How I Get Things Done: A Creative Perspective

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
–Walt Disney

Creative people struggle to get things done. They just do. But what if it didn’t have to be this way?

Get Things Done
Photo credit: Newtown Graffiti

What is it about being creative that tends to create conflicts with being productive? Is what stymies artists the same things that are their greatest strengths? That is, nonlinear thinking, imagination, and introspection.

Creative people tend to get bogged down by endless brainstorms (because they love ideas), perfectionist tendencies (because they care about quality), and endless distractions (because they can’t turn their brain off).

Is there a way to work around these struggles to move your work beyond the conception phase and actually get it done? I think there is.

If you want to get things done without compromising your creativity or productivity, you need to be intentional. You need a productivity system. And it needs to work.

Here’s what I do.

1. Keep short, disposable to-do lists

Creatives identify what is tangible. As archaic as it sounds, having a notebook or physical means of writing down your tasks is important. Whatever it is, you need to be able to see it and touch it. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.

This means of capturing ideas allows you to get abstractions out of your head, onto paper, and then thrown in the trash (when completed).

Per the guys at 37 Signals, I keep short to-do lists. Long task lists never get done. If you have 100 things to do, break it down into 10 lists with 10 items on each. My personal habit is to write out a list of 10 items, get them all done, then start a new list.

2. Limit inbound communication

For many of us, this means email, which you should not be checking every few minutes. Have a few specific times to check it and try getting your email down to zero every day. I like using the Michael Hyatt system of doing, delegating, or deleting whatever is in my inbox.

Limit how often you check email, screen phone calls, and close your office door. These distractions will keep you busy, but will prevent you from truly creative work.

3. Have one project management system

A friend once told me he uses Basecamp, a Facebook group, Google calendar, Skype, and IM to communicate with coworkers and manage his workload. I told him I felt sorry for him and all the lost time he spends checking each one. If you can relate to this, please stop now.

Having a bunch of different systems is not efficient. Just pick a system and stick with it. Whatever it may be, it needs to work for you. Don’t use a clunky piece of software just because everyone else is. Use what works for you (and your team, if you have one). If it’s fairly sophisticated, make sure that it’s someone job to ensure everyone is using it properly.

4. Show up

This sounds ridiculously simple. But many artists struggle with this. The typical eight-hour work day feels rote. And it is. But that doesn’t excuse you from putting in the hours.

The fact is that some breakthroughs only happen when you show up to to do your job. There’s nothing glamorous about it, but it has to be done.

Make a decision to show up for work every day. Do your part and leave the rest to the Muse.

5. Commit to shipping

This is an important lesson for a creative to learn. If it’s your vocation to make a difference in the world through creativity, then you need to develop a bias towards action.

Send the email. Launch the website. Do it now. Stop procrastinating and start sending stuff out the door.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for refinement in this process, but most creatives hesitate too much. They’re scared of rejection. It’s time to get over that and share your gift with the world.

Here’s the bottom line

You need a process to capture ideas and harness creativity. The alternative is a bunch of possibilities without making any real change. I’m not okay with that. Are you?

What’s your experience with the above? Have you used these tips to get things done? Share in the comments section.