Scheduling Creative Tasks

If you’ve been following your Time Diet, you’ve already become an expert on scheduling a good variety of Meat tasks, Vegetable tasks and Dessert tasks into your day. However, you may have encountered a problem. Sure, it’s easy to schedule tasks that have a finite completion time. If I give myself half an hour to respond to some emails I’ve set aside, I know I can sit down and knock those out in the time allotted. When I sit down to finish my grades for school, I know that as long as I stay focused, I will have them done by the end of the afternoon. But what about those tasks that require more creative thinking?

Sometimes when you sit down to complete a creative task, it goes very quickly because you think of an idea right away. Other times you can spend what seems like hours just figuring out how to start because the ideas just aren’t coming to you. How in the world do you plan for that?

In one of my graduate classes at ASU, we read about a guy named Graham Wallas who explains why “planning” to be creative is such a problem. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are tons of theories out there about how creative thinking works, but this one really spoke to me. Wallas wrote about the 4 steps he believes make up the creative process.

Step 1: Preparation- This is when you gather information about the problem you are trying to solve (or in this case, the creative task you are trying to complete.)
Step 2: Incubation- This is when you step back from your task and allow all the information you’ve collected to sink-in and gel.
Step 3: Illumination- The moment of “illumination” is when a great idea comes to you. It’s that creative spark when a great idea pops into your head.
Step 4: Verification- This last stage is when you take this new idea and do something with it. This is when you test it out and see if it’s an idea worth sticking to.

When I read all this, I thought, “Ah ha! This explains why creativity doesn’t always mesh well with time management!” When we’re planning out our day, we need to take these steps, especially the one about incubation, into consideration. We can’t say, “I’m going to be creative between the hours of 4pm and 5pm today.” It doesn’t work like that! Instead, here are 3 ways you can make creative tasks work with your time management.

3 Strategies for Time Management of Creativity

1) Go do a Vegetable task. Taking your mind off of your creative task for a little while can help ideas come to you. This is that “Incubation” period Wallas talked about.  By doing an (easy) Vegetable task you can still be productive while waiting for inspiration to strike. (One of my fabulous professors says that you can always tell when she’s working on a big creative project because her garden looks amazing. Working in her yard is her “Vegetable” task she does when she’s searching for a creative idea.)

2) Just write something. When trying to come up with a good idea for a creative project, we sometimes get hung up on perfection. We hesitate to write a sentence until we are absolutely sure it is the perfect combination of brilliant words. This not only wastes time but it puts a lot of pressure on ourselves! Got an idea? Write it down! It doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s what revisions are for. Not sure if your creative idea is very good? Who cares! Go with it for a little bit. See where it takes you. Maybe you’ll come up with an even better idea in the process.

3) Set aside a day for creativity. This doesn’t mean you have to sit around the whole day waiting for that magical spark of inspiration, but it just means that you can be slightly less rigid in your planning. For example, instead of planning to be creative during one specific hour of the day, take a look at all the times in your day you could devote to this creative task. If you have time at 10am, 2pm and 6pm, leave yourself a little flexibility as to which of those times you use for your creative work and which you fill with other tasks. This way, you are still able to schedule your time but you don’t have to force that creative spark into a specific time slot.

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One Response to Scheduling Creative Tasks

  1. David Muller says:

    Nice job Emily!
    My best incubation times occur in the shower after a 20 minute “cat” nap, or during my one hour morning hike. BTW, 20 minute cat naps are great for getting your second wind of the day, with or without a follow-up shower, creative juices tend to flow as I get ready to tackle the rest of the day.
    Prof. Muller

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