How to be more productive when you have a creative mind
Author: Claire Newton

Do you have a creative job but feel like you trip yourself up when it comes to getting lots done? Would you like to open your schedule to more space for productivity in your everyday life?

Then what you need to learn is to coach your creative mind into becoming more productive.

I’ve worked in office environments where I’ve watched people keenly write their Monday morning ‘to-do’ list that spans over 2 pages of their notebook and the disillusion on their face tells the rest of the story.

Being productive comes quite naturally to some people – they are fueled by ticking off their ‘to-do’ list and feel satisfied at the end of the week when a lot of tasks have been scrubbed out and complete. But the truth is, it’s going to be impossible to get ALL the things done in the timeline set if your list is miles long. 

There are smart ways of writing your list and far more productive ways to cross them off.   

So below are my six tips for how to be more productive when you have a (mostly) creative mind. They span from your regular productivity tips like framing and reframing your schedule and to-do lists to how to leave fear at the door and how to balance your highs and lows.  

Tip #1 – Get and use a framework to suit you

Structure your week, month and quarter according to:

  • Where are your pressure points and deadlines;
  • Your understanding of them. Really see them and breathe into how they are going to make you feel when they appear; 
  • Acknowledge your pressure points and make friends with them. Then give yourself a structure and a routine around them.  

Here’s an example. Can you block out a Monday morning each week to clear emails? Set a timer for 40 minutes and do the same at the end of the week. Perhaps a Wednesday afternoon is spent thinking about all of the big strategic stuff you need to do in a month.  I call this work ‘wearing my CEO hat’ and sometimes I even wear different clothes which helps me feel like I can take the tasks more seriously! Here’s where you should put your creativity to work. 

Tip #2 – Now reframe your ‘to-do’ list

Use the ‘reorder your brain’ post-it note technique to understand all the things demanding your time at the start of each day. I gave up endless do-lists a long time ago and this is what I do instead:

  • Write a post-it (or use a small piece of paper) for EVERYTHING you want to get done (including life stuff like “call dentist”);  
  • Then group them together;
  • Now start working on the order that feels best to you;  
  • Then crumple each one as you complete the task and watch the visual space become clear (like in the photo above). 

Makes sense right? I’ve had 50+ clients try this and love it… so why is it then that we are still writing our ‘to do’ lists so diligently, still believing this is the best way to get things done?

Tip #3 – Schedule on your terms

Break out of the 9-5 – so since I became a mum (four years ago), I really realized the 9-5 wasn’t for me. 

Some mornings we’ll be up at 5 AM so by 5 PM I have nothing left for my clients. I work an intuitive day now, I start around 9:15 AM, finish at 2.30 or 3.30 PM and do a last tidy up in the evenings when I need to. I work harder and faster for shorter periods and it feels great.

Can you think about when you are your most productive, awake and inspired and work then? Get curious about whether this could work for you and your productivity – make notes each day for a week and reflect – are you more productive in the evenings, mornings or afternoons?

Lots of creatives whole-heartedly agree to do things they don’t know how to do or make a calculated guess about the amount of time it will take. Most of the creatives I work with don’t have a typical 9-5 Monday to Friday work week where they are making the same thing each day. This is why it can be so super difficult to embrace productivity and where overwhelm can really disable you and even start to impact on your well being. Does this sound like you too?

Tip #4 – Leave fear at the door

Really ALLOW yourself space and time to create – this is such a huge one for a creative mind – my clients become so unhappy when they feel they have so much to do they can’t create or concentrate properly. For creatives who work for multiple commissioners, it helps to block out a portion of the week for each.

If you need to fully immerse yourself in creating of a product / a design / a piece of writing, it can mean all the other ‘stuff’ you are also meant to be giving time to for your creative business can slip. This ‘creating’ can take days / sometimes even weeks and perhaps you never planned for it to take this long but it just does.

Realistically, creating is not like paying your taxes – you genuinely don’t know how long something will take unless you work to a formula you’ve used lots of times like designing a printed greetings card for Christmas or knitting a giant blanket. Creatives don’t always build in a ‘fudge factor’ and can often be way over deadlines they’ve set themselves.   

For creatives who have their own practise, I encourage them so they block out time each month that is just for them and force themselves into deadlines for the other work so they can really have that creative retreat time where their creative “flow” won’t be disturbed. They let their clients know they won’t be contactable, set an out of office and embrace the space they’ve created to be creative.

Tip #5 – Coffee shop buzz anyone?

Get inspired, change your environment and feel the buzz. Lots of my clients choose to work in cafes and in public spaces for certain tasks. Home is too quiet or cold in winter – make a list of your favorite places to work and visit – do you have the flexibility to work there? Could you hot-desk somewhere?  The possibilities are endless.

I work with clients from writers to musicians, designers, photographers, ceramicists, live artists and they are all wildly different but share lots of common threads in the way they approach productivity. They are all (and they won’t mind me saying) terrified of their ‘to-do’ lists  – a to do list feels abstract and they can’t always break down how long tasks will take or prioritize them so they just end up frozen with a list that gets longer and longer and never complete with ticks.  With the help of some simple systems and hacks, I’ve found they can make space to feel more on top of their productivity.

That’s why I am not keen on ‘to-do’ lists because they are definitely not the most productive way of getting stuff done if you’re creative – it’s not creative or exciting, it can be just daunting and dull!

Tip #6 – Know you are doing your best!

Be kind on yourself – reflect on how your self-imposed hacks have gone after a week or so and if they are not working for you – can you tweak them? Or perhaps you want to try something else – change it up for yourself – remember you are working to your own productivity rules!

You are ultimately in charge of how you best manage your time.

So which of the tips below and see which ones you feel compelled to try out today? The biggest hack is to make all of your productivity hacks creative – use materials your love and tools that make your heart sing.

You may also like to check out:

  • Romanic or Classical Thinker? – do you feel mostly intuitive about your creative or productive decisions or dismiss intuition for tangible rational results; watch this short video to figure out where you sit – perhaps you are both romantic and classical in your thought.
  • This podcast – Jen Carrington’s ‘Make it Happen’ – Jen is a creative coach and one I really admire – she’s based in the UK and her free podcasts offer lots of insight into approaching your creative ‘side hustle’ or full time business in a methodical, productive way – http://www.makeithappenpodcast.com/
  • This book – Emma Gannon’s – The Multi-hyphen Method –  a Sunday Times bestseller, it’s a quick read and so worth it, Emma touches on how she took the decision to step off the career ladder in a secure ‘job’ and go self-employed growing her creative passions for multiple clients and for herself, she’s also one of Forbes top Under 30s.
  • The Pomodoro technique –  this is your 25 minute productivity hack – you’ve got to try it to believe its usefulness and I use it weekly.  I recommend getting an app – there’s some really lovely ones including one where you can grow your own trees: https://zapier.com/blog/best-pomodoro-apps/ 
  • Research this guru – Tim Ferris and His 4 Hour Work Week – this is exactly what it says on the tin – can you run a 6/7 figure business and work four hours? You can if you’re Tim and if that’s your passion and motivation – go for it guys! https://fourhourworkweek.com/
Author: Newton

Based in Northumberland in the UK, Claire Newton is director of Creatively Conscious a company which aims to empower people to think in creatively using fresh and dynamic techniques to get the most from their work and life.

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