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How to Balance Creativity and Productivity

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

A post over at about the struggle between creativity and productivity is getting a lot of attention today. I don't usually link to trendy articles, but this is right up my alley:

"I get more done in less time than I ever have, but sometimes I feel like there’s nothing creative about my work anymore. Sure, I make the doughnuts every day but am not inventing the cronut. How do you accomplish your work but also leave ample time for letting your creative mind off the leash?"

Short answer: embrace the calendar. Long answer:

I wrote several articles about the tug-of-war between creativity and productivity 5 years ago. I went on podcasts to defend my anti-productivity rants. The debate got as far as David Allen himself mentioning it on a podcast (though not me by name), where he quickly dismissed the issue. He claimed this struggle is well covered in the Getting Things Done philosophy.

I'd like to say I've come a long way since then, but the truth is this has always been a struggle and always will be. The philosophy behind GTD is more solid than I gave it credit for back then. This is mostly because the foundation of GTD is at the intersection of buddhism and neuroscience. There's essentially thousands of years of research into the mind, backed by new scientific discoveries, that went into GTD. It's a good system.

It's the implementation of GTD that's the issue. It's intended to be different for every user, but it's usually not practiced that way.

If you don't have enough white space in your life to create, either build that white space into your life or, if you don't have that agency over your time, be OK with where you are until you do. Stop being so hard on yourself. The anxiety of not getting something done is far worse for you than not getting something done.

After a decade, I still use GTD, but I use it as an inbox - a place where I capture all my actionable ideas. But the calendar is where I organize my life now, because time is the common denominator for all these struggles, tasks, and projects.

Your life can be filled with endless tasks and the anxiety of not knowing whether you'll have the time to complete them, or you can ensure there's whitespace for the balance between play and work by building it into your habits and calendar. You just have to learn to be OK with the concrete fact (obvious on a calendar) that the less important tasks will have to fall away. Let them go.

Be healthy. Build more play into your life. Don't expect it to happen on its own.