when we look at a being that cannot be, we invariably witness love at its most brightest where others may see darkness , which is the love of the carer who never seems to give up, always hoping, always praying for the return of their loved ones – and nurturing them in profound ways.

        Back to structure as I contemplate it, it is the building blocks of structure we choose that is important to me in terms of flexibility, just look at the most marvelous structure of all within us, which is DNA. Biologists understand it in terms of coded structure, but they don’t understand the structure within it, that apparently does nothing. This means that nothingness has structure, which I personally think is as profound within us, as it is when we look up at the structure of the night sky, and realize the quantity of the unknown in space vastly outnumbers the quantity of the known.

        The way you expressed the spatial dimension is the way I see it, where I want to discern a difference is in the relational dimension, because your response has expressed it as creativity and transformation, whereas I look upon it as creativity and love. Love is the most important part of relationship, because it goes well beyond our DNA, it is the very energy that when it interacts with structure, absolutely enlivens it. Just because we are enlivened with love, does not mean that we have completed the journey, love must meet practice.

        Transformation as I contemplate it, is a practical wisdom as Aristotle described it, this idea of phronesis. That practice and action is the dimension that binds everything into who we are as one being. That means that I like to think of the individual, not as a temporal being, or that person that is described as “me”, but this idea of that which is undivided or (Individual). So structural, spatial and relational as an intellectual exercise reverts back to structure. Structural, spatial and relational, as a practical wisdom does not revert, it transforms through practice.

        That is where I am with my thinking right now and I have such a long way to go before I can welcome transformation as a wisdom, rather than transformation as simply change. Change is constant, life is ever-changing, but as wisdom, as meaning, as a good heart, as nature, as virtue, as something that maybe so simple a change, that to call it transformation, is to appreciate the greatness of it all. When I say the greatness of it all, I am talking about this precious gift we have all been given, which is this life.

        “emeri gent” @thoughtspaces