As creatives, time can be our most precious resource. Used well, it allows us to produce great work, balance conflicting schedules and take on the projects we want to. Finding a routine to support your creative goals is essential to feeling fulfilled, getting things done, and fitting in downtime without finding yourself worked to the bone.
So how can we work with the time we have to maximise our creative output, and not let the hours slip through our fingers? Whether your challenge is a 9-5 work day or balancing freelance hours with personal projects and a social life, there are measures you can take to ensure you’re working at the top of your game.
1: Establish a Routine
Structuring your time well is key to maximising your creative potential and staying motivated day after day. The value of routine has been lauded by many famous creatives throughout history and in the words of W.H. Auden, “decide what you want or ought to do with the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.” Mapping out your hours helps you get ahead of your daily life, minimise time spent making trivial decisions, and concentrate on doing the things that are important to you.
Author, Haruki Murakami, famously rises at 4 am and writes for six hours, before running 10km, reading, and retiring at 9 pm each night. This type of regularity has helped many over the years, and while you might not be a 4 am type, allocating time for creative work, sleeping, exercising, socialising and professional work, could really benefit your
productivity. Write down or draw out a routine to help you visualise the time you have, and then stick to it every day as much as you can to make a habit of doing certain activities at certain times. Evidence also shows that taking care of less important decisions, such as what to eat or wear, in advance, can reduce the impact of decision fatigue. This a phenomenon in which our ability to make significant decisions is reduced by thinking too much about the arbitrary ones. Ever wondered why Barack Obama and Steve Jobs wore the same thing every day? Less time thinking about wardrobe choices leaves more energy for big decisions and big ideas.
2: Get Some Quiet Time
While it’s important to stay disciplined, it’s just as crucial to give your mind the rest it needs. Science shows that being exposed to an excess of noise and activity every day puts a strain on our capacity to pay attention to important things, problem-solve effectively, and dream up new ideas. Attention restoration theory claims that making time to come away from the daily the onslaught of information allows our brains to recover. Factoring in breaks around work – whether that’s stepping away from your desk for five minutes, making time to meditate in the morning, or allocating time to spend with friends and family – can give us the low level of sensory input our brains need to relax and become more open to creative ideas.
Silence is also proven to help us with creatively beneficial pursuits, such as engaging with memories, empathising with others and reflecting on emotions. Things like meditation and daydreaming are referred to as ‘self-generated cognition’, and allow us to connect with our an inner stream of thoughts. Creative inspiration is traditionally aligned with the ability to tap into one’s unconscious, and getting away from distractions to make room for downtime plays a big part in optimising ideas and output.
3 Get Away from the Nine to Five Mindset
For decades, 40-hour working weeks have been the norm, with thousands labouring under the belief that this structure is best for productivity. There is, however, plenty of evidence to counter this claim, not least a recent analysis of GDP data, which shows that the countries with the highest GDP were also those with the shortest average working hours. This year, French workplaces have also made headlines, as a new law giving workers the ‘right to disconnect’ came into force in January. Under the new legislation, companies with 50 employees or more must determine certain hours during which their staff are forbidden from sending or responding to emails. With the aim of making employees more relaxed, more effective and less likely to need time off work, for things like stress and anxiety. The scheme presents an antidote to the ‘overtime’ culture that emerges, as nine-to- five jobs demand much more than their eight-hour day promise.
Creative agencies have a particularly bad reputation for instigating a culture of long hours, with work often continuing outside the office and eating into the weekend. The London branch of advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, recently implemented some changes to its way of working, asking employees, not to email between 7 pm and 8 am; only allowing meetings between 10 am and 4 pm, and ensuring that overtime hours can be claimed back.
Iain Tait, ECD at Wieden + Kennedy London, claims that the new measures have helped kill the unhealthy habit of constantly checking emails. ‘I can relax and let my mind wander to the place where better stuff is’, he said, emphasising how a sense of space and silence is necessary for the brain to engage with creativity and be more productive.
No matter what your working schedule is, it’s important to realise you have the power to change it, whether that means finding ways to structure your time around strict working hours, or experimenting with routines that give shape and purpose – as well as light and shade – to your time. If you need inspiration, research the weird and wonderful daily routines of famous creatives, and see how you could experiment with yours. Try getting up an hour earlier, allowing yourself more breaks at certain times, and setting objectives in chunks of a couple of hours, rather than entire days. The Two-Hour Rule involves setting limits of 120 minutes for tasks and is said to work with the natural rhythms of human creativity. Working in this way helps us focus on achievable goals while thinking about time in a more manageable, spatial way.
Whatever method you use to challenge your use of time and develop a routine, it’s important to remember that nothing beats true hard work and dedication to doing what you love, and doing it well. There is no quick fix for boosting creativity and motivation: but learning how to work well with your time is a good place to start. In the words of French novelist, Gustave Flaubert, ‘be regular and orderly in your life, so you may be violent and original in your work’.
This article looks at the importance of time management in the creative world, exploring how we can work with the time we have to maximise productivity. Legendary creatives have famously lived by strict daily routines in order to produce good work, and structuring time in blocks can be beneficial for everyone. Planning time for a balance of activities is also key:
things like exercise, socialising and sleeping is important alongside our day jobs and own creative projects. With plenty of evidence for the positive impact of relaxation, it’s interesting to see how downtime can help us get back in touch with our emotions and ideas.
Lastly, we look at how traditional, 9-to- 5 working patterns aren’t as productive as many thinks, and explore some ways of implementing change in order to counter the negative effects of overworking.