If you're in that lucky group of individuals who are passionate about being creative and artistic, so much so that it's the path you've chosen for your career, I would guess that you're also living the lifestyle of what I call the "Curse of the Creative." Why a curse you may ask? Creative professionals are blessed with the opportunity to work in fields that encourage their individuality, passions and talent, but they also often suffer from the battle between being both a working professional, who very often is working in a corporate structure that does not understand the environment and timelines needed, to successfully produce creative work and being an artist, who produces as much work as they organically can produce. Additionally, creative professionals are often undervalued and are challenged to define their value with numbers or components that just can't properly define them. Being pushed to create innovative and exceptional work that exceeds expectations continuously can be extremely exhausting, and in the end produce the opposite result. There is however, a way to change that outcome, by developing a specific skill set that will train these individuals to be successful creative, professionals.
Similar to athletes, being an artist (or what ever the discipline you may focus on) is a skill that needs to be practiced and managed in order to succeed. There are a set of tools that need to be learned, such as finding focus, sharpening your creative mind and developing a routine that harbors creative thoughts and work.
I am not an expert, but have read a few books published by the 99U publications that teach creative professionals how to succeed. From those books, I've learned how to improve my work-life balance, and have found them be extremely helpful. Because I love to share, I to put together a short list of tips that I have found extremely helpful. I would definitely encourage you to buy the titles listed at the end of this post, and to take time to read them in-depth, you'll probably gather more information, as well as interpret some of the information differently to support your needs. But until then, here's my top list:
BUILD A ROUTINE
In the book Manage Your Day-To-Day, they say that our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it. They use examples like the painter Ross Bleckner, who reads the paper, meditates, and then gets to the studio by 8 a.m. everyday to work in a calm quiet envinronment. Writer Ernest Hemingway wrote five hundred words a day, come hell or high water. They say that truly great creative achievements require thousands of hours of work, and time must be made every single day to put in those hours. Routines train us to set expectations about availability, aligning our workflow with our energy levels and get our minds into a regular rhythm of creating.
(CREATIVE WORK FIRST, REACTIVE WORK SECOND)
One of the most challenging ways to adjust your routine to fit your creative needs is that you'll have to change your schedule to suit your creative energy and work flow. A huge part to our days as professionals is to be communicative and reactionary to communication. More often than not, the first thing everyone does when they arrive at the office is turn on their computer and open their email. This is it, the creative killer. Every email you read, voicemail you listen to, or calendar appointment you accept, pulls you farther away from the mind that is needed to create. Often after I read emails, I am either stressed, frustrated or just drained from the many questions I received for fires that I had to put out in the first 20 mins of my work day. I feel like I am accomplishing something by responding and clicking send but in reality, I'm not actually accomplishing what I am most valuable for, which is being a designer. After emails are read and calls are answered, it's usually around 11 AM and I'm exhausted. This kind of work is defined as reactionary work because that's basically what you're doing during this time. They suggest that you should not start with reactionary work because after you have just binged on reactionary work, the last thing your mind wants to do is be creative.
The most challenging part of this process will be setting your schedule differently from how others are working. I completely understand that. Since every company and every job is different you will have to determine how you will be able to make that possible for yourself. If you absolutely can not, not email first thing in the morning, figure out another way to work around that. I made a plan to start answering emails on my way to work, while on the subway. I would scan through for the most important and answer the most imperative ones before I even reached the office. When I get to work I give myself at least 1 full hour of no meetings, answering my emails or the phone. Another idea is to answer emails when you arrive and then take a break, eat something, then block off two hours to do your creative work - but only after you've decompressed for a little while.
It will make some colleagues upset that you're unreachable sometimes, but think about it. There are 8 hours a day, if you can not be reached by email for 1/8 of that day, the company will not explode and the day will not implode. I've definitely been on the other end of the line where I have had to wait on people to get an answer, my life goes on. Your personal work is just as important as any meeting. It's your job and it's what you're paid to do. People will understand that.
So if Email is the top distraction to remove from your list, the other big ones are:
- Social Networking - I KNOW. Sometimes I love to scan Instagram for inspiration. But more often than not, I'm left spiraling down a hole of un-productivity.
- Phone & Voicemail - Shut your phone off or put it on "Do Not Disturb" mode. If whatever calls you missed were important, they'll leave a message.
- Other Co-workers - Sometimes you have to just put yourself in a quiet room away others. Or last least ask them not to disturb you for a specific amount of time.
UNDERSTAND YOUR NATURAL ENERGY LEVELS
Because of our bodies' natural circadian rhythms of arousal and mental alertness, there are certain times of the day that we are more apt to be creative and focused. You can start to understand your own body's rhythm by being aware and it doesn't hurt to take notes of when you feel more or less energetic. I've learned that I'm most productive between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. as well as from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. - Not entirely conducive the the natural work environment.
MANAGE YOUR TO DO LIST
I read that we can accomplish less task than we expect in a short amount of time and more work than we expect over a long period of time. The first part of that means that we often give ourselves too much to do per day. Extremely long daily to-do lists are not productive.
Try doing something like this; create a daily to-do list that is only 3 - 5 items long. These are your goals for the day. They're realistic to-do's that have to be finished that daily.
Then have a running long term or weekly, to-do list that is a list of everything you'd like to accomplish for the week. When you've checked off your top three each day, pull from your long term list for the next day. Pretty soon you'll realize that you can make yourself only focus on 3 things, you'll actually accomplish them and probably do a better job on each.
ESTABLISH A HARD SCHEDULE IN YOUR DAY
Plan out times of the day that you dedicate to specific tasks and activities. As a creative professional you should dedicate specific times for:
- creative work
- administrative work
- even time to work on your planner, calendar or to-do lists
MANAGE YOUR CALENDAR & ACTIVITY LIST
Every time you commit to do something, record it. This will allow you to be absolutely sure that you'll have time for that commitment and if you have everything written down, you'll be more efficient in knowing that you're available or not. You'll also be less concerned about if you have a meeting that you have to go to or not, you're mind will not be as distracted on what may be happening later on and more focused on the present.
ASSIGN CREATIVE TRIGGER TOOLS
The key to being creative is to be focused and not allow yourself the distractions of everything else. There are few tools that you can use which will over time, help you in trigger that creative, focused mindset. A few examples are, listen to the same music each time you work, using the same pens or pencils, turning on a specific light, light a specific candle, drink a specific tea, or draw on a specific paper. Whatever it is that helps you 'get in the zone,' do that and do it strategically, each time you start your creative process.
Once you've figured out certain times or things that help you to get into the creative 'zone' and you have blocked out the distractions. Be consistent and try to do these steps and processes everyday. Practice makes perfect and artistic skills are no different. Just like Hemingway, if you work on something every day for short amount of time, you will improve your skills of creativity and you will become more productive. Even if there are days that you are having a block, work through that. Do something else, maybe a different project or perhaps its something personal, but still do something that is creative. Chances are you'll be inspired by what you're doing and ideas that are related to your work will flow through.
To quickly recap there are a few things that you may want to invest in to support you in your day-to-day that will make your work life more productive.
- Planner - that has room for lists or a...
- Notebook / Jotter / Sketchbook - to write down your to-do lists
- Invest in your favorite go to tools: Pencils, Pens, Erasers, Walcom Tablet, Paper
- Discover music that helps you to be creative and create a playlist for the dedicated creative time
- Decide on your favorite tea or drink that will trigger you're about to start creating
- Optional - a favorite candle or scent that also aids you in triggering the creative time
I hope this was helpful and if you have any additional tips, ideas or book suggestions please send them my way!