So last week, I shared some ideas on how to manage your time as a creative, or even as any working professional. These were more principle based – high level concepts to consider, ideas like making the time, managing energy, and using time blocks.
This week, I’ll go a little deeper and share some more, granular tips on how you could manage your time better or squeeze productivity out of the hours you already have.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Respect the Pareto Principle
The Pareto Principles states that generally speaking, 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. So, for instance, 80% of our income probably comes from 20% of our activities or clients. In lieu of this, we have to take stock of our activities and efforts and figure out which ones actually bring in results and learn how to maximise those.
This is very similar to the idea of the ‘One Thing‘ from Gary Keller. Amongst all the different things we have to do, there is probably one thing in the mix. The one thing we could do that would make everything else easier or irrelevant. The one thing that would move things forward the most. The one thing that would have the most impact.
We all have many things we have to do in a day, from the important and the urgent to the little niggling admin details of our lives. The more we can focus on and put our best energies on the most effectual tasks of our day, the more success we will encounter.
Reclaim lost time
So if you really wanted to be that guy and squeeze more out of the hours of your day, you could consider making some of the things you do dual purpose at least. The easiest spaces to do this are with things like travelling, cleaning, laundry, relaxing – activities that keep your hands busy while your mind has the space to wander.
That could be the time to get some calls in, or listen to a podcast or ebook, or follow a course.
Or if you are working on a big project and have chunked it down to its component parts and tasks, you could fit some of those smaller pieces into little pockets of time that you find empty like waiting at the Doctor’s office, or in between meetings.
Make your down time productive
An idea I learned recently from Captain Sinbad was this concept of making your down time productive. And you do this by connecting the thing you do for fun or to relax to what you do productively.
As a YouTuber, he is interested in film, and everything that goes into the process of making movies. So on his down time, he likes to watch specific movies from directors he admires. While he is enjoying some time relaxing, he is also watching out for tips, dissecting cinematic styles, and learning as he is watching.
As an entrepreneur you could favour movies or fiction books about business people or great people of history as a way to inspire yourself while chilling. Or you could watch documentaries for fun. That is a great way to relax and learn something new.
Beware Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s law states that tasks will swell up to fill the time allocated to it.
If you have 3 months to write an essay, it will probably take you all that time to write the essay. Unless you are truly disciplined and able to manage your efforts properly, you would probably procrastinate to the last moment and then get it all done in an all nighter session the day before it is due.
One way to combat this human tendency is to set artificial deadlines and limit the amount of time you have to do certain things. The shorter the time, the more you are forced to strip the task down to its core most important bits. You have no time to dabble and dwaddle or try to noodle and make things perfect and just so. With limited time, you just have to focus on getting things done.
Make it fun
This is another tip from Ali Abdaal. He maintains that the key to productivity lies in learning to enjoy what we have to do, or find ways to make it more interesting. That could be from inviting people to work with you or join efforts, to discovering ways to gamify the experience.
It could be as simple as pairing your work with the right music, so you are jamming along with your favourite tunes as you create. Or watching items on your todo list get scratched out as you knock out task after task.
You could also do this by building out your environment to be an awesome inspiring space that encourages you to do good work. Making it fun to be in your productive space.
All these little tricks and hacks can help us become more productive, more effective in the time we do spend working, and allow us the space to fit more of life and build a more fulfilling existence.
Looking over the past few weeks, a theme is emerging in regards to what I have been thinking and writing about. That theme seems to be around the subject of creativity – from reconnecting with passion, to reclaiming creativity for ourselves, to the different levels of creative thought we engage in.
I have been thinking about a lot about creativity because well, I am a creative, and it plays a big role in my career and in my personal projects and aspirations. Also since I’ve started to put out content on a regular basis again, I have been reflecting on the nature of creativity and creative production. Today I am focusing on time.
Time management is absolutely important. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and the same 7 days in the week. Some people are able to fit in a crazy amount of work and productivity in that time, while some of us squander most of our time or at the least we don’t direct its use properly.
If we want to be successful and creatively fulfilled, we have to do the work. And there is a lot of work – researching, discovering, prototyping, producing, pitching. Doubly so if we are building a stack and have a lot of things going on.
How do we manage our time in a way that squeezes the most of the moments we spend on the grind? How do it do it in such a way that preserves our time for rest, our empty space?
