When I first started as a creative professional, I approached my work like a musician. This makes a little sense – that’s what I was. There is no way to do music fast. Many years, containing many hours of focused practice – that’s how you develop your chops. If you’re a composer, this process takes even longer. I don’t believe in overnight successes. Those who become suddenly recognized for their talent and skill have spent years perfecting and developing the craft.
That’s certainly true of creative services. There are no shortcuts. And while we’re at it – are there true shortcuts in any profession requiring expertise and experience? Probably not. Expertise requires long blocks of time. My friend the Guto says that creativity is the combination of discipline and curiosity. That process is rarely speedy.
However, I do think we can change our relationship to time. In order for you to develop as a leader of creatives, you need to learn how to dip in and out of many projects. That means that instead of having large, hours-long chunks of time to focus, you’ll often be called upon to spend much smaller pieces of time listening – and then advising. I do miss the days of staying up all night working on a song arrangement or spending multiple uninterrupted hours writing a creative concept. But the honest truth is, that almost never happens in my life anymore.
Barring an intentional retreat from everything (which must happen but has to be scheduled far in advance), my days are filled up with fifteen to thirty-minute chunks of time. I’ve had to develop the discipline of getting in, listening carefully, then offering my input before being forced to move on to the next thing.
How on earth do you do this? Here are a couple of suggestions.
Abandon the Myth of Multi-Tasking (also: PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE)
I seriously wonder if multi-tasking is really a thing at all. Perhaps a few people can actually pull it off, but I doubt it. When I’m trying to talk to someone and they start looking at their phone or clicking on their laptop, I know they aren’t listening anymore. It’s becoming almost as rude to me as someone lighting up a cigarette in a restaurant. I’m like, “Really? You’re going to do that right here, right now? Take it outside (and I might join you).” I know I’m getting preachy, but you can get a lot more from a thirty-minute block of time if you PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE and STOP READING EMAILS. Instead of thinking you can be a multi-tasker, learn the discipline of being a single-tasker. Focus on one thing and minimize distractions. I didn’t make this up. Do a search for “single-tasking” and you’ll find lots of content.
Also read this. You’re welcome.
Prioritize Your Time Around Key Objectives
Stop wasting time on the busy work that’s easy to check off but doesn’t contribute to larger and more important objectives. Choose to attend meetings that matter and turn down the ones that don’t. Save busy work for set times. Focus on objectives for the rest of the time.
Now – I’m still terrible at consistently pulling this off. But when I manage to practice what I preach my productivity and creativity skyrocket.
Ask Members of Your Team to Help
Make sure your colleagues know how you work most effectively so they can avoid being part of the problem by adding to your interruptions.
And yes, we all do need large blocks of time to concentrate deeply. Read books, watch movies, work on projects. I’m not kidding myself. I’ll slowly die without these extended periods of solitude. But unfortunately, the demands of my regular workday require that I schedule this stuff, often at night or on the weekends. I still get to participate in creative sessions with the team at Fifteen4. And sometimes they can run for an hour or more. But they have to be scheduled. Without some planning, the larger chunks of time are always going to be interrupted.
The rest of the time, I have to focus and work efficiently – changing my attitude and relationship toward the time that I’m given.
That’s the reality of leading a team.