Are we too busy to be creative?
Everyone is packing more into their working lives – and work is increasingly invading our leisure time. Apparently 69% of us cannot go to bed without checking email, and in the US, employees spend an extra 8.5 hours working every week compared to 1979.
And we’re continually being told to do more. But this normally translates into wasting our energies on ultimately unproductive activities such as sending and answering emails or sitting in endless meetings. McKinsey believe the average highly skilled office worker spends over a quarter of every day answering emails. The Dutch talk about vergaderziekte, which translates as ‘meeting sickness’. On one hand we make snap decisions to get emails out of our inbox and on the other fall asleep in day long meetings that seem to have no purpose.
It wouldn’t matter so much if this busyness translated into better business. But Robert Gordon of Northwestern University argued last year that the any additional productivity caused by the internet is much smaller than previous innovations such as indoor plumbing or electrification. Do you feel more productive?
For those of us in the creative industries the distractions and interruptions caused by modern business are particularly dangerous. And it is no accident that lots of startup ideas come from academia, where there is more time for uninterrupted research.
Creativity doesn’t come in the midst of an email or a meeting, but when you have time to think, unfettered by the ping of an incoming message hitting your inbox. Otherwise ideas come out half formed without reflection or perspective. Research at the University of California removed email from 13 people for five days and saw concentration levels rise and stress drop.
To win back our creativity and give time to thinking we need to regain control over our working lives. I’m no management guru, but here are five things that might help:
- Set aside thinking time. Leave your office, switch off your phone and just take an hour a week to focus, uninterrupted, on the big picture.
- Go for a run – get up from your desk and do some exercise. The added bonus is that if your company doesn’t have showers you won’t be invited to afternoon meetings.
- Use a pen and paper. Get your thoughts down longhand before opening up Word.
- Be ruthless. Turn down meetings (politely if possible) so that you have blocks of time to concentrate on what is important.
- Do less. Follow Ronald Reagan’s dictum “It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but why take the chance?” Do you need to check your email – and do you actually need to send that email to 20 people, with another 10 cc’d.
Whatever industry you are in, creative or not, take a step back and refocus if you want to be happier, more productive and more creative. Easier said than done perhaps, but the potential benefits are vast.