3 Productivity Tips for Creatives

Fortunately for us creative folk, we’re also usually jedi-focused, athlete-driven, and utter masters of time-management. We get s#*t done before we’ve even started our pre-breakfast meditation! We slay dragons!

No? Just me?

Ok, who am I kidding!? Creative people (myself included) suck at time-management and productivity! We excel in freedom and spontaneity and feel shackled by to-do lists and deadlines. We never got into the creative industries to chase targets and hustle. 

However, as the honeymoon period begins to fade, we grow as creators and commercial work starts to roll in, we begin to realize that we do actually need to get s#*t done in order to get paid. In fact, even your passion projects that don’t have client briefs and deadlines, still could do with being finished, and all that time procrastinating on purpose (I know, it’s good for inspiration) doesn’t help in completing the project.

So what can us creative types do in order to get s#*t done? Here are a few tips and tricks that help me through my day.

#1 Write a Highlight list

The tried and tested to-do list has long been keeping project managers and mortgage advisers the world over in check. And for good reason to. A simple list of tasks that need to be done, satisfyingly ticked as each job is knocked off.

The problem with a to-do list, is they are often never-ending, overwhelming, and over-stretching. We often scribble down every imaginable task within a project, in no particular order, and then stare wide-eyed at the mammoth volume of work, unable to make a start. Lengthy to-do lists are often unachievable in one day, and leave us dissatisfied when we down tools, that there are still countless items left unchecked.

The trick here, dear reader, is to instead create a highlight list. 3 to 4 jobs that you will cross off before the day is done, and no more. Stick with the most important, must-do jobs, and leave out the mundane – you’ll reply to those emails later anyway.

And I urge you to go analogue with your highlight list. Digital productivity apps have their place, and jotting a quick list in your phone may seem quicker, and therefore, more productive than actually writing them down. But there is a genuine rush of achievement everytime we physically draw a line through a task, creating a knock on effect that stir’s you on to crossing off the next one. Now, to level up your highlight list, rather than jotting your 3 to 4 highlights in a notepad, get yourself some index cards (or any small non-bound cards), write your list and stand it up next to your coffee mug. The visual aspect will help keep you focused, plus physically chucking it in the recycling bin at the end of the day only adds to the feeling of satisfaction.

#2 Create mini deadlines

Deadlines are horrible things, especially when self-inflicted. But giving yourself some project goals can help move things along toward completion in a less stressful manner. As much as this may sound like corporate project manager-speak, devise a project timeline, with milestone dates for when things need to be done.

Depending on the type of person you are, getting from A to Z in three and a half weeks can either feel pretty overwhelming, like there’s too much to do, or can invite a more laid back “all the time in the world” approach (and the inevitable last-minute rush!). I like to work backwards from the overall project deadline, working out what needs to be done and by when in order to achieve the end result. That way you realise, A to Z in three and a half weeks is just one letter a day.

Parkinsons Law states that any given task will expand to fill the time allocated to it. I.e. If I give myself a day to write this blog, it will take me a day to write the blog. However, if I set aside two hours, I can probably knock it out within the time given. Set some target times, and if helpful, allow yourself a reward if accomplished. I.e. If I finish this blog by 3pm, I can waste 15 minutes watching YouTube.

#3 Schedule block

This is the art of blocking time into your calendar and sticking to it religiously. Whether you use Apple Calendar, Outlook, or Google Calendar, fill your entire day with scheduled blocks by which you use to create structure and rhythm.

Many people feel frustrated at the end of a typical 8 hour working day because they’ve not got as much work done as they feel they should have, while also feeling guilty because the reason they’ve been unproductive is too much time spent flicking through social media. If you’re this guy, you may benefit from schedule blocking. This could be: 

  • one hour each morning to respond to emails
  • three hours for deep work
  • one hour for lunchtime exercise
  • two hours for meetings
  • one hour creative time
  • one hour to literally waste on social media guilt free. 

Consciously choosing to waste time, and putting it in your diary, probably feels wrong. But I bet you’ll get more done during your scheduled blocks than you’d normally manage just aimlessly meandering through the day trying to get things done.

Take it to the next step and block out family time, cooking, hobbies, reading. It absolutely may feel like this exercise removes all spontaneity and creative freedom from your life, but it can also unlock creative pockets and provide permission to do whatever you want without the guilt.

So there you have it creative dragon-slayers – my three productivity tips for creatives. To make sure I get s#*t done, I block the hell out of my calendar, I set mini-deadlines, and I write 3 daily highlights on an index card.

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