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How to Make Time to Be Creative While Still Being Productive

How to Make Time to Be Creative While Still Being Productive

There are a lot of misconceptions about the creative process that people have. Those who appear to be more creative are seen as just being more creative than others. I believe that someone is more creative because have the ability to separate creativity from getting things done. Most people know that constraints such as time and business stifle creativity. How can you be creative if you are worried about deadlines? I decided to put a video together discussing how I try to make time for the creative process but also assure that I am still getting things done. My process is not perfect. Let me talk a bit here about what seems to work for me.

1. Schedule Your Tasks

If you are able to, schedule the tasks, meetings, and other items you need to get done so there is a clearly defined time that these things will be dealt with. If you do not schedule a time to do them, all you will think about is the deadline. Deadlines stifle creativity unless you take away their power by scheduling the tasks to be completed before that deadline. Take the power away from the deadline so you don’t have so much anxiety over it.

2. Schedule Time to be Creative

Remember those scenes in the tv show Mad Men where Don Draper seems to be up against a wall with a deadline and no idea so he just decides to take a nap? This happens in the first episode of the first season. Don seems overwhelmed with what is going on around him, so he just takes a nap instead. He wakes up, has an idea, and knocks it out of the park.

Don Draper Takes A Nap

Now I don’t think that naps will solve all of your problems with being creative, but I am sure that taking some time to recharge and clear your mind will. It’s hard to be creative when all you can think about is the deadlines and work tasks that need to be done.

I try to schedule some uninterrupted time that I can spend thinking and writing with the sole purpose of exploring ideas. This has to be a time where no deadlines or tasks can be done and no promises are made to anybody. You also need to disconnect to prevent distractions from coming up. I recommend not checking email for at least a few hours before you start this creative time because you do not need fresh reminders of upcoming things that are required of you. You need to have a fresh mind that is as clear as possible.

For me, being creative seems to come easier in the morning. I typically have more energy and nothing has happened yet that day to fill my mind with the needs of others. I have more mental bandwidth in the mornings.

3. Journal and Take Notes

How many times have you had an idea right before bed, not write it down, and it’s gone in the morning? This used to happen to me all the time until I started journaling and taking notes throughout the day. I use a combination of things such as Evernote, Trello, and a physical journal to keep track of my thoughts, ideas, tasks, and goals.

Evernote is great because you can use it like a notebook to take down ideas, make lists, and track goals. Since it’s an app you can put on all of your devices, you can load photos, audio, and sketch into it as well. I often take a picture of something I read that I want to remember later. You can use the search feature in Evernote to search text in images as well so the next time you see something cool in a magazine, instead of tearing out the page, take a picture of it in Evernote and store your thoughts along with it. I do this when I read as well. The image above I took with my smartphone and in Evernote, I highlighted the text I wanted to remember.

Check out “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”

Trello Board for YouTube Video Production

I use Trello to put my ideas into action. In Trello, I set up boards for different ideas. Those ideas are put on cards and those cards can be moved throughout the board. For videos I want to entertain making, I have a Videos board. On the videos board are different lists. Video ideas start off on the left-hand side in an Ideas list. This is where I dump any and all video ideas I come up with. Some of these ideas will never see the light of day. Other ideas will move down the board through other lists as they make their way to the last list on the right which is for Live Videos.

There are many tools out there to help with your creative process. For me, it’s getting the ideas out of my head so I can clear up mental bandwidth for other things. This is how we are able to push out multiple videos each week while still getting a ton of work done for our clients.

4. Get Active

This is the area I need the most help in. I used to have no problem getting to the gym, being active throughout the day, and maintaining some sort of activity at home. I recognize that when I am more active, I am more creative. I have read the research on how being active affects the brain, it’s just tough to actually make it happen. This is the area in my life I am most challenged. When I wake up, I just want to get to work. When I get home, I just want to chill and hang out with my family. I need to work more activity into my life because when I do, I am more alert and my mind is more pliable.

5. Give Yourself Some Downtime

One thing we don’t do much of these days in the United States is allow for some downtime. We are always in production mode and never go into R&D mode. R&D typically stands for Research and Development, but I like to look at it as Relax and Dream time. When I give my body and mind time to not worry about the needs of my clients or the mountain of tasks I wanted to complete, I come back from that recharged. Not only am I able to be more creative but I am able to get tasks done quicker and more effectively as well.

