11 Productivity tips that creative types already know

Creative types get typecast as meandering goal setters for a reason. They tend to meander. We resist structure (even tho’ we crave it it.) We relish spontaneity (even tho’ we’re intrigued by five year goal setting plans.) We tend to be driven by inspiration (when we’re not obsessed with looking good on paper, or to our parents – who still can’t figure out how we make a living.)

We get there in our own way and when the ‘flow’ works, we’re so smokin’ productive that pert charts and to-do lists cringe in the wake of our creative productivity. Creatives have a thing or two to teach the Linears and The Planners.


1. Approach everything as a creative opportunity. There is no separation between life and work. The same opportunities to express yourself or get great ideas are at the dinner table, in the stock exchange, and on the subway. Put yourself out there.

2. Obsession is essential. Know your art and your science. Immerse yourself in the cultures you love and work in: read industry news, the teachings of spiritual masters and successful entrepreneurs, listen to what the people you serve are longing for, asking for, and leaning toward.

To foster obsession:

3. Read a LOT of magazines. And then read some more … about things related and unrelated to your work, Scientific American and Vogue, Dwell and Rolling Stone. Magazines are intensified viewpoints that can expand your perspective in just a few pages.

4. Create a style file or inspiration box of stuff that you love. Photos, articles, fabric swatches, postcards. I have an antique sake box filled with strange and lovely stuff. Sometimes I close my eyes and reach in to see what comes up – an Elvis coaster, a Zen koan torn from a divinity school program, an old essay or concert ticket.

5. Watch dox. I’m a documentary-phile (always looking for versions of the truth,) which gives me all sorts of weird, tragic, breathtaking imagery, inspiration, and facts to work with.

6. Engage with people that you don’t hangout with. Ask them big questions. Ask the cab driver what crazy stuff he’s seen as a cab driver, ask your friend’s teenager what they think about the future, ask your bank teller what it’s like to work with money all day.

To keep moving forward:

7. Give up quickly. If something feels like a drag and is not generating the right response … drop it like a hot potato. As Seth Godin says in his book, The Dip, “Fail fast.”

In order to give up quickly, you have to…

8. Courageously express your feelings. When something feels very wrong, totally uninspiring, say so … to yourself and your team. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you give up, it may spin you off into a better solution.

So that you can:

9. Stick with it. If something feels fun, glimmering, exciting, and even one person has expressed wanting it from you … explore every angle about how to make it work.

And be assured that:

10. Backwards is forwards. Know that there is no such thing as waste. A painted canvas that didn’t turn out, a pilot group that fizzled, it’s all useful. I trash stuff and start from scratch often. Sometimes, especially in terms of web development, you start knowing that you’ll have to scrap half of what you build down the road – starting over is never really starting over. It’s life.

Which allows you to:

11. Celebrate other people’s creativity and prosperity. Honoring other people’s creativity and success helps shake loose our own brilliance. Whether it’s a hot website, a terrific outfit on the street, or a well known author – go out of your way to say, “You’re great!” “Way to go!” “I love what you’ve created.”

And then keep on creating for yourself. Ever so productively.



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