Your best strategy is to manage your creativity, not your time. People who manage their creativity get happy and rich. People who manage their time get tired. – Scott Adams
Do you feel like there is never enough time to get everything done?
Or do you get the feeling that you’re not being as productive as you could be, guilty for not putting in the hours, worrying about the results you’re getting?
How do you spend your days right now?
All of us have the same twenty four blocks of time a day.
The natural division of the day is probably in three parts.
We should be getting eight hours of sleep.
We have eight hours to eat and exercise and have time with friends and family and do whatever we want to do.
And we have eight hours to work.
In the image above, the red blocks are unavailable – you’re asleep.
The orange blocks are your own time – time which many of us increasingly spend glued to a phone.
And work time is green – a period often dictated by other people – a constant stream of anxiety and frustration.
We repeat this pattern day after day and feel like we’re getting nowhere.
So, what can you do?
What is the one thing you could change?
When we look at this pattern the first thing to recognise is that we can’t change the number of blocks – we can’t create time.
We can steal it from other parts of our life and use it for something else – but doing that often results in causing a different problem further down the line.
For example, you could sleep five hours a night and work more – but you’ll probably find that you start accumulating a sleep debt which has to be paid off at some point.
My approach would be to start by protecting your sleep time and your off time.
Those sixteen hours should be left alone – filled with rest and friendship and family time.
The thing that you can be flexible with is work time – because trying to work harder and longer isn’t really the smart thing to do.
Instead, you have to get strategic with your time – moving from doing work to doing work that’s the best use of your time.
The way you can contribute the most and do the most – but you may have to spend some time discovering exactly what that is.
The strategic use of time
You can think of strategy as your direction of travel – something you’re heading towards.
So think about what you’re heading towards in the work that you’re doing every day.
If you’re employed then your work probably revolves around a set of tasks, something that fits into the overall flow of work for a client or in an organisation.
The work you do fits into someone else’s strategy but what does it do for you?
For example, let’s say you’re a project manager working on making sure several crucial projects are moved forward.
The vast majority of your time is going to be spend coordinating and communicating and expediting activities.
You’re gaining lots of skills at getting things done – but how would you start thinking about making this work for you when you get started on your own project?
You won’t really be able to do that until you put some time aside to actually think strategically – and act in line with that strategy.
You need a couple of hours a day to get started – a couple of blue blocks that you set aside for strategic work.
That’s enough to get started and you will probably achieve more if you commit to spending that time than you will trying to make larger or more dramatic changes like quitting your job to start a business.
What matters first is to set aside and protect some time to work on what really matters for you.
What will you do with that strategic time?
The short answer to how you should spend that time is to work on creative projects.
Creativity is not just about art and inspiration – anything you do can be creative – from getting better at designing spreadsheets to improving a process so you can do things in a tenth of the time.
The form your creative work takes depends on your situation – but there are a few models you will see other people doing.
One approach you will see is people building their profile – spending time on creating a personal brand for themselves.
That can be useful as you grow your connections and try to establish your credentials and capability in a field.
Another approach you will see is people sharing their work – showing you what they are doing, whether it’s their ability to create beautiful objects or their skills at a task.
You’ll see those kinds of things because people put them out into the world for you to stumble across.
But what you do doesn’t have to be shareable in that kind of way.
Your creative time can be spent in just creating, working on your own project, building up a portfolio of examples.
Here’s one way to think about it.
Right now, if someone were to ask you what you do, would you describe your job – the kind of things other people ask you to do?
Or would you point to your body of work, the stuff that exists in the world because of you.
The distinction can be tricky.
Sometimes it’s straightforward – you’re an architect and here are twenty buildings you helped design and that were built.
Sometimes it’s harder – you’re an HR manager and you worked on certain projects or you’re an administrative officer and you had certain tasks.
But if you want to get started what you need to do is spend time building a body of work – and if you’re not sure what that body of work looks like, the first use of that strategic time is to work that out.
It might take weeks or months or years – but if you don’t set the time aside you’ll never get started.
One day at a time
Change doesn’t often happen in big, dramatic leaps.
It’s more likely to happen over time, bit by bit, almost invisibly.
But it will happen if you put in the time – taking small steps day after day.
But what are the steps you should take if you’re unsure about how to get started?
One way of figuring that out is to look at what other people have done along the way.
Let’s look at an approach for doing that in the next post.