Time Management for Creatives

Wendy Kelly
Aug 20, 2015

READ THIS! Time Management for Creatives Who Don't Own a Watch

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You know who you are. And I don't want to hear your denial "no one owns a watch anymore" bullsh*t. I'm talking to you. Creative, artistic, head-in-the-clouds, castles-in-the-sky types who have never owned a watch. Yeah, you.

Creative Time Management

{Okay. I'm talking to myself here. But if it resonates, read on.}

For those of us who revel in our human imperfection. That kind of time management. I'm writing this as a reaction to a post on Peg Fitzpatrick's blog. Her latest Book Club book sounds fantastic, but this line scared the living hell out of me: "Laura shares her time management tips from this research as well as her own experience as a working mother with four small children who also happens to have run marathon and has written several books".

As a working mother with 4 growing children, I'm still having flashbacks from the early days. I found a post from Tim Ferris called ""Productivity" Tricks for the Neurotic, Manic-Depressive, and Crazy (Like Me)" that calmed me down somewhat and helped me on my quest. 

What I have done is taken productivity and time management tips from a wide range of people I admire and created a list of time management ideas the resonate. The ideas listed on Peg's blog post by Laura Vanderkam are actually excellent and inspirational. I have actually incorporated them below though I highly recommend reading her entire post.

1. Do the Math

"the average woman in my study worked 44 hours a week and she slept 54 hours a week, so you do the math, that leaves 70 hours for other things. That is quite a bit of time.- Laura Vanderkam" 

 Laura Vanderkam, for her book "I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time" surveyed 1001 women who make at least $100,000 per year. From these surveys, she extrapolates data and makes recommendations about what we can do to manage our time better. Things like the above: Most women sleep enough hours, exercise and work a reasonable amount of time per week. Take away? There is enough time each week to do the things we love to do.

There is also the possibility to spend hours wasting time. It's your call, in other words. 

One caveat I'd like to mention for people with small children is that the above math is misleading. I strongly believe that imaginary numbers were invented only to try to make sense of time management with small children. 

Laura Vanderkam's Productivity Tips:

  • Keep a time log
  • Focus on the good - Notice the good
  • Exercise
  • Let go of housekeeping (I loved this one)
  • Let go of email
  • Try a split shift (I do this a lot)

Again, read more on Peg Fitzpatrick's blog post and watch the video interview.

2. Get up and Go

 "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work." - Stephen King

Some of the most creative, prolific artists have some of the most kick ass, in your face advice. Steven King rocks this. Just because you deem yourself to be a "creative" doesn't mean you don't wake up every morning and produce. You go to work. 

A caveat: I had a bit of a scare a few weeks ago. I was tired and everything I wrote was either a cliché or sounded like a first grader might have written it. None of my tricks were working, but that is when I realized that I did, in fact, have a bag of tricks. 

Creative professions rely on needing to be at our best in mind, body and spirit. That means though we can't "wait for inspiration" we also have to start collecting a bag of tricks to keep ourselves at peak performance while we're working. My go-to tricks are highly personal. Maybe I'll share them later. But do start your own, and the earlier the better. The day is going to come where the words don't flow. Unfortunately, that is no excuse. 

Steven King's Productivity Tips:

  • Don't watch TV (I'd add in don't flip through Imgur/Facebook/YouTube)
  • Steel yourself against more criticism than you think you can take.
  • Don't waste time trying to please people. (Cool to think of this as a time sink)
  • Take risks and cut with abandon. (Both of these things often happen after lots of procrastination. Try to avoid that.)

3. Start Now

"The best time to start was last year. Failing that, today will do." - Chris Guillebeau 

Man alive does Chris Guillebeau pack a punch. I'm not even totally sure whether he's a genius (okay, scratch that, he's a genius) or just one of those awesome people out there saying and doing all these upfront counter culture things you wish you could do and say.

The idea the one should "just start already" is a strong one in our culture. Certainly, I often use this strategy, especially with jobs that scare me. Of course, I often do the opposite, too. Sometimes it's smart to sit back a bit and plan. Sometimes your fear is telling you something important. Sometimes not starting at all is the best advice.

But then again, if you're going to start at some point, now is a good time. If you're going to leap, leap. The cliff isn't going to get any less dangerous as you stand there on the edge, looking down. 

Chris Guillebeau's Time Management Tips:

  • "You can't manage time; it exists independently of any choice you make."
  • "Time is a jealous lover. If you mistreat it, you can start over, but you never get it back."
  • "When you find yourself with time to spare, don't kill it. Respect it."

