Creativity v. Productivity : Forcing a Draw

Creativity versus Productivity

Two modes

Anyone who works or plays in a creative or artistic field has, at some point, struggled with the issues of navigating between the acts of creative thought and productive action. The problem is that creativity and productivity are very separate human functions. As a result, the idea of deadlines or pressure can trigger creative blocks, while creative bursts can make productivity elude you. So how is it some people have learned to so fluidly move between these and others haven’t? It’s not magic, and it’s certainly not some special elusive gift bestowed on a select few. Some of us have just figured out how to switch between them with less trouble than others through their life experiences. It’s really just like any other skill. It takes a little dedicated practice to establish a pattern of action and then becomes commonplace.

Many of the ways to maximize the effect of each mode are common knowledge. Any college skills guide will tell you that to get the most out of your studying, there are some key things you can do. The ways to get the most out of your creative and productive bursts are no different in these contexts. They do have very different mental approaches, however. The creative mode is one defined by exploration, playfulness, and experimentation. The productive mode is one of goals, deadlines, and progress. It’s the difference between walking casually through a park for no reason and sprinting down a street to catch a train. These splits of function are exactly what makes it impossible to coexist in both modes at the same time. While you can’t exist in both simultaneously, you can carry what you gain from creativity to apply it to your productivity by exploring, recording, translating, planning, and executing.

Exploration is the fundamental trait of the creative phase. By putting yourself in an isolated space for a window of about two hours you can give yourself the ability to play with the idea you’d like. It’s important to expect the first thirty minutes to be full of distractions. Much like in the practice of zen meditation you must accept this and not let it discourage you. When you sense your mind has wandered, just gently put it back on the topic. Give any thought that plays with the idea, no matter how silly or random it seems, a chance. Often it’s the ideas that don’t fit that lead you to the ones that do. Also keep in mind that you’ll often need a couple of these sessions before an appropriate idea really inspires you, and it may appear while you’re doing something entirely unrelated. Once you have the idea that has captured your focus, you can move to the second phase.

Recording, translating, and planning are the components of the transition phase. Recording is technically part of the creative phase. During the creative phase, it’s important to be taking casual and unstructured notes. Let yourself scribble the half thoughts and ideas that surface; keywords, incomplete sentences, references, etc. Anything that lets you reference where your exploration has taken you. Once you’ve got the inspiration you’re going forward with, you move on to translation. This is a process of recreation and revision. You take the inspiration and hone it into a vision. You walk back over your records and see what bits of your exploration that can enhance the inspiration and work it into the goal that will convey your vision. After this comes the planning, technically a phase of the production. You take everything you’ve formed and create an outline. This framework will define your movement to completion and act as your boundaries during execution.

Executing is the drive of the productive phase. It is most important to realise that once you begin execution, there is no more room for alteration outside of necessity. Once you’ve identified your goal, planned your route, and begun travelling towards it, it is no longer appropriate to begin exploring alternate routes. Obviously, as in travel, there are sometimes unavoidable needs for detour, but as a rule you should continue forward and avoid redirection unless there is a pressing and obvious need. Again setting time frames and a specific location in which to work is the ideal for focus, but the real aim is to maintain focus on the plan and the goal.

Now while it may be obvious to some of you, let me note that this outline of movement from creativity to productivity is set for personal projects or endeavours that are self generated. When collaborating or working with clients it’s important to understand that you may have to fall back to the creative phase without having completed the goal or you may need to involve the input of others into the creative phase in the first place. It’s important to remain open and communicative in the creative phase. Yet in the productive phase it can be even more vital to remind people of the reality of their deadlines and encourage them to be certain of their need before they interrupt of back step the progression towards the goal. However, with these simple methods in mind and a little practice, you can become quite adept at bypassing creative blocks and holding onto your productive focus.

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About the Author:

I am a dedicated artist and have been providing creative visual services professionally since 2006. I survive off of capturing the visions of others on paper for them. I’m very good at it and I love what I do. I hold two behavioral science degrees and am a student at Boston University pursuing further education with the intention of eventually obtaining a PsyD in forensic psychology.
  • Great informative piece, Griffin! I can totally relate. For me it’s that I get stuck in the exploring phase, so I’m continuously mind mapping and thinking about new ideas and projects for myself and what I want to achieve for my business. For commissions I do have a framework and steps I go through. I let the client know about these as well and I think this makes sure I keep on track and I don’t wander around (too much). I set time frames but these are subjective and when I see I need more time I let the client now as the most important thing is that I can create what I envision as perfect as possible. So far so good!

    Welcome to EP!! 🙂

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  • I find that when I become too focus in what I do and become tired, I let myself out a bit. Nap do other things. The subconscious will just take care of the rest. Sometimes concentrating too much on the task for fear that you might loose track of what you are doing can actually provide the opposite.

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