Is it possible to be both creative and productive at the same time? Whenever we think of creative types, we imagine carefree and artsy people who refuse to be constrained by time limits and rules. On the other hand, we all know–or are ourselves–the productive type who is obsessed with results and running an operation at maximum efficiency.
Although creativity and productivity are oftentimes seen as qualities on opposite ends of a spectrum, there are actually ways we can harness both to achieve our goals.
Think of it this way: You can’t really have one without the other. Creativity is what gives rise to the visionary, disruptive concepts that can change the way people work, play and live.
On the other hand, productivity is what is needed to take a high-level concept and bring it down to reality, many times under less-than-ideal circumstances; it’s the daily grind that is needed to put an idea into motion and make it sustainable in the long run.
In this post, we’ll go over some of the ways you can harness your creativity and productivity, which are both increasingly demanded in today’s fast-paced yet innovative work environments.
There are no limits as to where your next big idea will come from. Just because your workday has ended doesn’t mean your creative pursuit stops there. Look for inspiration in anything and everything, from a TV commercial to a conversation you overheard on the subway.
Connecting ideas that at first sight seem unrelated and looking for inspiration in the unlikeliest of places will allow you to extend your creative pursuits beyond your limited office space and work schedule.
Passion is essential to a truly creative process. Without it, your pursuit is doomed either to a handful of lackluster ideas or a long, drawn-out process that never leads to that light-bulb moment you’re looking for.
To cultivate it, be sure to dive headfirst into your subject matter: Learn as much as you can from prominent thinkers in your field; read the latest news and findings in your industry; find out as much as you can about what your clients or superiors are looking for; and glean insight from peers and colleagues you respect and admire.
Another way you can cultivate passion is to find importance in what you do. According to a study conducted with 177 employees in seven U.S. companies, creativity thrives under time pressure when people believe they are “on a mission,” feel challenged by the work and see it as important to the organization and to others.
In line with the previous advice, absorb as much information as you can by reading industry news, books and magazines. Even the most creative geniuses find their inspiration from others. After all, every idea is really an amalgamation of an infinite number of influences and converging thoughts. So, make sure that you have enough raw creative material in you to allow your creative juices to flow.
After every reading session, make a note of all the ideas and examples that inspire you. Either bookmark them or, if possible, print them out and collect them in a box to refer back to them later. You can also save personal items such as postcards, pictures and unique, strange objects you’ve collected throughout the years.
Eventually, you’ll have your very own inspiration box or file full of things that you love, which should save you time in the long run. In a creative rut? Just pull out your inspiration box or file to get yourself in a creative mood.
To be your most creative self even under time constraints, make the most of your encounters with other people. Don’t limit yourself to the usual conversations with the same people. Creativity can only thrive when you step out of your comfort zone, so don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation with strangers.
Ask a taxi driver what their job is like or ask a child what they envision the world to be like 20 years from now.
One of the reasons we lose so much time during the creative process is that we’re reluctant to shift gears–even after realizing we’ve hit a dead end. Part of the reasoning behind this is that after investing so much time into a specific idea, the most productive course of action would be to stick with it until the end.
But the best way to foster both creativity and productivity is to abandon an idea as soon as you realize it’s not working. The ability to refrain from marrying yourself to a specific concept or idea will prove productive in the long run, as it will give you the agility you need to develop only the very best solutions.
Depending on whether your business or profession thrives on volume or scale on one end and uniqueness and differentiation on the other, your recipe for creativity and productivity will call for different proportions of each.
For example, if you’re a painter, then the balance will most certainly tilt more toward creativity. However, if you’re a marketing director, then your recipe might call for a much greater dose of productivity.
The same goes for each individual project you work on. Some may require a greater amount of out-of-the-box thinking than others, depending on the needs of those you are serving.
Every project can be broken down into smaller steps. Each of these steps, in turn, can be categorized as requiring a greater amount of creativity or productivity. Just because a project requires creativity doesn’t mean that its entire execution will require you to constantly churn out original ideas.
Knowing which steps require your most creative or, alternatively, productive self will help you organize your time better and plan according to the required mindset. For example, if you’ve completed the initial creative process of developing a design and are ready for the iteration stage, then you can prepare the time and place to be your most productive self.
Creativity is sparked by new experiences and environments, so it’s healthy to take a break from your routine once in a while. This will not only help you break from the mold of your daily thinking process, it will also provide you with brand new external input to help kickstart your creativity.
Just make sure that you disrupt your routine with a specific purpose and task in mind. While it’s good to take breaks, also beware of unwanted distractions. These will hurt both your creativity and productivity and can ultimately take you completely out of your desired mindset.
Since creativity demands free thinking and is harder to force into a specific time slot, try to plan your productive work around your creative sessions. In this way, you can give free reign to your creative self without letting it affect the rest of your work schedule.
For example, you can start your creative sessions at the end of the work day, when you know you can spend a bit more time if needed. Also, make sure not to schedule any high-priority work right after your creative sessions as you may not be in the right mindset to be your most productive self.
In the book Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, Nancy Duarte explains the difference between convergent and divergent thinking. The latter has to do with expansive thinking that generates new ideas, while the second is related to sorting and analyzing these ideas to achieve the best result.
Knowing the difference between the two can help you apply the right thinking to each situation, thereby maximizing creativity and productivity. For example, if you’re browsing interesting articles online to come up with new ideas, then you’re probably practicing divergent thinking. On the other hand, if you’re making a to-do list or editing a document, then you’re probably applying more convergent thinking.
Instead of trying to do both at the same time, consciously separate these. Put on your divergent-thinking cap when brainstorming new ideas, but take it off and put on your convergent cap when it comes to converting your idea into concrete steps.
Another type of thinking that can get your creativity flowing under pressure is called lateral thinking. According to author Edward de Bono, this involves solving problems through unorthodox methods. Instead of thinking about a problem using conventional patterns, you can “move sideways” to find different perspectives and points of entry.
De Bono calls each of these different approaches a “thinking hat” and categorizes them according to color. For example, the “red hat” uses emotions and hunches to come up with a new idea, while the “white hat” uses facts and figures to find a new point of entry. You can read more about them here.
What techniques have you used to maximize your creativity and productivity? We would love to hear about them. Just drop us a line in the comments section below.
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