It’s Hard to Be Creative When… Business

A business man looks down at his watch.
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Being a creative who also owns a business is tough. It means tons of time to spent running the business and often not enough creating. Here’s how to balance the mundane so you can stay imaginative.

Looking up at tall, glass-walled business offices.

As our video production company, client base, and our staff grows, so does the business work that comes along with it. Budgeting, HR, sales, and the thousand other things that go into running a successful business expand, taking you away from the creative aspects you really want to be doing. You stop creating art and start creating business.

As I sit here at 1:14 AM on a Tuesday night working on a blog to expand our online presence to drive new business I ask myself… Could I be doing something more creative?

Yes. There are literally hundreds of creative things I could be working on right this minute. But I can’t because I have a deadline tomorrow morning that I must meet. I asked my employees to meet it, and I have to follow suit. I had another topic in mind and it was even more business-y than this post. I just couldn’t bring myself to write it tonight. I just couldn’t do it. I sat in front of my computer for 45 minutes and I could not get one word out. My phone would buzz. My email would beep. I started thinking about something I forgot during the day and immediately had to work on it. All of the business stuff was freezing my brain, preventing me from writing a single creative word.

I sat for a minute and took a sip of my lime seltzer and began tocontemplate how all of the business in my life takes away from my creativity. 

A man focuses on creative writing on his laptop in a dark room.

I then convinced myself that that wasn’t true. I told myself that because of business I’m able to do more creative things. I can take on projects that don’t pay anything without going hungry. I can pitch a creative idea to my staff on-the-fly and let them build upon my initial vision. I create new business solutions to complex business problems.

At that moment, I had a profound realization: I’m only able to truly be creative in bursts. If I have a project that requires more creative time, I need to completely separate myself from the world and the business. I am easily distractible, both by outside forces but even more so by myself. Those little voices in my head constantly tell me what I have to do next. And they are impossible to turn off. This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the past couple of weeks. I even went as far as to buy a three hundred dollar pair of headphones in an effort to shut out the world around me and focus me on the task at hand. The headphones have been quite helpful, making me at least 20% more productive on business tasks during the workday.

The next day.

It’s now early Wednesday morning. I could not write anymore last night. Instead I laid in my bed ‘til 3AM thinking about this subject. Here is what I came up with and how I plan on structuring my days in the weeks to come. My guess is that these ideas will evolve. If try these techniques or have suggestions to improve them, please comment below so we can all share in the knowledge!

Making creative bursts as valuable and meaningful as possible.

It’s important to note that creative thought can be, and should be, applied to business. But in this exercise I’d like us to focus on creative bursts as it relates to creative services work.

Write it down.

Man writing down creative thoughts and ideas.

During your busy day, thousands of creative thoughts cross your mind. Get a small notebook you can keep in your pocket and write them down immediately as they come to you. Once you write them down they no longer sit in your brain distracting you from business tasks. Added plus: you know those nuggets of gold won’t get lost in the abyss. If you have a stroke of brilliance that applies to a current project, make sure to write it down on a page that can be torn out. Then, pass the page along to the appropriate creative worker. That is, unless you have horrible handwriting that requires hiring a cryptographer to decode the text.

When you write things down, you can stop thinking about it. Creative minds work best when they don’t have all these thoughts jumping around in their brains. Aim to have a mind like water. When water is calm there are no ripples. There is no disturbance. This is the mind of insight; the mind that gives up its internal dialogue. A mind like this has nothing more to say. Instead, it acts as an observer, its awareness extending beyond the phenomenal world. Minds like these are where creative genius happens. Think about your last creative ideas. I bet they came to you when driving, working out, or on a long walk. That’s because when your mind is clear, your creativity flows freely.

Don’t over share.

Not every idea that you write in your notebook is a winner. Sometimes we need to flesh out ideas before they are passed off. Don’t bog down your team with things that distract them from their own creative work. You need your team to be productive, and it’s unfair to clog their brains with information that derails their workflow. Share ideas for the specific project at hand; that adds value. Think about them for a minute, and then if they are deemed valuable share them with your creative team.

Make the creative idea actionable.

Make sure that each idea has an actionable component. Be clear about how you want to implement the creative idea, and be sure to find alignment with your creative worker before moving on. If you miss this step, you are merely adding another distraction and wasting the creative burst.

If the idea is not fully-formed or if you cannot conceive an action assignment, don’t worry. Just hold onto it until you can set aside uninterruptible creative time to flesh it out.

Organize business tasks into dedicated chunks of time.

Use your calendar to lay out specific chunks of time each day that are completely dedicated to business activities. Put on headphones or earplugs, shut your door or isolate yourself as much as possible. This includes turning your phone on silent to avoid interruptions. During this time try to work as efficiently as possible. Start by making a list of what needs to get done. Something as simple as this…

  1. Get inbox to zero.
  2. Call client about video shoot next week
  3. Fill out workers comp insurance forms
  4. Sign contracts
  5. Write employee yearly review

Cross each one off as you complete it. Seeing a dramatic increase in productivity by following these steps is the norm. As I stated at the beginning of this post, I am about 20% more efficient using this practice.

Organize larger creative tasks into set chunks of uninterruptible time.

When you need to handle a larger creative task like writing a video script or performing a video edit, make sure to put yourself in a space where you can’t be interrupted. Turn off your e-mail, turn off your phone, and clear your mind.

Clearing your mind might require you writing down all the business tasks stuck in your head. Do it! Write them down and then come back to them later. Put all of your energy into making the creative time as productive as possible. Write down your creative goals like this…

  1. Do assembly video edit.
  2. Write down notes about possible issues with the video edit.
  3. Write down solutions to those problems.
  4. Read an article about story development

Am I fool-proof, or full of shit?

By following these simple suggestions you can create more creative time. By being more effective at getting your business work done, you can return to your valuable creative work.

This is not a proven system but in theory it should work. Try it out and let me know your thoughts. If you think it sucks: that’s fine too. Just let me know!


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