Productivity and Creativity Can Peacefully Coexist

by Vivian Liebenson
photo of a day planner

Productivity Meets Creativity

For the past 10 years or so I’ve had a healthy interest in productivity and organizing systems. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve obsessed over finding the “perfect” planner. I’ve fallen down a “Getting Things Done” rabbit hole, and followed housekeeping blogs that promised to help me finally get our chaotic home in order, once and for all.

But, let’s face it. I’m a creative. At a certain point all that left-brain concentration makes me throw my hands in the air and I go make a beautiful mess in my studio.

There has always been a disconnect for me surrounding creativity and productivity. It’s always been one or the other. I can clean and organize our house, OR I can paint/make/create. I can plan my time and get where I need to go when I’m supposed to be there, OR I can meander through my day so that I still feel inspired when I get around to painting.

Goals Are Important

And don’t even get me started on “goals.” Whenever I’ve been asked about my goal-setting strategies I’ve always answered, “Ew goals, I’m allergic.” 

But a funny thing happened recently. Six months into running my own creative business I realized I’m not allergic to making money. I really like money, and I want a lot more of it. Also, we like to eat and hope someday to be able to take vacations again. 

As I read what successful entrepreneurs had to say, I noticed the common thread between all of their successes was settinging goals and creating a productivity plan to reach them.

I had also gone through an exercise to figure out how much money Cuppa Creativity needed to generate before it was profitable. The big surprise was that the number was exponentially higher than the salary I had lost when I was laid off last November. It was a huge shock and after about a day of considering giving up entirely, I decided to get moving on setting some business goals.

Of course, I had no idea how to do this. After some research I found this Creative Live class and signed up for it.

I watched all of the videos in the class over two days and was able to create goals for 5 years, 1 year, and a 90-day quarterly goal. It was quite frankly one of the most useful skills I’ve learned in the past 20 years. 

I Love a Good System

The next step was implementing some kind of productivity system. I needed to turn these goals into actionable steps by putting them into a schedule and reviewing them regularly. Apparently goals don’t achieve themselves. You have to go back and make sure you are on track and doing all the things to make them happen – who knew?!.  This resulted in a truly epic bout of procrastination while I spent about a week researching goal planners. 

weekly productivity schedule showing time blocked for specific tasksAnd there are a lot. They vary in price anywhere from $9.99 to $99 and cover 90 days, 6 months or a year. In the end, I settled on the Venture Panda Planner – it had a section many either were missing or didn’t bother to mention in their descriptions: the section to actually break down the quarterly goal into projects and tasks and then schedule them.  There was another one called the GoalDRVN planner that I almost bought, but in the end I let the Panda Planner marketing win. I just liked their vibe. 

A Customer for Life?

Also they have excellent customer service. I received my planner last Friday just before the Labor Day holiday weekend started. As soon as I opened the package there was a problem. The planner had a terrible chemical smell to it and I started getting an immediate headache. I had ordered it off of Amazon for half the price on the website and was concerned maybe it was a knock-off or something. 

So on Friday at around 6pm I contacted Panda Planner customer support.  I figured maybe I’d get an answer by Tuesday after the holiday. But, they emailed me a couple of hours later assuring me the Amazon stock is the exact same product and asking me to trying leaving it to air out over the weekend and if that didn’t help contact them again for a replacement.

After 3 days it was still pretty stinky, so I emailed support back, figuring this was going to be a huge hassle with waiting on a return slip form Amazon and so forth.

But, they just put another order in for me, told me I didn’t have to return the first one – I could pitch it, gift it, recycle it or hold onto it in case it was ever usable – and I received the replacement two days later. 

Time Blocking

So now that I’ve started using my goal planner – and I really like it –  I’ve found it difficult to fit in working on my own business while also completing client design work. So I implemented a couple of other productivity strategies that seem helpful. 

One is time blocking. This is where you try to set aside chunks of time for similar tasks throughout your day and week. I’m still working on this one. I created a schedule that blocked off time for client work, calls, checking email (only a couple of times a day at specific times) and working on my business. So far I’ve found I have to be more flexible since clients aren’t always available during the times I wanted to block out for calls. So I’m not sure how this strategy will pan out. 

Taking Breaks Are Essential

The other one is called the Pomodoro Method. I had seen this before and alway thought, “ Ew, yuck.” It basically involves working in short sprints followed by a 1-3 minute break. After 4 sprints you take a longer break. I think it said 10-15 minutes, but I got hungry for lunch by then so took 30 minutes. 

I decided to try it because I realized I wasn’t taking breaks at all during the day. Funny thing was that I always imagined if I was my own boss that I’d be the kind of employee that goofs off and annoys their boss. Turns out I’m a workaholic and my boss keeps telling me to take breaks before I burn out – she’s cool like that. I like working for her. 

Anyway, I tried this method as a way of forcing myself to at least get up and walk around every so often. I thought 25 minutes would’t be long enough to get any momentum going. But, it turned out a lot can get done in 25 minutes. I actually accomplished more in 2.5 hours using the Pomodoro method than I normally would have. 

When it’s client work I have no issue prioritizing, but it hasn’t been easy to know what to work on first for my business priorities. Now that I have some structure in place, and a planning and scheduling system, I am looking forward to knowing what I will be working on each day. 

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