Getting The GOOOD Shit Done: 5 Things Creative Folk Can Learn From Productive Folk

May 1, 2013

In my search for online material relating to the creative process I keep tripping over blog posts with advice about being more productive and getting more shit done. Systematize this, Automate that, Outsource the rest (preferably to a foreigner who charges less than $2/hr).

There are contests for who can get the most shit done in the shortest amount of time. The winner gets an ebook about how to quadruple shit output in a quarter of the time. Forget about quality or originality or craftsmanship, it’s all about producing quick and massive piles of shit.

This Baby Baboon is more creative than you By: Hen Riko

These types of articles often share real estate with tips on “5 Easy Ways to Enhance your Creativity –  so easy that a Blindfolded Baby Baboon Could Do Them” or “Unleashing the Creative Tsunami Within”.  You know, the quality stuff.

How can they inform one another, to help us not just get shit done, but to get the GOOOD shit done?

Guilt, Shame & Murder

If you’re not accomplishing several things simultaneously right now then you are probably feeling a little guilt, with a sprinkling of shame mixed in, and surely some murderous thoughts towards me for wasting your valuable time (or perhaps for my Jack Blackian physique). I know I’ve harbored those same thoughts while wasting my precious coffee buzz reading productivity blog posts.

Our culture has programmed us to be busy, to be working on or producing something…anything…all of the time. If you are producing something you are creating something right? Who cares if it is someone else’s idea, or a strategy you have tweaked or modified ever so slightly, you are creating something where there was nothing before. You are a busy, productive creative genius, right?

If Only Productivity really meant Mai Tais on the Beach By: Sarah_Ackerman

That’s what those productivity gurus might have you believe. They would probably argue that you don’t even need to be busy, that you can actually increase productivity while enjoying the company of beautiful women and  Mai Tais on the beach. Unfortunately, the reality is that extra time usually means more time to think about how to be more productive, and a vicious time sucking cycle ensues.

When you are producing, you are concerned with how to produce more more more. How to become more efficient. How to make more money. How to pump out more product. It is a loop, and the more consistent and quantifiable things are the better.

Creativity abhors this kind of consistency,monotony and consumption. Creativity is about freedom to wander, to linger, to explore. There is no timetable, and often no particular goal. Unfortunately, this results in absolutely nothing being produced.

A creative artist who never produces any creative work is not much of an artist at all. Artists must produce work in order to share and inspire others, and producers must find new ideas (ie be creative) or risk over-saturation and irrelevance as tastes and needs change quickly.

What Creative Folk Can Learn From Productive Folk

Although we’d all benefit from more creativity everywhere, I’m not as interested in how producers can create more commercial crap. I’m more interested in how artists (like me as I am now sometimes referring to myself) can become more productive while still maintaining integrity and connection.

Although their priorities are often messed up, co-opting a couple of tools from the productivity people might actually be useful.

The GOOOD Shit

  • Ground Prep: With any creative work are some phases which are not as creative but can help to prep the ground for the real work/play/flow. For example perusing the thesaurus for a bunch of words that may be used, or creating a kind of mind map with different ideas I can hand over to the muse when she’s ready to write a song. Re-sizing images and adding links on blog posts, researching locations for a book or deciding on color schemes can all fall into this prep work. When the creativity is not flowing, I can still spend some productive time with other tasks that will help when the flow is at full force.
  • Outlines: Sometimes that blank piece of paper can become a giant white whale staring me down with beady eyes and a confidence sucking mouth. Throwing down a general outline can get some ideas on the page. These may change drastically as the piece evolves, but it can be useful to break the seal. I’ve started using some outlining techniques in songwriting that are helping. These include creating quick boxes that follow the potential progression of the song and lists of rhyming words that may end up populating it.
  • Outcomes: Splitting up a project into manageable outcomes can help with the overwhelm, and also create some natural breaks and times for daydreaming in between tasks. Completing tangible goals within a larger project can help motivate me – I’ve accomplished s0mething and I’ve got another segment I can tackle next.
  • Odds & Ends:  Along the same lines as outcomes, it can be useful to divide different outcomes into different piles. So I’ve got a research pile, a boring task pile, a creative pile etc (for me these piles are virtual, just different lists on a page). Depending on energy, mood and time I can go to a pile and accomplish something, which keeps momentum and self esteem high.
  • Deadlines: If it has to be done by a certain time then it’s done, even if it is not perfect. Often deadlines that are self imposed can be a little shaky for me, so scheduling a gig or an art show is certainly a way to make sure it happens. Even committing to an open mic night or a weekly poetry group where I need to bring something new every week can light that fire. I’m finding this is happening with this blog post (it is not getting itself done dammit), so I just imposed a 30 min deadline. It will not be perfect, but it will be.

Maybe those productivity gurus are onto something after all with their 4 hour work weeks and Mai Tais on the beach. Now if we can only turn them on to some creativity tools to help them start producing more GOOOD shit, instead of just more shit, we’ll all be better off.


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