Being Creative and Getting Things Done

If you don’t plan to succeed you plan to fail. ~Benjamin Franklin

Flying by the seat of our pants doesn’t work. Not in today’s world. If you want to be more creative while at the same time expanding your ability to be more productive, you need to plan for it. I can’t say I have found that perfect plan or combination of things that result in the highest level of productivity, but I am working towards it. This process will never be complete. It’s something you constantly refine and work at. Eventually, something becomes too routine and is no longer effective so you have to change it up.

Work towards finding something that works for you. Try a few of the things I am doing to see if they help you be more creative while still having plenty of time to get things done.

If you have an idea or something that works for you that I did not mention, let me know in the comments section below.



I am easily distracted. There have been times I self-diagnosed ADD. The problem is that we live in a world with no shortage of distractions. There is more than just something for everybody, there are dozens of somethings.

To make it worse, I love technology. You and I both know that the tech world moves fast and there are always new bright/shiny things coming out every day. Adding to that, I want to touch and play with all of the new technology. Obviously, that is not practical because things are expensive.

When I was a kid, I would make lists of stuff I was going to buy when I had money. I grew up working on motors and racing go-karts. I remember making a list of motor parts I wanted to buy so I could build my own motor. A few years ago I bought a go-kart to drive for leisure. I realize now that I was living out my childhood dream of building a fast motor for my go-kart as an adult.

The last few years I have been analyzing, maybe over-analyzing the way I focus and what I focus on. This has led me to realize just how scattered my focus can be at times, hence the ADD self-diagnosis. Maybe it’s not ADD, it’s just that I focus heavily on things that I enjoy and it makes it hard for me to focus on other things when I am locked on to those thoughts. Now I am realizing that sounds a bit selfish, but that is the battle.

Just like most of us, my phone is a distraction. I spend too much time on it looking at things. I don’t scroll Facebook, but I scroll tech headlines and the tweets of people I follow in the technology space. That can be distracting.

The reason for thinking about this or even writing about it came about because I have realized in the last few months there have been a few instances where I had a thought I was working on, got distracted just for a second, and the entire thought was gone. I couldn’t even remember the topic of thought. It’s like it didn’t exist. Sometimes the thought would resurface later, but a few times it did not. Call it getting older or something…

The more I talk with people, I realize that most of this can be written off as a side effect of the human condition. We all get distracted in different ways. It’s hard to hyper-focus on something. To be honest, I am not sure hyper-focus is a good thing.

Even as I wrote this, I lost my train of thought once, was distracted by email twice and my phone three times. The struggle is real.

What are some of the things that distract you? What do you do to curb the distraction so you can get things done?


30 Days at a Standing Desk

Standing Desk

Exactly a month ago I posted this Tweet:

Standing Desk Tweet

Many of the fitness blogs I read were talking about how unhealthy it is to sit at a desk all day long. Since I started designing websites full time back in 2005 I have spent the larger portion of my day in a chair behind my desk. Since having my first child I have been able to make it to the gym much less. My wife is a stay at home Mom and my son is there with her, so I want to be home with them when I am not working. In the past I would justify sitting all day by spending a good 2 hours 5-6 days per week at the gym. 2011 has not been a kind year to me as far as time spent at the gym goes. This is what prompted me to move to a standing desk. Now that I have been at it for 30 days I thought it would be good to report my findings.

Sitting Desk Standing Desk
Click the photos to view them larger. Sorry for the horrible iPhone photos. I did not think to take nice photos when beginning this journey.

I have found many good things and bad things about being behind a Standing Desk, however some of those things may just be specific to me. I will first outline how each week went and then recap my findings below. If you have spent any time behind a standing desk I would love to hear about how it went for you in the comments section below.

The First Week:
The first few days of standing my legs got tired. I noticed that my body was burning more calories per day as I found myself more hungry around each meal. During the first standing week I sat on a stool about 20% of my work day. During this week I was very busy and moved around a lot which made it easier for me to be standing.

The Second Week:
During this week I was very busy with app reviews for This meant that there was a lot of round tripping between my desk and the app recording station. I sit on a stool while I record the app video demos which are about 3-5 minutes in length each. At my standing desk I probably sat on the stool about 15% of the time and stood the rest. I also started noticing that my ability to focus on a project for long periods of time was a bit more difficult but I figured it was due to how busy I was with the app demo videos.

