Why Creative People Need a Productivity System

This is it. You've whiteboarded a million ideas, held countless brainstorming sessions, and you're up to your ears in Post-it notes. Now comes the hard part. It's time to create.

Why creatives need a productivity system
Photo credit: Chris Costes

I do a lot of work with creatives. But most projects don't feel very creative. They feel daunting. There's so much work to do and such little time to do it. The biggest struggle, it seems, is gaining traction.

So many ideas, so little action

I've learned some tricks for helping creatives (including myself) be more productive, which is one of the essential struggles every creative person faces.

The hardest part in working with a creative [is] to provide enough structure to help and challenge while not inhibiting, discouraging or placating. Helping a creative to share ownership or give up ownership is a challenge.
–Rich Kirkpatrick

When dealing with creative work (especially when it involves art), I've observed that there is a natural proclivity to not act. To go through a hundred iterations. To keep going back to the drawing board until you get it “just right,” to obsess over perfect. To pursue excellence at the cost of production.

Don't get the wrong idea

I don't want to sound like I'm bashing on artists and creatives.

There is, admittedly, a great deal of activity that goes into creative work (which is unlike any other type of work). But if you are of this bent and it's your job to create something, be careful.

The Resistance, as Steven Pressfield calls it, is waiting to devour you. Crouching like a lion, ready to destroy you. At every turn, you're going to find an excuse to not ship, to procrastinate, to not deliver on what you've promised, to wait just a few more days before rolling out a new idea.

So let's be clear:  You don't have time for this crap. Your time and your work, which is a gift to the world, is far too valuable.

You need a system

I would be remiss if I didn't say that you needed a system for getting things done.

This is especially difficult for creatives. We don't like to color inside the lines. We don't like systems and predictability. We like innovation and spontaneity.

But unfortunately, without some kind of structure, we're doomed to become prey to the Resistance and not ship. We need to realize what is at stake here: If you don't produce, the world doesn't see beautiful things.

And so, we must come to grips with a hard truth:

I am unmanageable, avoidant, and lazy. So I need a strong system around me or everything fails.
–Julien Smith

What it takes

It doesn't have to be like your mom's check-list or your boss's anal-retentive habits. But you need to be productive. You need to get things doneBeing creative is simply not enough. You have to create. This is your chance to make something incredible.

Every minute counts. You can never regain the time you lose. What will you do? Will you harness your creativity and turn it into productive activity, or let the moment pass?

Start today. Write something down. Track your progress. Just do something to get organized.

What's your system for capturing ideas, harnessing creativity, and getting things done? Share in the comments.