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Creativity against the clock

How to stay creative in time pressured environments

Creativity against the clock blog post - Thrive Learning (1)

Sometimes, it feels like the path to creativity is littered with obstacles. And one of these is time. When the pressure’s on and work needs to be delivered yesterday, how do we find the time to innovate?

To answer that question, creativity guru Richard Hyde joined the THRIVE team for an ‘unleashing creativity’ workshop with an eye on the clock.

What are your priorities?

As the not-so-old saying goes, “You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce.’” So while we can’t make our day any longer, we can follow in the footsteps of Queen B and use our time more effectively.

Four types of work

Based on the research of Mark McGuinness, Richard explained that there are four categories of tasks. Making the most of your time is all about prioritising the ones that give the greatest creative return:

  1. Ongoing work, like emails, should be eliminated as far as possible
  2. Backlogs should only be cleared if they contribute to creativity
  3. Events should be avoided unless they have a creative goal
  4. Creative assets are what you should really be focusing on – this is the riskiest but most rewarding type of work

While you might not be able to strip out the first three categories altogether, you can be more deliberate about your priorities.

Starting the day right

What’s the first thing you do when you get into work? If you’re anything like me, you check your email. But we discovered that this isn’t the best way to get into a creative mindset.

Richard showed us the daily routines of some of history’s greatest creative minds. One of the things that struck us was how many of them preferred to work in the morning. It just seems to be a more creative time of day.

We talked about how we could rethink our own schedules to focus on creative tasks in the morning. Some of the more mundane work, like replying to emails, could wait until the afternoon.

Shortcuts to creativity

When time is tight, it’s important to have good techniques on hand to inspire creative thought. Richard shared some tips for how to innovate, even when it feels like everything’s been done before:

  • Bring together two totally unrelated ideas to create something new
  • Use mock authenticity to hoodwink your audience before revealing the truth, like in this funny blog
  • Consider releasing content episodically, rather than all in one go

One of the things that we enjoy about Richard’s workshops is how far away from our day-to-day work of creating off-the-shelf microlearning we travel. Yet, somehow, we always manage to apply the ideas to our content in an exciting and novel way.

This tells us that it’s definitely worth prioritising these types of creative activities. Although they might not immediately ‘get things done’, they sow the seeds of innovation, planting ideas in our minds ready for when we need them.

From time-pushed to timeless

With his usual innovative take on things, Richard came at the idea of being short on time from an unexpected angle, too. He asked us to think about what makes a creation timeless.

We looked at Picasso’s Guernica and discussed what makes this emotionally wrenching depiction of war more timeless than a photograph of the same scene.

We realised that we could apply some of the answers to our own work:

  • When it comes to imagery, painting (or illustration) doesn’t date in the same way as photography
  • Human emotions are universal, so content that appeals to the emotions will remain enduringly engaging
  • To teach something, you don’t always need to faithfully depict the (time-bound) scenario in which it happened – sometimes symbolism is enough

It was reassuring to learn that making something timeless doesn’t, ironically, require much time – Picasso painted Guernica to a tight deadline.

What’s next?

At THRIVE, we’re excited to apply these techniques to cultivate creativity when the pressure’s on. We think that creativity is a skill that’s learned, just like any other. Doing it well is simply about combining the right techniques with lots of practice, regardless of how much time we have spare.

But what about you? Do you think Richard’s tips could help spark your creativity? Try starting tomorrow by not opening your email, and see what happens.

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