Is it possible to be both creative and productive—to deliver imagination and innovation on demand? Absolutely. Creativity and productivity don’t have to be mutually exclusive. With the right environment, mindset, and productivity tips, content marketers can achieve both.
I’ve always agreed with Duke Ellington’s take on the creative process. As the famed jazz composer once said, “I don’t need time, I need a deadline.” A wise statement indeed. Given extra time, creative types will almost always take it.
Michael Crichton spent eight years researching and writing Jurassic Park, and Sphere took him 20. After publishing The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien waited 16 years before publishing the sequel. And Stephen King took more than 24 years to complete his seven-book series, The Dark Tower. (Confession: When King was hit by a van in 1999—at which point he still had three books left to write in the series—my first thought was, “Please don’t let him die before finishing Roland’s story.” I know, I’m a terrible person, but I doubt I’m the only selfish fan who worried more about the story than the health of the writer who’d left us hanging for two decades.)
Novelists might have the luxury of being able to wait for their muses to appear, camp out on Walden Pond and think without distractions, and bang out more than a few sentences without being interrupted by someone’s “quick question.” But in the business world, ain’t nobody got time for that.
Most marketing-focused jobs today require professionals to be both creative and productive, to be thoughtful and imaginative in busy, noisy environments, and to clear their minds and meet deadlines despite distractions.
So how can you improve your writing proficiency without sacrificing quality? Here are seven research-backed productivity tips to help you crank out creative marketing on a deadline:
On average, we experience minor interruptions every three minutes and major interruptions four times per hour. After these attention-stealing distractions, it takes 23 minutes to regain focus and get back up to speed. That amounts to hours of wasted time each day.
Of course, distractions are unavoidable, especially in a highly collaborative profession such as marketing. But when you need quiet time to think and write, find ways to get it. Work from home for the day, or put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you’re at the office. I once shared office space with a marketing/ideation firm that hung vintage “On Air” lights above everyone’s desk. That way employees could let their colleagues know when it was OK to interrupt them and, more importantly, when it wasn’t.
Don’t think you have time to slow down? Consider this: Even brief diversions from a task or problem can dramatically improve your ability to focus on it for prolonged periods. In other words, a short break makes you more creative and more productive when you get back to work.
The next time your creativity starts to lag, step away from the computer. Grab a cup of coffee. Chat with a colleague. Step outside and get some fresh air. Read an article you bookmarked but haven’t had time to peruse. Or my personal favorite: Play a quick game. (I know my Game of War app isn’t the most intellectual way to waste a few minutes, but it works for me.)
To get your brain moving faster, try moving your feet. Creative thinking significantly improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a new study by Stanford researchers. Even walking indoors on a treadmill increases creative output by an average of 60 percent compared to sitting.
If you ever have trouble sleeping, you know better than to glance at your alarm clock. Once you see how much time you don’t have, anxiety kicks in and wakes you up even more.
Similarly, the more time you spend worrying about the clock running down at work, the less efficient you’ll be. For example, a Formula One pit crew discovered that the more they focused on speed—arguably the most important aspect of their job—the slower they performed. In response, crew leaders changed tactics and decided their team would no longer be assessed based on time, but rather on their ability to work seamlessly as a group. This resulted in better teamwork and—surprise, surprise—faster speeds. When the crew focused on effectiveness over efficiency, they actually improved in both areas.
Celebrities and urban hipsters aren’t the only ones meditating these days. Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, Arianna Huffington, and many other business leaders have sworn by meditation and mindfulness techniques for boosting focus, creativity, and energy levels.
Several recent studies have proven these execs right: New research from the Netherlands shows people who meditate for 25 minutes before completing a creative task perform better than those who don’t. This is even true for people who’ve never practiced meditation before.
When I was in college, I could never study in the library. It was too quiet. I preferred to hunker down at a local coffee shop, where the constant sounds of beans grinding and milk frothing drowned out most of the loud talkers and made for the perfect study environment.
Turns out, there’s a good reason for that. While peace and quiet can be important for creative thinking, too much quiet can have the opposite effect. A low-to-moderate level of ambient noise (50 to 70 decibels) enhances performance on creative tasks, whereas a high level of noise (85 decibels) impairs creativity and focus.
Scientists recently proved what artists have always known—that a little booze is one of the best ways to get creative juices flowing.
Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago discovered creativity and problem solving skills peak when a person’s blood alcohol content is around 0.075 percent. Of course, this opens up another question: How do you get creative types to stop drinking after 0.075?
All joking aside, the creative boost you get from alcohol must be weighed against professionalism and personal safety. In other words, unless your boss is down with day drinking—and you have the self-control to keep it in check—this creativity booster is better reserved for after-hours work.
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