You could say my workflow is pretty on point. I group my work in projects, then plot each week by pulling individual action tasks from each of them. I aim to complete a minimum of five tasks per day, which allows me to simultaneously progress in each project. I can even recall a few times where I’ve completed up to 15 tasks in a single work day.
But this only accounts for my day-to-day workflow, which consumes about 80 percent of my time. So what fills the remaining 20 percent? That, my friends, consists of the one thing creatives fear more anything else. It’s the act of creating.
Thing is, I’ve found that throughout the time I spend creating my organization, workflow and productivity collapses. Rather than abiding by my usual system, I act in the moment; I do whatever I believe will aid my process at that time. And the result? Sometimes, I’ll throw down brilliance. Other times, I’m left with a blank page. But what happens when I’m working on a deadline? Frankly, I’m fucked.
And this, is why I signed up for a mentorship session with Elizabeth Grace Saunders, founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training, writer for Behance and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money.
With only 10 minutes scheduled to speak with Elizabeth as part of the Office Hour Sessions during Behance’s 99u Conference last week, I began by quickly presenting my problem. I then listed my responsibilities, from daily tasks, to creative projects. Truthfully, I entered this meeting very critically. To simply sign up to be mentored seemed a bit inorganic. But I could tell she was listening; she sincerely wanted to help, in fact.
“What I’m hearing is that overall you’re quite systematic. You’re really good at getting the operational, tactical things done. But then, when you set aside time to work on creative things you get stuck—you’re not sure if it’s going to work,” she said. “But I do have some suggestions… A lot of the time it feels more secure to do things where you do ‘A’ and then ‘B’ happens. You feel super in control.”
Elizabeth then presented a step-by-step approach. And it starts by creating a written checklist that includes the following points.
1) Formulate your ideas before you begin: Before you start working, set aside an hour just to think. These shouldn’t be random thoughts, you should focus on the task at hand. But this will give you time to let your ideas percolate before you put them on paper.
2) Periodically write down your feelings: Let’s say you block off three hours for creative work. Every 30 minutes, set a timer or alarm. Whenever it goes off, write down how you feel, whether good or bad. This will give you an external perspective to analyze your progress.
3) Step away: Plan to change your environment, rather than drooling over your laptop. This could mean going for a quick walk in a nearby park, or moving to a seating area outside of a coffee shop. It can help put you in a different mental mind-frame. Elizabeth specifically recommends getting away from the computer and using a notepad during this time.
4) You don’t need to know more: Quite often, creatives become wrapped up in the work of others instead of focusing on their own (inspiration, right?). Elizabeth says this is simply procrastination, and fear of your own ideas.
She adds that this creative process approach will form a more reliable, systematic way of moving through things. “If you commit to following the system, you’re going to come up with something,” she says. “And it gives you the space to relax into it and be vulnerable to your own ideas.” But the question is: Does it work? I think it does. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have written this article so fast.
Featured image © Emil Rivera