The conflict between productivity and creativity

Have you ever wondered how much easier work would be if you could supercharge your productivity and creativity?

But your to do list is getting longer and your time is getting shorter. And getting it all done seems harder than ever.   You get into the office early and you leave late. You’re working hard but, to what outcome?

You’ve got a dozen tabs open on your computer and you’re doing your best to manage all the different projects you have on the go. And, if it’s not your team who need a piece of you, you have senior management breathing down your neck to come up with more innovative and creative solutions.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, your brain decides to take a holiday. Why is it that at exactly the time you need to be your most productive, creative and communicate with elegance and style, you cant think straight and your brain turns to mush?

This, my friend, is the curse of the modern worker.

As Rahaf Harfoush shared with us at Wired For Wonder (The CBA annual conference focused on expanding thinking), we have gotten ourselves into a bit of a pickle with the way we work. Our work culture, beliefs and social norms have become outdated. In this fast-paced, ever changing information age where innovation and creativity have become increasingly important, we are struggling to make it all work in harmony.

We have created a conflict between needing to be productive and needing to be creative.

If you ever feel like you are being pushed and pulled in 20 different directions with no time to think, this is why.

Productivity quite simply is about getting more done and is measured based on how quickly we can do what needs to be done to achieve personal and company goals. It’s structured and is all about moving forward, fast.

Creativity on the other hand requires large stretches of unstructured time to allow the ideas to flow and the solutions to come forward. It requires us to stop; to create space. We are often our most creative at times of nothingness.

Have you ever noticed that your best ideas come not while you are tied to your desk surrounded by the noise and the pressure of the office? They come while walking the dog, day dreaming in the shower or when you wake in the middle of the night?

Creativity can also be a messy, chaotic process where you take one step forward and two steps back. It’s within the mess and chaos that the moments of brilliance emerge.

The simple truth is, it’s nigh on impossible to be creative and productive at the same time. Productivity and creativity do not sit well together.

Our brain needs a completely different set of circumstances to be creative than it does to be productive.

So what do we do?

The volume of work is not going away and the expectation on you to be more innovative and creative is only going to increase. So let’s look at how you can do both like a pro. Let’s work smarter not harder.

Top 3 tips for managing the conflict between productivity and creativity.

1. Slow down to power up. Working at 110% all of the time will do nothing but lead to burn out. Schedule in down time throughout your day, week, month and year. You are employed to think, be creative and come up with fresh innovative ideas. You can’t do that effectively when you are plugged in 24/7 and moving at a supersonic fast pace.

Schedule in quiet time to plan at the beginning of each week. Block out time in your diary reserved for uninterrupted creative time. Switch off your connection with the office once you get home and make sure you are taking time regularly throughout the year to completely disconnect, relax and recharge.

2. Do it in batches. Acknowledge that productivity and creativity are not a match made in heaven. Divide your work into tasks that require creativity and tasks that purely require you to get it done.

Carve out (and diarise) chunks of unstructured, uninterrupted time to work through tasks requiring creative thinking. Set different chunks of time to “sprint” through the work that purely need to get done.

Most importantly, give up trying to multi task. Stop kidding yourself that you can manage your emails and phone calls, while working on three different projects, all at the one time. You are neither productive or creative when you do this.

3. Give up the guilt. We have been socially conditioned to value hard work and productivity over everything else. So scheduling in down time to be creative may bring up some pangs of guilt. Notice they are there but let them go. Notice the quality of your work and the brilliant ideas that come instead. You will quickly notice that the down time is actually what you need more than anything.

The next time you find yourself wearing your struggles, sacrifice and long hours in the office like a badge of honour… stop!

It’s time we stopped idealising the notion of achieving success through working hard.  Sleep deprivation, illness and devotion to work does does not look like success from where I stand.

It’s time to focus not only on the hustle of productivity but also the quiet time to allow your creativity to flow.

(Thank you CBA Women in Focus for hosting me at Wired For Wonder.)


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