4. Treasure What You Measure

"The way we measure productivity is flawed. People checking their BlackBerry over dinner is not the measure of productivity." - Timothy Ferriss

Tim Ferris, author of the Four Hour Work Week and a guy whose writing I greatly respect, cuts to the chase and follows up with data. Always. His tips for productivity are insightful and meant exactly for the manic types who tend toward creative overwork.

One area he comes back to again and again really focuses on training yourself. At least that is my interpretation of the essence of his work. You may want to check your email first thing in the morning. Just don't. Also, don't jump from task to task. Choose one important impactful thing and focus on that thing for a few hours. Difficult? yes. Productive as hell? YES.

Tim Ferris's Productivity Tips:

  • "Being busy is a form of laziness-lazy thinking and indiscriminate action."
  • "If I have 10 important things to do in a day, it's 100% certain nothing important will get done that day."
  • "And when - despite your best efforts - you feel like you're losing at the game of life, remember: Even the best of the best feel this way sometimes."
  • "Don't overestimate the world and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think."

 5. Stress Output Not Activity

"Stressing output is the key to improving productivity while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite." - Paul Gauguin

Gauguin died penniless after ditching his wife, family and a solid job as a stock broker's assistant to pursue his art.

Sound like a guy you want to emulate? He also inspired Picasso, Matisse, and Munch, among others, was encouraged in his art by the likes of Degas (who loaned him money) and traveled the world learning about other cultures and revolutionizing art. He had his productive periods for sure, but I look to Gauguin more for how to live a full life.

Paul Gauguin's Full Life Tips:

  • I shut my eyes in order to see.
  • A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes that he has got the biggest piece.
  • Civilization is what makes you sick
  • There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation, the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite
  • We never really know what stupidity is until we have experimented on ourselves

6. Hope

"In both children and adults, there can be a hard-to-deny link between a robust sense of hope and either work productivity or academic achievement." - Jeffrey Kluger

I'm going to make a departure here and use this space to ponder hope + productivity. It's a big deal to me, and as it turns out, to other researchers. At the end of the day, without hope, you really can't keep up your pace. Workers of all types need hope to get up each day and do their work, and I would argue that creative types need hope all the more. This information came from an article on CNBC which details a meta-study of research into work and hopefulness. What isn't mentioned, however, is how to get hopeful in the first place. I'd argue that it's a no-brainer that it's super important. What might be more helpful is figuring out how we can get there when we need it. I suppose that can come later.

Most Hopeful Productivity Stats

  • Hope leads to a 14% increase in workplace outcomes
  • Hopeful engineers missed on average only 3 days of work over a 12 month period
  • Over 66% of hopeful employees were engaged at work
  • Hopeful leaders are more creative

7. Jump Ship

"Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks." - Warren Buffett

One thing about Warren Buffett, he sure does inspire people to use his name on stuff that is not his. In that regard, he rivals Abraham Lincoln, Einstein, and Maya Angelou. So just for the record, he apparently does not use that "two-step productivity method" that I found on several blogs. Something about it just didn't ring true for me, and, sure enough, it's not his.

Jump ship. As a productivity method, this one is the hardest to follow, I think. The clarity of the imagery is so helpful, though. I can see the boat, imagine myself bailing endlessly, picture an intact boat right beside it, and clearly understand what the logical, rational thing to do would be. 

But in life? Isn't that quitting? I think this is where it gets a bit rough. When is the boat fixable and when are you drowning? I honestly think this is where mindfulness comes in. You'll know if you sit quietly whether what you are doing is trying to put a patch over a leaking hull. You'll feel it. Other times, you just know that it's worth it to fix the boat. There are things that are fixable, either because their inherent value is such that it makes sense to stick it out for the duration (kids come to mind here) and there are things that are simply not worth the effort. Knowing when to fold 'em, knowing when to jump ship, is a key sign that you are a grown up. And, if you can master this one thing, your productivity will soar. Trust me. I'm still learning this one.

Warren Buffett's Best Productivity Tips:

  • Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing.
  • Chains of habit are light until they are too heavy to be broken.
  • I don't look to jump over 7-foot bars. I look for 1-foot bars I can step over.
  • It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.

The Best Productivity Extra

Before you get started working again, there's one more thing to motivate you to be at your best and most productive all day long.

It's a list of TED Talks on productivity. I came across this awesome blog post listing the 7 best TED Talks on productivity and pretty much all my favourites are listed, plus a couple new ones. Take a look and let me know what you think of them.

So What About You?

What are your best methods you use to stay focused and productive each day? Do you find that old school methods like using self-control work? Or is it better for you to focus on mindfulness and staying centered? How do you manage that balance between being creative and being productive?

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