The balance of feeling creative and being productive
How I work with this to get the job done
My ability to get the job done comes down to two things: Feeling creative and being productive.
The thing about having a “creative” job is that no one feels creative 100% of the time. When I was working as an office temp in the 00s and daydreaming about a creative career, I imagined a constant flow of ideas and words. And now I am in this (very privileged) position, I have learned that creativity is fragile and unpredictable. In my case, it’s not linked to stress; I have had some of my best ideas when I am very busy and under pressure. And it can’t be forced; if I make time to be creative, I can guarantee it will elude me.
Like many people, I also don’t feel productive 100% of the time. This is something I have more control over, as productivity tends to come and go with my energy levels. But still, it goes up and down and I have to adapt to how I feel.
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This is how I work around the ebbs and flows of what’s on my mind and the urge to do something about it:
1. I feel creative and I’m being productive
When I feel creative, ideas rush around my mind with little effort. I’ll have 100 campaign ideas for each client, a visualisation of how it’s going to work and a random desire to re-decorate a room in my house. When this feeling aligns with a productive mood, this is the very best version of me. It often coincides with taking on a new project or when I have learned something new that I want to try out.
I reserve this time for campaign planning as this needs creative input for messaging and structure, and the productivity spurs me on to set up the rollout, scheduling and metrics.
2. I feel creative but I’m not being productive
Having ideas without feeling compelled to do anything with them usually happens when I am travelling home after a thought-provoking meeting, or when I am tired. I’ll make a note of all the ideas that come to mind so that I can action them when I feel more productive.
However, there is one task that I love to do when all I want to do is write, and that’s brand messaging. I let the ideas flow onto a page without thinking of how it’s going to be presented (which inevitably will distract me from the words).
3. I don’t feel creative but I’m being productive
When I am being productive I want to tie up loose ends and put things in order. Previously, I have found myself re-organising files and clearing out my inbox in this mood, but I have learned that what I should really focus on is formulaic marketing tasks. The ones where good is better than perfect, I’ve got a template, and I’ve done it 1000s of times before.
For me, this is writing social media and blogs. 90% of the time, this just needs to follow the research and the content plan, and I’ll be thinking about how I can repurpose and reuse the content again and again.
4. I don’t feel creative and I’m not being productive
Ah, the danger zone. When I can’t think and I don’t feel like doing anything, I do my admin. Accounting, filing, responding to overdue emails and setting up meetings all happen when I’ve got downtime between meetings or I can’t focus on anything more complex than a simple task.
I can guarantee that in any given week, I will experience every combination of feeling creative and being productive and as much as possible, I plan my schedule around this.
The link between creativity and productivity has been on my mind as I spent the majority of last week feeling distinctly un-productive and un-creative. This led me to download the audiobook of Atomic Habits by James Clear which has reignited my need to address my worst habits for productivity - my phone, social media and too many meetings. I’ve also realised that last week’s slump was likely caused by the UK heatwave. I’ll report back on habits next week.