The answers will vary from person to person, but here are some principles to think about.
Reject the ‘I don’t have time’ myth
I have a whole blog post on this, and shout out to Ali Abdaal’s productivity course for hammering this idea even further home for me.
The usual knee-jerk reaction or reason as to why we are not getting stuff done is the idea that we don’t have time. We reach for that excuse and mentally conjure up a fog of activities, meetings, and commitments that are preventing us from doing what we need to get done.
More often that not, it is really just that, an excuse. All we have is time, the real reason is that we are not using it properly. Sure, you might really have so many commitments and pressures on your time that it is hard to find time. But you have more control than you think you do.
You have to shift to the mentality of making time. You know what needs to get done. Make the time for it. Do an audit of your time. Discover all time you waste and redesign your schedule. Prioritise what is important. Say no to something else. Steal time somewhere. Wake up earlier. Go to bed later. Delegate stuff to someone else. Run away from the world for a bit. Do whatever you need to do to make the time.
Protect the downtime
We are not fine-tuning our productivity and managing our time better so we can spend all our time working. Quite the contrary, we are trying to make sure we get things done while still being able to enjoy our downtime, our play, our leisure guilt free.
You need the cycles of productivity and rest to work at peak levels over the long term. If your work swells up to swallow up every second of your time, leaving you no time for yourself, no time for rest, for play, for contemplation, then you are probably doing too much, and not managing your time and energy well enough. Speaking of energy…
A lot of time management is energy management.
It doesn’t matter if you are an early riser or a night owl. What matters is understanding your energy patterns, your circadian rhythms and as much as possible aligning to that. Work when your energy is up and rest when your energy is low. Do the most important and focus requiring tasks first and out the way, then do rote things when you are a bit tired and fatigued. It is that simple.
Most people are freshest after waking up, do your most important work (the actual creative work that will move you forward) within the first 2-5 hours of your day, then schedule the more routine stuff like checking email, processing admin, having meetings to later in the day.
You can also batch similar tasks together and optimise your processes for greater efficiency. But direct your best energy to the most important things.
Build your life around the core important things
In The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Steven Covey likens our schedules to a jar, and our priorities as rocks and sand of different grades. If you put the sand first, then the rocks on top, you would not be able to fit in as much as if you had put the rocks in first then poured the sand in. It is a great analogy to the idea of scheduling your most important things first, and everything else around that.
What is truly important to you? What will actually move you forward? It is probably your work, the quality of your creation, the quality of your study, of your networking, of your habits and day to day. Make sure these things are scheduled into your life on a weekly basis. A block of time – an hour, or two, or six, whatever you can manage. This keeps you on track and makes sure that those important things are actually getting done.
Find a way to chunk and bake the steps to your goals and projects into your daily routine.
Block the time, protect the work
In our attention-deficit world, the ability to focus and get things done is more prized and more important than ever. So, put the phone away, shut off the internet if you can, close the door, let people know to leave you alone for a while, and then just get things done.
It might be difficult at first if you are not used to it. The desire to check the feed, to distract yourself is powerful. But substitute that with the eventual pull that is the flow state. As you learn to settle into your work and focus on it, you will learn to enjoy it more. You will find yourself creating, exploring, learning, until you are sucked in so far, it legit takes a lot to pull you out and distract you.
Those are 5 quick principles and ideas to help supercharge your productivity. In the next blog, I will explore at least 5 more more granular tips and tricks to help you manage your time more effectively.
The other day, I came across this interview with Pharrell Williams & Steve Stoute, and among the many gems they dropped during their talk, there was one that stood out for me. It is an idea that I have heard before but this was a great reminder.
At about the 35:40 mark, Pharrell starts speaking directly to the camera addressing artists in particular, saying that when you find yourself in a crappy contract situation, don’t stop making music, don’t try to hold things back. This was his reasoning:
The Universe is a Library. All we are doing is checking ideas out. We can pretend, we can be possessive, it was here before us, it will be here after us. We are just checking ideas out. And what you might have checked out on one day, might not be what you will check out on the next day. So do not not make the music. When you got a library card that works, you use that card everyday!
