Jay Feitlinger is an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in the Arizona chapter. He’s an author, serial entrepreneur and founder of StringCan Interactive, an online marketing agency specializing in helping family-oriented businesses grow. As a self-identified “creative” running a successful business, we asked Jay how he strikes a balance between creativity and productivity. Here’s what he shared.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a label-filled business world. We say we’re either “creative” or “productive,” and rarely do these two traits play well together. They’ve even spawned stereotypes: “You’re creative? Better rein you in and keep you on task!” Or, “You’re a real process person. Bet you even manage your grocery lists in a spreadsheet!“
But this approach does us all a disservice. After all, creativity and productivity must both exist for an enterprise to move past stagnation and achieve results. No business can succeed without nurturing both.
Research indicates that more innovative companies can achieve 75 to 85 percent greater profit in five years than less innovative ones. But in order to roll out innovations and creative upgrades to maximum effect, you must see them through to completion―thus the need for productivity.
I’ve learned two lessons about this tightrope walk, which may help you navigate it, too.
The Individual Battle: Eat A Frog
I’m a self-professed creative, and I’ve also been labeled a serial entrepreneur. Coming up with fresh ideas and starting new companies is in my blood; I’m perpetually creating in my mind. However, I have struggled with finishing tasks fully and maximizing my time. I once considered this a disadvantage, but instead of doubting myself for not being the most naturally productive person in the world, I now embrace it. I know I would way rather create than check items off my to-do list, so I’ve put guardrails in place that enable me to do both.
Mark Twain said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” And this is what I do. I start my day tackling the top three priorities that I must complete to be productive. Facing a finite number of items makes them all achievable. I chose three priorities because it strikes a good balance: It’s more than one, which might feel like phoning it in, but less than five, which could feel daunting. Once I’ve completed these three tasks, my mind is free to do the creative work I love.
I also set frequent mini-deadlines for projects, often several times a week, so my team and I are forced to condense our creative processes in order to get things done. I recommend trying this strategy if you’re in the creative camp like me.
On the other side of the coin are those who get giddy about task management tools. You know who you are! If you’re excited by order but struggle with the creative process, I have two tips for you: 1. Read, and 2. Be present.
Let’s say you’ve been asked to dream up a new campaign concept. Start by setting a 20-minute timer and spending that time reading articles online related to the topic. This can get your creative juices flowing very quickly.
Then, set another timer and jot down ideas, no matter how crazy or weird you think they are. This is often called “stream of consciousness,” and it’s a popular strategy because it works. When the timer buzzes, organize what you’ve written. It can be like putting a puzzle together, matching pieces of your ideas to form a cohesive concept. This will help stimulate your creativity, all within the comfort of time parameters that your productive self will appreciate.
Courtney Smith, co-founder of PureMatter, says, “Creativity takes inspiration; process takes dedication.” So, if you struggle with productivity, implement a couple of simple processes to keep you moving forward. And if you struggle with creativity, you might just need some inspiration.
The Internal Battle: A Balancing Act
Helping your entire business straddle the line between creativity and productivity can be a little more difficult. But we’ve hit on an effective solution that I want to share.
Clients often ask us to come up with innovative ways to tell their story, but considering that countless brand stories have been told through a variety of mediums, it takes a lot of time and intentionality to be completely unique. Still, we’re able to be successful by blending the best of both creativity and productivity through the following process:
- Alignment. We dig into the client’s goals and background, so our first round of ideas aligns with the client’s vision.
- Discovery. Then we research―a lot. This helps ensure we’re messaging and positioning differently than competitors are, and it often inspires new ideas.
- Meaningful meetings. We meet once for creative bursts asking, “Why do this?” and once for process creation to decide “How to get it done.” We purposefully hold two separate meetings, so our brains aren’t switching between imagination and analysis in a single sitting. And we include a mix of naturally creative and naturally productive people in each meeting to provide balance.
These steps help us operate within the boundaries of productivity, while still allowing ourselves to be inspired and think freely. If you’ve wrestled with successfully making progress while simultaneously allowing your creativity to flourish, try establishing a similar process.
Creativity and productivity will never work in tandem if you just cross your fingers and hope for the best, but by approaching them proactively and strategically, they can end up as unlikely best friends.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.