How can you improve the time management skills of creative individuals to improve their effectiveness while preserving their precious creativity? Here are eight recommendations in line with the preferred work styles, thinking styles and life styles of a creative to improve your time management and make yourself and your boss happy, provided you commit to stick to each point.
1. Get organized. As a creative, you are likely to be less organized and neat at work compared to your more effectiveness-oriented co-workers and bosses. After all, organizational work is a dull routine. Yet, you’ll be surprised to learn that most creative geniuses were quite organized and disciplined. Why? They understood that in the long run, being well-organized makes their life simpler, helps them to find work-related items quicker, and thus gives them more time to do what they like most: working creatively.
As such, reframe your attitude towards organizational tasks and understand that counter-intuitively to what most people think, they are a means to more creative freedom. So get organized by following a robust filing system for documents and electronic files, sticking to naming conventions with regards to electronic documents, uploading files to a server and making back-ups, keeping your desk and tools clean, and so on.
2. Work smarter and harder. Being kissed by their creative muse every now and then, most creatives believe that being smart and hanging loose is good enough to produce great creative output. Again, counter-intuitively the opposite is true. Most creative geniuses such as Mozart or The Beatles worked very hard for years in order to reach the level of insight and craftsmanship into their domain that enabled them to produce world-class creative outputs that stands the test of time. So if you’re really serious about becoming a leading creative expert in your field, adopt a new personal motto: Work smarter and harder.
3. Identify your most creative time. As a creative individual, find out when during the day you have your most productive creative times. For example, my creative peak-times are in the morning ca. 2 hours after I wake up, and in the later afternoon. When are yours? Track your daily patterns over the course of one month, and you’ll know.
4. Preserve your creative time and space to get into your creative flow. Whenever possible, ring-fence your most precious creative hours and avoid being interrupted by e-mails, phone calls, colleagues, clients or surprise visitors. Why? Any interruption destroys your concentration on a creative work project at hand and gets you out of your creative flow.
Insofar, in your creative peak hours, turn-off your mobile phone. Put your office landline on voicemail or forward it to a friendly colleague. Close your e-mail software and social networking applications like Skype or MSN. Shut off the office noise by listening to some soft music. Hang your “Do not disturb — Creating magic”-sign outside of your office or cubicle entrance. Or even better, find yourself a creative space where you’ll be alone with yourself for a few hours. Then, get onto your creative work and into your creative flow.
5. Save the worst for last. Towards the end of your workday, attend to routine tasks and unavoidable to-do-lists (that as a true professional, you understand you have to get done, too). Your energy will be less drained if you get through these routine tasks at the end of your workday, as you know that you’ve already produced great creative outputs before. Similarly, reply to all your e-mails in one go at the end of each day, and then have a thought about what you want to do tomorrow before leaving the office.
6. Agree with your boss on weekly deliverables. After you’ve started to take charge of your life and committed to work both smarter and harder, have a conversation with your boss to make her understand how she can get the best out of you both with regards to your exceptional creativity and with your overall productivity. Describe how creatives work in leaps and bounds to get into “the zone”, and then need downtime and relaxation to re-energize themselves from an intense creative work phase. Explain that you don’t want like to be micro-managed and need a more flexible approach related to work times and routines, but that you understand that you need to maintain a certain organization orderliness. Most importantly, agree on certain core times when you will be available for the team and on a realistic number of creative outputs in at least great quality that you’ll produce each week.
7. Consciously plan your day by balance doing and being. To maximize your results and creative outputs, create each day wisely in advance either at the end of a workday for the next or at the beginning of a new day with a new planning tool: Your daily To-Do-Be-Play-List.
First, in the To-Be-part of the list, consciously choose what your want to create, achieve, experience and accomplish in your day ahead. Focus on up-to two intentional creative actions and quality outputs per day — and acknowledge yourself once you have completed one action. On your To-Do-part of your list, throughout the day, capture any tasks and phone-calls to make; that way, you can put your mind at ease that you won’t forget the task and can attend to it later, after you’ve completed your creative assignments for the day. Finally, on your To-Play-List, earmark 1-2 fun activities that you will enjoy as your reward after work.
8. Don’t force it. Sure, some creative project work is deadline driven, and you need to send out a deliverable by a given time regardless of your satisfaction with the end result. However, most projects rather need to adhere to an internal timeline rather than to an external deadline, which allows you to focus more on the level of creativity and the quality of the output.
As a creative, if you feel that you force a creative solution here, that the ideas don’t flow naturally anymore, that your solution is rather bad or “so-so but ok” then stop the action for today and try again to come up with something good, great or “wow” tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.
Research studies confirm that if creatives constantly work under time pressure like being on a treadmill, then the quality of their creative output sinks. So for any given work project, ask yourself —and if needed your boss— the following question: What is more important in the current situation here: sticking to an internal timeline or an external deadline, or creating better original value in an excellent quality?