Many creative professionals and productivity gurus make the argument for routine, and practice. They know that unlike what most people may think, that true creative productivity doesn’t come from being held bound to whims of inspiration, but from the simple unglamorous truth of just doing the work.
Not that they discount inspiration. If you have ever felt the thrill of being caught up in the moment, then you understand that it is a special kind of intoxicating and immersive. It is the pure state of flow and excitement.
The problem is that the Muse is fickle. Today might be full of inspired ideas, and tomorrow might be completely dry. The question now becomes how to generate or access the inspired state often.
Most people would want to just hang back and wait for it to come for us. Wait for lightning to strike. So we only create when we feel like it, when it is convenient.
But true creatives understand that you must keep a routine, keep writing, keep creating, keep making. Do it on a schedule. Regularly have your nose at the grindstone. These ones understand that you can whet the ground for lightning. You can work your way into inspiration. Or at the very least sharpen the saw for when it is time to strike.
In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes:
This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers dont. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and do the work, we become like magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
This is the case for creating constantly. No two days are exactly the same. The things that emerge, the ideas, and the products vary from day to day. And you never really know which one is going to take off, which one is going to stand out, which one is going to change your life.
The work is yours, the results belong to God
There is the idea that the work is yours, and the results belong to God. The one thing we do have control over is showing up. Stepping up to the plate. Showing up to the party. Being present. The privilege to do the work, the blessing of creation. And when we do that, when we engage, we are transformed in the process.
What comes out, what we get blessed with – the insight, the connection, the resonance. That belongs to the higher power, that belongs to the whim of the universe. You don’t know what is going to come out for sure, you just have to trust. And the more opportunities we allow ourselves to grasp, to create, the more gifts we stand to receive. The greater the chance that we stumble across something truly life and game changing.
More benefits of creating constantly
- It gives us the chance to practice and deepen our abilities. Every time we work and create we keep our skills alive and active. We are able to improve our technique.
- It helps us to stay warm. In steady creation, we remain immersed in our field, listening to the chords, playing with the ideas, making prototypes. We are warm, we are active, so when the breakthrough comes, we are poised to take full advantage of it. You don’t have to get ready, if you stay ready.
- We make more happy accidents. Many of the world’s breakthrough moments happen by accident. You try to create something and then stumble into something else. Like the creation of penicillin or the sticky note.
Developing a creative practice, staying ready, turning pro and being consistent increases our chances for success and real breakthroughs. It keeps us growing and evolving. It takes our work and our experience to new and exciting places.
How do you reclaim your inner fire when everything around you feels so bleh? When you feel creatively uninspired. How do you spark the flames of passion and get excited about what you do, about life again?
It is the question a lot of creatives, and people in general have to ask from time to time. Things are great when you are gripped in the firm pull of inspiration. When the words seem to pour out of you, and the ideas can’t stop flowing. It is all you can do, just to keep up with the flow.
But sometimes, the flow stops, the well runs dry. And for a while there is nothing there, and if it goes on long enough, you start to wonder if it would ever come back.
There are many reasons you can get here. You could end up here because you are just exhausted. You have been working, creating at a furious clip, putting stuff out there, and eventually it wears you down.
Or life happens, and there is a break in the routine, in the cycle that nourishes your creative space.
When you find yourself in that place, in the desert, how do you find the oasis? How do you find nourishment again, how do you reclaim your inner fire?
I don’t know. But I have some ideas. I have been in this space for the past few months to a year, feeling bored and uninspired. Sitting down to write, dipping down into the well, and coming up empty. Wrestling with this idea of how to reclaim passion. And coming to a place where I feel somewhat inspired or at least equipped with the tools to push forward, I have some theories on what to do.
So let’s examine some reasons the inner fire goes out.
This is self explanatory. It’s hard to create when you are tired. Especially if you have been working for a long extended period. We are creatures of cycles. We need to work, we also need to rest. If we are not taking the time to pull back and take care of ourselves, of letting the soils of ideas replenish. We will find ourselves empty and hollow and unable to be our best.
I have blogged at length about the need to rest, to create empty space. In our society and every connected lives, we are pressured to always be productive, always be plugged in. But oversubscription to that idea will only ensure that we burn out. And when we burn out, we must take the time to pull back, to heal.
