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Rethinking Productivity for Creatives

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

I’ve been posting a lot lately about productivity, or un-productivity really, and wondering why I’m dissatisfied with apps like Omnifocus and Things for task management.

I don’t believe I’m alone. I believe it has to do with the difference between analytical thinkers and creative thinkers.

I assume analytical thinkers dominate the development community; people who think in code and/or mathematics and develop apps that makes sense to their world view. These are the people who wish to digitize, automate and, if possible, attach a number to every action in their lives. I find these people tend to love Omnifocus and distrust any app with an even slightly less impressive set of features. The spokesperson for this group, in my mind, is Ben Brooks.

Analytical thinkers only represent half the people I follow online, though. The other half is populated mostly by writers and photographers, who embrace productivity apps, but struggle to actually get the most important things done using them. My spokesperson for this group may be Merlin Mann, or perhaps Patrick Rhone (who gets things done, but recently went back to paper).

My theory is that the creative mind approaches task management in a way David Allen, and the developers of most GTD-related apps, never accommodated in their methodologies. In short, I believe productivity methodologies themselves only aid Resistance.

Resistance, coined by Steven Pressfield and popularized by Seth Godin, is a term is used to describe the anything creatives use to distract themselves from the pain of accomplishing projects and facing criticism. From obsessively cleaning the house to checking Twitter, resistance comes in all forms. It’s sole purpose is to kill creative accomplishment.

It seems to me, GTD apps are Resistance’s greatest ally. There are so many ways to tag, organize, re-arrange and review tasks, it becomes a comfort to fiddle.

I don’t know how it works for analytical minds, but for my writer’s mind, GTD has become a crutch, not a productivity tool.

I now believe, for creatives, the easier a system is, the more will get done. We already know, and I blog about regularly at A Lesser Photographer, that constraints breed creativity in photographers. So why not writers? Why not all creatives?

I’ve learned that if I’m thinking about my productivity tools, I don’t have enough enthusiasm for my projects.

My solution, until I can live up to the Leo Babauta ideal of tossing out productivity all together, was to get as simple as possible. I picked up a cheap legal pad at the office supply store and began copying my tasks by hand with a cheap pen. I no longer attach the quality of my tools to the quality of my projects. This tends to lend too much importance to tasks that should be easy to throw away when necessary.

Then, I slashed those tasks until they fit on two pages. My new rule: if my tasks expand beyond two pages, I’m probably not going accomplish them all and I need to cut back.

In the morning, I copy any tasks that need doing by day’s end on to an index card. Very few things need to happen. Most things I just want to do. They stay on the legal pad for when I have time to check them out.

This simplification won’t work for all creatives, but that’s the point: one size doesn’t fit all. It never did.