When my co-workers try to schedule meetings with me or my team in the morning, they nearly always find it impossible. Given that I run a small, internal creative agency inside a growing digital entertainment company, there are a lot of meetings throughout the day; kick-off meetings, brainstorming sessions, meeting to cull and collect reviews and feedback, etc.
Without a way to keep them in check, without a way to put up some barriers, meetings can overrun our designers’ days. My team has been given the greenlight (by me, and only me), to block off their mornings to focus on actual work. Meetings often add value, but they also can stand in the way of the work that we hire our creative staff to contribute and create.
Put some structure in the day
We get in, by 10am at the latest (we can talk about that another day), and start things off with a daily standup meeting. It’s short, 15 minutes max, and let’s us all connect on what we’re working on, identifying obstacles, and outlining our goals and deliverables for the day. Then everyone jumps into a block of work that’s at least 90 minutes.
The door shuts to the design office, producers have been instructed to leave everyone alone, email is closed, and they get to dig in and really make progress on the day’s work.
Afternoons are a different story. We have to make room for meetings, but even then, you have to limit them if you intend on being productive. Don’t tell anyone here, but I’ve also told the team to decline meetings if they already have 90 minutes of meetings scheduled on any given day. How can we be expected to hit deadlines if our designers are consistently locked in meetings.
How other historic creative people have spent their time each day
I think it’s always interesting to see how other people spend their time. Take a look below at how some of (recent) history’s minds have split up the hours in their day.
You also need creative space
Overhead fluorescent lights, loud talking, foot traffic; these are all the bane of anyone trying to focus.
We fought and fought and fought for it, and finally, our design team has their own office. No producers, no creative director, just designers who are given the freedom to shut their door and focus. Rarely will you find overhead lights on in there (still don’t think I’ve seen them on, except for an errant flipping of the switch here or there). Ninety-five percent of the time, all of the shades are drawn. And it’s completely up to them to set a mood that works for the collective.
You have to be comfortable in your space. You need certain constants you can control, things that can become habitual, to help create the creative rhythm.
I like how Sarah Lewis terms it in her presentation at the 99U Conference (below):
“Putting out something that’s new in the world, requires a temporary removal from it.” – Sarah Lewis
Clearly, what we create out of passion, and the work we do for income are not always married. We may strive for iconoclastic status with our personal projects, art, or passion work, while our goals might differ when we’re building for our clients and/or our day jobs. Of course we strive for success and greatness in everything we do…
But the space required is very, very similar.
And, it’s not just creative people that require this level of focus and directed attention to task. Everyone at our company, be they in finance, production, engineering, or human resources; we’re all open to meetings, and can all suffer at the productivity they potentially inhibit.
It’s on you, and no one else to create the space
Personally, I like to get in earlier. At least 3-4 times a week, I’m one of the first people through the door for the entire office. I can get in, turn on the music, and get to work without the distractions that arrive with the rush hour.
Find balance in your day. Create space for creativity to bloom, whether it’s in your personal home studio or in your corporate cubicle. And if you find yourself consistently overbooked…book yourself time for the following week before someone else does. Give yourself the time for the work that you’ve been tasked to complete.
As always, if you have any tips, please share. I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts.