How do you get more creative work done? This is a topic I obsess about — helping creative professionals find a way to do more of the work they love. Today, I want to share three examples of what this looks like, and how it is often counterintuitive.
FOCUS ON YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM, NOT HACKS, TRICKS, AND APPS
A recent episode of This American Life profiled how to make better cars by giving us a history lesson in quality control in an auto factory. The story focused on a single factory and how other companies tried to get ahead by copying the efficient design of a specific factory, and why doing so didn’t work:
“When he realized how much of the factory system happened off of the factory floor, he asked why Toyota had been so open in showing their operations? They recognized we were asking all of the wrong questions. They were all focused on the assembly line. The issue is, how do you support that system with all the other functions that take place in the organization.”
When you just copy the factory floor, but miss out on the rest of the support system, your cars still suck. You fill them with low-quality parts, and your workforce outside of the factory floor — designers, leadership, etc. — are not equipped to attend to quality in other ways.
Too often, I see creative professionals thinking that the best way to get more done and be happier is to add one more productivity app to their life. As if adding this additional function to a broken system will somehow fix it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of tools — I use loads of them in my daily workflow. But they are only added on top of one where I focus on core resources first. Let me describe two of them below…
SLEEP MATTERS, BUT WE NEVER TALK ABOUT IT
Get more sleep. Seriously.
Sleep is critical for your physical and mental health. Do you feel stretched to the seams, like your life will burst at any moment? Get. More. Sleep.
Some people consider busyness to be their badge of honor. They show off because their identity is rewarded for being perceived as “busy,” which somehow translates to “essential,” or even “productive”.
That’s a lie.
Yet, consider these two statements:
- Person A: “I’m so swamped. I’ve been working off of 5 hours of sleep for weeks now.”
- Person B: “I’m feeling sluggish today. I only got 8 hours of sleep last night, usually I average 9.”
That first person seems really important, right?
I’m midway through teaching my course, Fearless Work, and had an incredible conversation with one of the students this week. She’s a writer, and was telling the group about her struggle to get her writing done. There was lots of context, and somewhere in the middle, she mentioned she gets 4 hours of sleep per night because she has restless legs syndrome.
This floored me. I went back to it: “Only 4 hours per night?!”
To me, nothing else in the context mattered. If she is only getting 4 hours of sleep per night, that means that her core support system is fractured. No app can magically solve for this.
So we talked about sleep, about how she can proactively address this issue. That if her only takeaway from the course was to go from 4 hours of sleep to 5, that means the course gave her 25% more rest, which is critical for her physical and mental health, to her energy levels, to feeling sane. And all of this filters back down to her creative work.
Too often, we focus on time and money as core resources, but energy and rest matter much more.
SOMETIMES SUPPORT MEANS TRADING DIFFERENT KINDS OF RESOURCES
This year, I added a second member to my team. I am excited to publicly welcome Leah Shoemaker to team WeGrowMedia. She joined in early summer when we were in the middle of three back-to-back course launches at the time, and she jumped right in.
I’ll say this: Leah is incredible. She has been focused on graphic design, and I have been blown away by her skills, her ideas, and what an incredible pleasure she is to work with.
She is based in Canada, which rounds out the team geographically; I’m based in New Jersey, and Diane Krause (who has been with me for more than a year) is in Texas. None of us have ever met in person, yet we interact every day.
Now since this post is about resources, it’s worth noting that the decision to hire Diane and Leah comes at an expense. It takes resources to pay them, to work with them. But what I have found is that this is an exchange of resources. The money and time I invest comes back to me multi-fold in a wonderful team energy, plus the practical work that they do way better than I ever could!
Too often, we covet all of our resources. We spend days, weeks, months, and even years, calculating any financial investment, never taking action.
When I began hiring in 2014, I knew I needed to invest in skills: my own ability to work with and develop a team, and invest in others. Like all small businesses, I have very finite resources, and a thousand things I can spend money on each month. But paying them feels incredible, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. Having them in my life makes everything better.
They are my support system in many ways. And it feels wonderful to do anything I can to support them in how they want to grow — to provide resources to them.
Many creative professionals I speak with juggle 1,000 things a day. Their job, their family, their physical and mental health, their creative work, and so much else. In doing so, it is easy to let their support systems diminish. To “steal” time by robbing themselves of sleep. To “save” money by not hiring a team. To focus on adding one new “tool” to their life, not rethinking core processes.
But these deeper things are critical. How do you focus on your support system (however you define it), despite juggling 1,000 things each day?