Being Smart with Your Creative Time

The following is just a collection of observations and thoughts that I’ve had in my mind about the importance of making the most of your time when it comes to creative work.

What follows is not about time management. It’s about creativity management.

Solve the Problem First

Most creative work is about providing solutions for the client’s creative problems. A client will need a menu designed for their restaurant, they need a logo designed, they need a new look for their website.

When we see these opportunities in which we can apply our creativity, I think most creative professionals start that mental chain reaction in which we end up letting our infinitely extended, limitless creative minds do the driving. Grand ideas start pouring in. We start thinking about "the possibilities." We start letting the project get bigger than it has to be.

Instead, try approaching the project in a problem-solving-oriented manner. Firstly, look at the project as providing a solution, and then when you’ve come up with the solution, maybe you can start thinking about how to apply your personal brand of creativity to that solution. They hired you for a reason, but that reason might not exactly be the reason you want it to be.

You have to remember that creative work isn’t about putting your creativity on display, it’s about using your creativity to achieve results for your clients.

Be Succinct with Your Idea

If you can’t sum up what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it in less than 15 seconds, your idea is too big or too complex and you probably won’t get the project done on time.

Your idea is just the first step in the completion of a creative task. Therefore, make it easy to understand not just for your clients but also for yourself. Make it simple. Make it something concrete and actionable. When you have that, your work will inherit the same succinctness.

Treat your idea like it’s Muhammad Ali’s straight jab. It was never his most powerful punch in the ring but it was quick, direct and forceful enough to back down his opponents. It also allowed him to set up his opponents for the more powerful punches in his arsenal. Most importantly, it scored him points in the judges’ cards. That’s how he won a lot of his matches.

Decide and Then Implement

I’ve struggled with this aspect of creative work in the past. I’d get into Photoshop or Illustrator, start playing around with effects and then 6 hours would go by and I’d realize that the time I spent was actually a waste because the resulting work was no good.

It was no good because I had no plan. All I had was faith in my creativity and a vague notion of what I wanted to achieve.

The trouble with ideas is that they will always get big because ideas will always seem good when you hear them from yourself.

Instead, think of what you want to achieve in a project and do only that. Decide on it before you start. Not doing so will open you up to delays that will ultimately cripple your ability to deliver to your clients.

Don’t Baby Your Project

So you got asked to design a new logo for a company. So you got asked to take product photos for a new line of jeans. So you got asked to write copy for a new ad campaign. So what? Do the work and move on.

Of course, you don’t want to mess up. Of course, you want to do your best work (any self-respecting creative professional would). However, keep in mind that perfection can never be achieved.

The things you don’t like about your work will rarely be noticed by someone else. And if they do, then, more often than not, there will be an easy fix for it.

If the client wants you to change something in the project, either change it and be done with it, or be ready to defend your decision with a solid, well-defined and concrete reason for not changing something. No matter what you do, don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about what’s best for your project.

Parting Words

Being a creative professional — whether you’re a photographer, illustrator, web designer, graphic designer, etc. — is often seen as a gift. After all, we get to do something that we can be very passionate about. Therefore, we have to be smart enough to know the pitfalls and the real opportunities that can elevate our work to be something great.

Doing creative work is still work, although sometimes it might be easy to forget that because it’s a very enjoyable profession. Always remember that you have deadlines, clients to answer to and an audience that will need to see your work.

  • Julie Loehr

    This is great wisdom! How many hours are wasted on letting creativity flow and the problem isn’t solved. Before each project I will now ask:
    What is the solution the client wants?
    What do I want to achieve for them?
    Then begin!
    Thank you!

  • This can be hard advice to take. The insights are good.

  • glg

    wow,,its really hard to answer XD

  • The comparison to Ali’s jab was just spot-on. It wasn’t the best weapon in his arsenal, but it got the job done. That also goes for much of our creative work– most of it need not be masterpieces, only that they should do the work for which we’re being paid for.

    Thanks for a very insightful article.

  • Muhammad Ali’s, such a man! Great Writeup, Thanks for sharing.

  • At the time of net surfing, I have found your blog. Really,it is very much informative. Thanks for nice sharing.

  • BV

    Great and inspiring post – like many other posts in this blog 🙂 I see it as sort of returning to the old phrase “define the problem and you’re halfway there” (or something like that – don’t remember the exact words). Anyway; I’ve found on several occasions that it’s actually true; start out by spending some time thinking about the problem and then (re-)define the problem in your own words. In this way, you internalize (as you force yourself to phrase the problem through analysis and synthesis) and you’ll be able to discuss the problem / need with the client on a more informed level.

  • BV

    Oh – and one more thought that occured to me when I read the passage about spending six hours in Photoshop or Illustrator and getting nowhere: From my own experience (and after having read this kind of advice in a lot of places off- and online), sketching out possible solutions by hand before diving into your digital tool of choice can really save a lot of time and effort as well. In this way, you can sometimes hit the head of the nail before even producing anything digital – and can spend valuable time refining your idea digitally (+ produce the final outcome) instead.