Being creative can be very much tied to our neuroses and issues. As wonderful as the act and art of making things is, we are also plagued with our insecurities, our fears. And if we don’t do the work to address and push through those issues, they will eventually rise up to sabotage us.
I for one, cringe at almost everything I do. It is hard to fully embrace and promote my work or content, and that is something I am working on. Because if you cringe long enough, soon, you just stop making stuff.
One of those big issues that plague us on the inside is self-doubt and anxiety. We don’t think we are good enough, or we have what it takes. We second guess ourselves and overthink everything. We want everything to be perfect on the first try and don’t give ourselves the space to start by doing it badly. Or we worry about being able to execute the way we want to. We are not relaxed or confident enough to let ourselves be free in the learning and creation process.
But that is a big part of the creative process, getting into flow, letting go of the ego and being fully immersed in what you do. The more we work to a healthy inner space, the easier it is to give your best performance.
Not putting in the work
To remain creatively productive, you have to put in the work. You have to turn pro and stay pro as Steven Pressfield says in his book The War of Art.
No matter how fit you are, if you stopped working out for weeks or months, you will definitely feel and see the difference. If you stop working you stop getting results. It is important to take breaks and rest, to even lay fallow. But you must eventually get back to work, get back to routine, get back to a dedicated space and time for playing, experimenting, and creating.
That is why routine is so important to the life of the creative, or anyone trying to do or make anything. The routine gives you the framework, the conditions to sit down and get things done.
Doing the same work
If you are doing the same thing over and over again, you will probably eventually get bored. Unless you are taking deliberate action and practicing to become better, to go deeper in your craft, to explore the nuances of it.
Sometimes, we need to explore new things, new avenues of creativity. Pick up a new hobby, learn a new skill. It could be something completely different, or it could be something tangentially aligned to what you do already. Exposing yourself to new stimuli and situations will spark new thoughts and ideas in your mind, rekindling that flame and passion.
I love being alone. I often remark to myself, that I feel like my best self when I’m by myself. But we also need people, we need social interaction. If you spend all your time listening to yourself, you are only getting one point of view. In addition to all the benefits we get from connecting with others as social creatures, we also get exposure, to new ideas, points of views, collaboration and opportunities. No one of us is a completely self-sufficient island, we need each other and we need to work together.
That is also why people often recommend that you travel or go somewhere new when you are feeling uninspired. The break in routine, the new experiences and connections help to shake things up.
These are just some reasons why you might be feeling creatively uninspired. And as I write this, many more pop into mind. So maybe there’s a part 2 of this post to be written.
But knowing is half the battle. And whenever we find ourselves in the slump, we have the tools to peel the layers back, find out why and begin to claw our way out, to find our way back to passion, back to inspiration.
Many of us have jobs, or contracts or at least obligations to the work space. Most likely, those activities take up the bulk of your time. And you get reliant on them, to pay the bills, and give you the means to meet some of your needs. But at the cost of the bulk of your time.
Quite possibly, you have other interests as well. Things you would like to do. Ideas you would like to implement. Projects you would like to undertake. Skills you would like to learn. But you just don’t find the time for them. Or they require quite a bit of effort, and you do not know if you can even muster that kind of strength.
But it is important that you attend to them as well. And the next couple of pieces I would write would be trying to untangle and rewire our daily routines to allow us to balance the work we must do for pay, and the things we want to do on the side.
Why have a thing on the side?
It is creatively nourishing.
For many of us, in our regular work lives we have to do things that we are not necessarily passionate about, or maybe even ill suited for. I have written about the need for passion in everyone’s life. If you haven’t found a way to merge your passion with what you do for work, you can at least pursue your passion as your side gig. You will find that the more you make time and invest into this thing, the happier and more satisfied you will feel on the soul level.
It unlocks new opportunities
While pursing the side gig, you will be exploring areas and arenas that are unfamiliar to you, and you never know where that would lead. But the thing is, whatever you will be getting into is new. This will spark new mental connections, learning new things, acquiring new skills, meeting new people. And who knows what could come next. You could unlock a solid new stream of income, or a new career, or new friends. It is worth it to have a fresh area of exposure.
It will move you forward
Life is hectic. We have demands and responsibilities. We have many things to take care of and to handle. The world pushes and pulls us in many directions at once. If you actually want to move forward, and make tangible progress. You need to be deliberate, you need to be intentional. And the time spent in the side gig is prime time to do just that. To make plans, and put them in place.
