Even with the best intentions, creativity can be elusive. And sometimes, the harder you work to conjure it, the less likely you are to find it. “You can’t unleash creativity via force. It just doesn’t work that way. Creativity is the art of finding new connective pieces and associations,” says Monica Eaton-Cardone co-founder and COO of FinTech company Chargebacks911.
So in order to unleash your creative juices, you’re going to have to step outside the box instead of trying hard to be creative. “You can’t be creative by using the same formula over and over again. Instead, you need to take a step back, and figure out a new innovative wrinkle you can add to the formula.”
However, it can be really hard to switch things up when our schedules are jam-packed and we’re overwhelmed with responsibilities. Enter strategic time management.
“Time management allows you to create that open space you need in order to let your creativity flow easily. If you’re feeling rushed or have a million things running through your mind about all the other things you need to do, your creativity will suffer,” says Heather Grace Hanson, a certified positive psychology-based coach and consultant.
Here are seven time management tips embraced by leaders across industries to help fuel your creativity.
1. Set up fixed hours in a fixed workspace
Devon Fata, CEO of Pixoul, a human-centric web design firm, says the single best thing he’s ever done to manage his time and creativity is setting up fixed working hours in a fixed working space.
“I have a home office, and it is the only place I allow myself to do any work of any kind, whether it’s answering an email or starting a new website design. I am in that office at the same time each weekday morning, and I leave that office at the same time each evening,” he says.
“This has helped me in a lot of ways. It means I’m not worrying about work when I’m not at work, and it has also helped me to establish strong, clear cues for my brain when it’s time to go to work.”
While this can be challenging with a hybrid work or remote work model, setting up some structure in your physical environment combined with routines in your daily work schedule can work wonders for your creativity.
2. Try task-batching
Hanson recommends batching tasks to take your creative thinking to the next level. “People often talk about batching as a way to get more done because when you perform the same task over and over, you get more done in a shorter amount of time, so it’s very efficient both for time and energy management,” she says.
“And that’s why it’s also great for creativity. If you can batch other tasks together, then you can carve out more time to batch your creative tasks as well. This is how you can give yourself that spaciousness that creativity needs.”
But just because you’re scheduling tasks doesn’t mean you should rush it. Carve out enough time for your creative pursuits. “If your day is already full and you try to squeeze in 30 minutes for a creative project, you probably won’t get anywhere with it. You’re likely to just burn yourself out by cramming too much in and putting pressure on yourself to perform your best under poor circumstances,” she adds.
3. Schedule time for tasks that mix up your routine
Carving out time to allow your creative juices to flow sounds like a no-brainer. But depending on your current occupation, how you spend that time should vary if you want to let your creativity flourish.
“If you are working a highly analytical job, take breaks where you allow your brain to occupy a conceptual, or restful, state. If you are performing a job based on ideating, schedule out times to perform more tangible tasks,” says Amy Block, Director of Marketing and Communications for Navitar, a lens systems company.
It’s all about mixing it up and directing your focus to different types of tasks to allow that burst of inspiration to organically occur. Throw in a workout and you are in business. “If you mix this in with scheduled time for physical activity, you are much more likely to produce more creative material,” says Block.
4. Test your creative ideas on a regular basis
Having ideas is great, but a little-known tactic to boost your creativity lies in turning those ideas into action on a regular basis.
“You need to have a way to test your creative theories, because not every novel, creative idea will ultimately improve your ROI. Some creative ideas, alas, work much better in theory than actuality,” according to Eaton-Cardone.
Those precious insights might just spark your next million-dollar idea.
5. Delegate part of your responsibilities
Cindy Corpis, CEO of people-lookup site SearchPeopleFree, highlights the importance of delegation. If you don’t have a team, look into outsourcing some tasks to a freelancer. But you can’t do it all, and aiming to do so will only undermine your creative efforts.
“Delegation is one of the most difficult skills for many people to master, but you can’t afford to be a one-person show – you need to delegate part of your responsibilities. Delegation divides up the chores that you’d be better off delegating to someone else, allowing you to make the most of your time,” says Corpis.
6. Have a true brainstorm session
Eileen Roth, productivity expert and author of “Organizing for Dummies,” says being creative doesn’t come naturally to her as a very analytical person: “My business name is Everything in Its Place® so being creative is more difficult for me as a very logical person.”
Instead of letting it deter her, she leverages the power of group settings to think differently. “Brainstorming unleashes creativity because, in a true brainstorming session, you are allowed to say just one word (no explanations) and then the next person chimes in with one word, etc. This technique can veer off to ideas that are quite creative.”
She also suggests holding your brainstorming meeting during peak hours where energy levels are high and inviting contributors who are not directly involved in your project but might have some interesting insights to contribute.
7. Work at strategic times
Hanson also recommends scheduling creative tasks during strategic times such as first thing in the morning. “Generally, scheduling creative tasks in the morning is effective for several reasons. You’re likely to have more energy, and even if you have a full day you can put your other tasks out of your mind for a while, knowing you still have time in the afternoon to get things done,” she says.
But, ultimately, the most important thing is to pay attention to what times of day you have the most energy and feel the most creative. “For some people, it might be right after waking, for others, it might be an hour or two after waking, or even in the evening if you’re more of a night owl.”
She also suggests scheduling creative tasks right after something that causes you to be in a positive emotional state. “The idea of the ‘tortured artist leads us to believe that negative emotions are good for creativity, but, actually, research shows us that positive emotions are more likely to lead to creative output.”