If you’ve ever seen the movie Walk the Line, a Johnny Cash biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, then you’ll remember how this incredible artist and storyteller constantly teetered on the brink of brilliance and self-destruction for most of his life as a singer/songwriter. His music lit a fire that spread across the nation, but his addictive habits threatened to undermine what was bound to be a stratosphere-bound career.
In the same way, at Fuse, we constantly walk the line of creativity and productivity. As writers, animators, designers, and strategists, our best work comes when we are making something. But in today’s world of endless email, constant communication channels, and last-minute changes, it’s easy to feel busy and productive without actually producing anything.
And yet, we need those channels of communication to remain open and flowing so that we can absorb as much information and perspective from our clients as possible.
So how do we maintain balance?
First, we have to be self-aware. Studying our own habits and tendencies will help us crack the code of productivity and creativity. If we are most energetic in the morning, we might enjoy the dopamine rush of emails pouring in and cranking out response after response. But that means we are setting ourselves up for a terrible crash in the afternoon. On the other hand, if your energy comes later in the day, slogging through the pile of emails first thing in the morning might drag on for the entirety of the day, and prevent you from ever getting to that prime creativity mode. If you’re a morning person, save the first hour or two of your day for the projects that require the deepest thinking. If you’re an evening person, block off your calendar in the afternoon so that you know that you only have a set amount of hours to deal with email and meetings before it’s time to get down to business.
Second, we have to think long-term. Every project needs a research phase. This is the perfect time to open the fire hose and take in as much input as possible, to completely immerse ourselves in the world or our client. It takes discipline and planning, however, to know when to turn the fire hose off. Nobody can think straight with that much information pouring in at once. Set a firm goal or deadline for when your team will close the door, find some silence, and start synthesizing and creating something out of everything that you just learned.
Third, pour time and energy into the tasks that are most important to you and your company. If it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, we are very quickly trending towards becoming a culture that’s very good at typing emails and Slack messages back and forth to one another. Minimize the amount of time it takes you to do menial or low-value tasks and start pouring your valuable hours into becoming an expert at something that differentiates you. Whether that be sketching out corporate strategies, composing moving speeches, or extracting great stories from film footage, the talents that you reap will be reflections of the time that you give.
So, let’s recap.
Creativity and productivity need each other like good music needs a good rhythm. Productivity gives creativity structure, and creativity gives productivity greater meaning. By maintaining a healthy perspective on our own habits, separating our time into productive and creative phases, and investing in the tasks and projects that actually matter, we can walk the line.