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Why is time management so hard for this creative professional?
I wanted to go ahead and get that out upfront. My week for writing and posting was last week, and I have this lovely plan to write and post on a semi-regular basis going forward. Like many of the creative people I work with, however, I find I am not always successful at managing my time to my advantage. Sometimes, I’m terrible at it.
Time management is hard. It isn’t simply that we have busy jobs. We are all tasked with deadlines and responsibilities, often managing multiple internal and client projects at the same time. We have busy personal lives. Many of us have kids, and some of us are going to school or pursuing additional training and education. We have creative pursuits and other interests and commitments, plus bills and home or car repairs and doctor appointments and extended friends and families that need us. We have a life and a professional life, and we generally like them both.
The way we manage our time has something to do with the way we think, as well. The creative mind doesn’t like to simply solve a problem or meet a challenge and be done. Our approach includes the tendency to go beyond problem solving to imagining “what else.” We poke at things, and then peel them back to reveal hidden intricacies. We twist them around, sometimes breaking them, yes, but then putting them back together in a new or enhanced way.
We ask “what if…” questions. We try different colors and images to see how they attract attention or add subtle emphasis. We rewrite sentences and try a different verb so we can more completely capture not just the action, but the feeling. We code and recode and break code and fix it and break it again to see if we can make whatever we’re making better. More interesting. More fun. Where the deadline might suggest “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the creative mind hears: “if it isn’t perfect, make it more so.” Which leads us back to time management.
Digging deep into a challenge or solution means you can get a little off track while exploring your options, but we have to set limits and find tricks and tools that work for us. I have recently returned to the practice of blocking out chunks of time from meetings to focus on project work, and I’m trying to say no, or “I’d love to help, but can’t start until next week. After I’ve finished this project.” There are still urgent needs and unexpected complexities that require a shift. I’m getting better at anticipating when they are likely to occur, but it’s not an exact science and there’s always the sudden fire. Yes. It’s a struggle, as evidenced by the title of this post, but I’m making progress.
Can you help me with my timing?
Luckily, we have no shortage of advice. There are plenty of articles you can read for time management tips and such, too many really, and some of them are definitely not targeted to me. I recently read the article Five Time Management Strategies for Creatives on How Design, and these tips from the article might actually be worth trying:
- Tame Your Inbox: Sort mail using filters and folders, and consider checking mail only at specific times during the day (first thing, lunch and end of day, perhaps).
- Don’t Reinvent the Wheel: Create templates for common formats, layouts, surveys or content types, and make shortcuts to repeated projects, frequently used elements, boilerplate language, etc.
- Establish Firm Boundaries: Watch meeting times and schedule follow-up meetings, as necessary, rather than letting the current meeting go long.
- Time Yourself: Set aside blocks of time to focus on a single project or task, then schedule mini-breaks to stretch and refresh your body and mind.
- Break It Down: Reduce big projects into smaller tasks – try grouping related tasks and/or prioritizing by urgency and importance.
Obviously, balancing my desire to be fully creative and still meet deadlines is a work in progress. So, let’s start a conversation. Please reply in the comments with links you’ve found or suggestions that help you balance time management and creative work.
Tina, great points. I think of professional time in the Einsteinian concept of dilation: it flows faster or slower depending on how fast you are going. Ever had a day that flies by? or one that seems endless? I find the harder I actively work, the faster it goes. If i am passive, it crawls. Therefore I try to sandwich into my days something mentally challenging, to stay productive, yes, but also to get that clock moving.
This echoes your line: “I have recently returned to the practice of blocking out chunks of time from meetings to focus on project work”. Good idea!