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Retro housewife holding an alarm clock

Time Management For Creative People

by Chris McCrow

We first met Robin Nicolls of GreenEyes CopyWriting at an industry networking event for Wired Sussex. While most business owners preach the importance of time management it’s rare to meet someone who is able to articulate practical, real world strategies as well as Robin. Good thing he’s a copywriter ;-). We hope you’ll enjoy his ideas as much as we did:

A Guest Post by Robin Nicolls:

“Until We Can Manage Time, We Can Manage Nothing Else” – Peter Drucker, Business Expert

A little over-dramatic, but I think it sets the context for a blog post about time management, don’t you?

I’m fairly obsessed with efficiency, and love anything that can help me do more work for less effort. Effective time management is about working with the time you have available, and fitting all the different elements – creative, professional, human, administrative, and so forth – in just the right proportion to maximise your output. This is largely a matter of experience, but there are certainly some wonderful tips, tricks and guidelines which I’ve picked up to help speed up the process; I’d like to share some of my favourites with you now.

Naturally, being a copywriter, these are particularly geared towards time management for creative types – especially those who are using their creativity in a professional context. Looking through though, I see no reason why any of these tips should not be universally helpful. So, here goes!

Learn To Plan Effectively

Having a plan for the day seems obvious, but it’s often easy to neglect. Thinking ahead about how much time you have in a day, and what you want to get done with it, is a skill that must be practised. I find it very practical to think in hour increments, and many of the other tips I have included in this post are helpful for organising your day in this way. Obviously, with experience you’ll eventually get a better sense of what you can actually get done within the time available. Another good tip is to plan your day the evening before – this way you are better able to hit the ground running first thing in the morning when you start working.

Get Into A Routine

Routines are often seen as the enemy of creativity, but paradoxically and whether we like it or not, they can actually go hand in hand. Gustave Flaubert (the French writer) had this to say:

“Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

I actually really like routines, so long as they don’t go on for years and lead to stagnation. Whereas I think of travelling as an outer journey, I see staying in one place and letting your body and mind know what to expect as facilitating an inner journey. It allows you to put a great deal more energy into your creative processes and synthesis of new ideas – seeking out new ways forward, and cultivating invaluable insight into how to do things better.

Prioritize Your Time

urgent-important-matrix

I really like this graph – it’s a good way of deciding what tasks are more important than others. It’s a good idea to write anything that comes into that last box down on a sheet of paper – Facebook, online games, etc – and remind yourself how these have little to no worth in your day (I don’t even see them as a decent break – you’re still staring at a screen after all). Many advocates of this system advise prioritizing work that is “Important but not Urgent”. This is because whilst there will always be things that need to get done NOW, Critical Activities like planning, strategic thinking, ideas generation and pet projects are often the things that will affect the quality of your business in the long term – and should therefore not be neglected.

Don’t Multitask, Chunk!

Multi-tasking is a wonderful skill, and I admire people who can do it. Personally though, I find that I am much more productive when I choose one thing, and focus on it for a set period of time. I think this is especially true if that one thing requires concentration or creativity – in my case, writing a great piece of copy or coming up with new ideas would be good examples. I prefer to ‘chunk’ bitty tasks – answering emails for instance – together, to make them easier to manage all in one go. One idea that makes it much easier to do this is outlined by author Mark Foster in Do It Tomorrow:

“Get Things Done By Putting Them Off”

Mark outlines the ‘Sisyphus effect’. Sisyphus was a hero in Greek Mythology, who was sent to the underworld and doomed to perform punitive tasks with no end. His dilemma can be likened to an ever increasing to-do list, an ever filling email box – they can distract you from whatever it is you are trying to focus on, sapping your attention and creative energy.

In the case of your email account, the essential principle is ‘do it tomorrow’. You create a folder in your email box, titled ‘to be answered’ or ‘answer tomorrow’ or whatever you feel is appropriate. Then, you enter into the next days plan a specific time when you answer the emails from the previous day – which you stick to, without fail. In this way, you are always answering the messages from the day before, and this allows you to get them all done in one sitting – you can get into ’email mode’ and bash the whole lot out in no time at all. Obviously, urgent emails requiring immediate answers are the exception to this rule.

Bucket Lists

For the physical equivalent of this, a good term is ‘bucket list’. You get a plastic in-tray (or equivalent vessel). All those bitty tasks and chores that build up over the week, to do lists et cetera, you write down and stick in your bucket. Then, at set times throughout the week (as often as you feel you need) you focus on working through your bucket. Not only does this let you to get things done a lot more efficiently in less time, it also allows you to minimize the stress caused by having niggling things to do at the back of your mind – you can therefore focus on your most important work with all the more energy.
Personally, I’m a great fan of the idea of a weekly ‘Doing Day’ – dedicating half a day or even a whole day to working though the tasks that have accumulated in my bucket.

Learn Your Natural Cycle And Plan Around It

As a creative type, I love this one. As you may be aware, most people have a time during the day when they are most ‘on their game’. You may be an early morning person, or you might be a night owl. For some people it’s just after midday, for others it’s early evening. Some people might not have even thought about it, but it’s really worth taking the time to think about, because this is incredibly valuable time – it should be carefully guarded and used for your most cerebral, mentally demanding work – be it writing, strategic planning or synthesizing new ideas. You should not waste this time on mundane task or – God forbid – Facebook. (unless you are Mark Zuckerberg ;-)).


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