It will help you build discipline.
Time is limited. You already spend most of it at work, and there is a good chunk you also need to apply to everything else – relationships, self care, the community. To also include your side gig time, you will need to be even more disciplined. You will need to identify wasted time and reclaim it. You will need to set a new routine and embrace a sense of practice to allow you to consistently work on your side thing over time.
It will boost your confidence
As the captain of your ship, the architect of your destiny. maybe you don’t have control over everything in your life. But in this one area, in this one thing, you are in control. You call the shots. You rise and fall on your own merits. Your lessons and your blessings are hard won. That sense of satisfaction and fulfilment is worth its weight in gold.
We all want to get somewhere in life. That ‘where’ varies from person to person. And it is either very clear and defined or nebulous. But to some extent, we all have at least the vague desire to grow or get somewhere different.
However, there is something about the way the world is designed that makes it easy to slip right into a routine and ride that routine for years on end. Especially in the working world. We get a job, we build a business, or a career, and we get deep into the nitty gritty. With the pressures of work and life responsibilities, it gets easy to fall into the pattern of working straight from Monday to Friday, taking a break for the weekend, cramming all of life that we can into those two days, and then back to it again on Monday.
So we run that programming from week to week, and time blurs by, weeks turn to months, months to years, the years to decades. And that is fair, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. We do need to work, we do need to be productive, we do need to provide, we do need to be active.
The problem starts to rise when we fall asleep at the wheel. We continue to run the pattern without thought. It gets easier to just run the program and respond to the needs and demands of our wheel, that the bigger questions of why, what and where get lost.
It is important to be engaged and active in the business of living, it is also important to step off that hamster wheel from to time to time to take stock and recaliberate.
Take a step back
Doing so isn’t very easy. If you are in corporate or a job, you are probably always on the move, always on the go, always producing, with hardly any time to just stop and breathe outside your mandated leave or vacation days. If you are an entrepreneur or in business, you are probably always inundated by the needs of the business, or of clients, that becomes your world, it becomes so hard to tear yourself away from all of it, to find stillness, to think.
But that is precisely what you have to do.
You have to step away and ask a few questions. Is this still working? Is this what I want to keep doing for another year, another 5. Am I getting the results I want? Is there a better way to get this done? Will this still be relevant in 5 years? Should I start pivoting now?
Those are the questions that help you figure out if you are actually moving forward or spinning around in circles. It is very easy to spend an entire year in frantic activity and end up with nothing to show for it. The hamster wheel can be plugged in to a machine where your efforts generate the energy required to provide the results that you want. Or it can just be there spinning away, a lot of energy being created but being wasted.
Allow yourself to heal
Over the past month, I allowed myself to take some time off . I eased off on the gas on client projects, and gave myself ample time to do something that had been eating away at me for a while – work on personal projects.
But every time I sat down to work on these projects , I was hit by a blank. I hadn’t been in this space for so long, it was hard to get back into it. Inspiration was cloudy, the pieces just weren’t quite coming together. Everything felt awkward. I could easily work on the client project, but putting that energy into my personal work now felt like the hardest thing.
So I did nothing instead. Because the point of stepping off the hamster wheel is not just about allowing you to go after those things that are truly important to you, it is also about creating empty space.
Sometimes, you actually need to heal, or at least recover. All those creative, physical and metaphorical muscles strained in the work of your hamster wheel need time to recover. You need time to remember yourself, to reconnect with purpose.
The wheel is important. It is usually what sustains us. It is what feeds us and keeps us. We just have to make sure it is actually going somewhere and we are not stuck in place. That is the tricky part. To resist the temptation to just keep working, without looking up to see where we are going.
Hopping off the hamster wheel allows us to see the forest for the trees, so either we confirm that yes, we are moving in the right diretion and we double down. Or we realise we have missed the mark and need to hop on a new wheel. Either way, the point is doing it with intention, living by design.
That is the challenge, finding some kind of dynamic balance, not allowing the hamster wheel to take over all of our lives, but preserving enough presence of mind, enough empty space to make sure that we are actually making progress, that we are moving forward, that we remain open to inspiration, that we are not just surviving, but thriving.