How to hack your creativity – Part 1: Schedule it

5 minute read

“Creativity scares us. There is so much uncertainty about it that we often reject it in favour of predictability and conventionality” – Bruce Nassbaum

If you’re a creative person and you are making money from your craft; congratulations, you’re an entrepreneur! However, as many creative entrepreneurs quickly find out, there is a constant barrage of admin tasks that need to be done in order to keep the money rolling in. 

The stress piles up when your days are full of these tasks, and you end up with little energy and time to fulfil your creative needs. Here is how to hack your creativity by using scheduling. 

First, let’s define what admin tasks are: all the little jobs that need to be done in order to officially complete a project or grow your business. I.e. emails, meetings, reports, research…ad infinitum.

Second, let’s define what creativity means to your business: the ability to look at your value offering and see the further potential in your current or future services or products.

Both these tasks are essential to running a business, but as a creative entrepreneur, you find that admin tasks to be parasitical to the creative tasks. The key is a balance, and we achieve this through smart scheduling.

Managers’ vs Makers’ Schedule

Creative people make time for their craft whilst running their business or side hustle through ‘smart scheduling’ (I know, it doesn’t sound very sexy)

Paul Graham, (founder of Y Combinator, a leading venture capital firm who invested in Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit) states that there are two types of schedules a ‘Makers’ Schedule’, and a ‘Manager’s Schedule’.

Managers’ Schedule

A manager’s schedule is one that relies on precise organisation. It’s where you block out a chunk of time for a project and move from task to task. Your day is run by your calendar, you know what your responsibilities are for the day and where you can squeeze other things in. A manager’s schedule is all about maximising every second to ring out more productivity.

Makers’ Schedule

A maker’s schedule is the best way to hack your creativity. It relies on huge chunks of undefined and unorganised time. “You can’t write or draw anything if you spread it out over small units of time” – Graham says, it’s just not how the creative mind works.If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound over-sensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all?”

Makers (creative people) are unreliable, they have so many professional and personal variables that could swing the outcome of a task either way. This can be really scary when there are major projects or deadlines coming up for your business. 

Maker vs Manager schedule
Makers’ vs Managers’ schedule

How to be a productive creative

So, how do creatives stay productive when things are on a deadline?

Break your day into two halves and assign one half for managerial tasks and the other half for creative tasks.

The managerial part of your day is for all the things that are reactive and administrative. All those emails and requests, meetings with potential clients, blogging, marketing and all things that will generally grow your venture.

The creative part of your day should be empty. Seek out the vices that distract you, and remove them from your creative space. The best thing I’ve found is to have a spot which you retreat to, that all your creative work is done.

If you  don’t have the luxury of a spare room, here’s what you can do to trick yourself into feeling like you have a different creative space:

1. Change the vibe
Close the curtains, light a candle, play some nature soundscapes in the background.

2. Mercilessly remove distractions
Turn your wifi and mobile phone off. Also, remove anything that you fidget with.

3. Get a ‘Creative only’ whiteboard or notebook
This is a place to note down all the inspired, crazy and unconventional ideas that you have when you are in the creative zone. You never know what could inspire your next creative session.

Cal Newport describes his concept called ‘Deep Work’ as being the only way that quality and revolutionary work can be done. 

“The professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit.”

Deep work is where peak performance actually happens. The opposite of deep work is (you’ll never guess this) shallow work. When you jump from task to task, you build up ‘attention residue’, which is the period that it takes for your brain to adjust from task A to task B. Just because you finished one task and are moving onto the next, does not mean that your brain is done thinking about the previous task.

When you move from task to task, you wear out your finite amount of willpower and concentration, leaving you feeling scattered and foggy, with detrimental amounts of focus.

What we find is that deep work is cognitively demanding and extremely delicate when achieved. Creativity intelligence relies heavily on deep work to be able to build on current intuition and tap into the greater network of other creative minds.

A final thought

For a creative people, scheduling doesn’t just serve as a day planner, but as a mind-hack to remind us that we have something to look forward to during the day. We want to look at our schedule and be motivated when we see the 4-hours of space that says ‘creative time’. Most of all, scheduling gives us the capacity to respect our time and our creative process.

You can’t do great work when you’re scattered between admin tasks and your craft. Scheduling also teaches us not to be reactive when incoming things start to fill the day. When stuff comes in, you just dump it in the schedule in one of those free blank spaces in your calendar and carry on with what you were doing, without batting an eyelid. 

Think of scheduling like a firewall, that protects your creative energy from incoming admin-viruses.

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