The Third Week:
This was another busy week with app demo videos. I also had several meetings outside of my office and a few meetings at my office so I had some mixed sit down time while driving and being in those meetings. I don’t recall using my stool at my standing desk at all this week. I also added in a 2×3 foot Anti-Fatigue mat (Amazon Link). It took me a few days to get used to the mat because of it’s texture, however I did notice an increase in overal comfort. This mat was easier on my knees through out the day. I also noticed that I would lean on my desk a lot to take pressure off of my legs. I started thinking about how my back had not hurt at all during this process of standing for 8 hours a day, sometimes longer. My productivity was still a bit distracted as I was very busy working on small projects. It was hard for me to attempt to start a larger project. At this point I was not sure why. I also had a wedding this week, a very long 12 hour day of shooting. I felt that my legs were good to go and not even tired at the end of the 12 hour day. My body and mind were tired but my legs were good.

The Fourth Week:
I finished up last week strong. I actually had some items sitting on my stool and did not use it once. I was standing for 100% of the day while at my desk. The only times I sat was at home and in my car. I made it to the gym once this weekend and being that it had been a month since my last gym visit I was surprised at how much leg stamina I had while doing normal workouts I typically needed weeks to get into after lapses this long in gym visits. I noticed that my leg strength was improved. Standing at any time was no big deal. I never looked around for somewhere to sit, I was fine standing, unless everybody else was sitting.

Thoughts on a Standing Desk for fitness and general well being:
I believe what I had read. Standing as opposed to sitting all day is much better for health. You don’t burn but a few calories sitting down but when you stand you burn around 800+ more calories per day. This is a huge increase in activity during those times I was not making it to the gym at all. If you do not have any issues with your legs then I suggest a standing desk over a sitting desk. Don’t worry if you have to use a stool and start off standing in moderation. I attempted to go from all day sitting to all day standing from the start. I decided to take sitting breaks rather than breaks to stand up from my sitting position. Overall I did feel healthier. I am not sure if I lost any weight. I have always fluctuated in weight depending on how active I am, how I am eating and the stress levels I am currently undertaking. It is hard to determine if anything works for weight loss because all of the stars must be aligned for me to really make change happen.

When at home I got much more enjoyment out of sitting because I had spent my entire day standing. I could really relax at home when sitting on my couch or laying in bed.

Thoughts on a Standing Desk for productivity:
I mentioned how things went from week to week so you could see how my productivity was. Notice how I was really good with short term tasks and I didn’t really complete any long term tasks in one day. I truly feel that the standing desk gave me Task ADD. I was unable to just knock out an entire website project in one day like I used to be able to. I had to break it up into chunks or I wouldn’t get it done. In my current office I do not have enough room for a sitting and standing desk so I actually removed the sitting desks to place standing desks for myself and Ben who works with me part time.

I had this realization that my productivity style has completely changed today and Ben confirmed that he feels the same way however he didn’t really notice it until I brought it up. It is really hard to say if this is the same for everybody but I feel that it makes sense. When sitting you are not worrying about much. You don’t have to balance yourself, you don’t feel like moving around and you don’t get as restless. Standing in one place makes me feel like I have to move around more. I am even changing windows on my computer much more often. I have one display but I use Mission Control or what used to be called Spaces on my Mac to have the applications I am using open across multiple screens. I feel like I have ADD there as well. I switch through screens more often and have to see what is going on in each app rather than focusing on one for any particular length of time. It is quite possible that standing has just brought out the fact that I have some form of adult ADD but I think it is just a restlessness that is brought on by standing in the same spot for long lengths of time.

Most people who have standing jobs are moving about. When I used to work in retail at any given time I was behind the cash wrap, in the stock room or out on the floor. When I had my own store I was packaging shipments, working on motors, talking to people, placing orders and doing all sorts of other activities that all took place in different spaces. At my current office, my computer is at my standing desk and that is where I would spend most of my day. To be honest the only reason I feel I have written as much as I have right now is due to the fact that I am sitting on the stool instead of standing.

Angles: I also noticed that the angles of using a keyboard and trackpad from a standing position is much harder on my hands. It is much more of a bind on my wrists then before. This may also play into the lack of ability to work through longer tasks such as writing code. At a sitting desk I used to write code for hours on end with out stopping for more than a drink of something. At a standing desk I find myself switching to something else so I can stop typing and most of the time I do it subconsciously.

Standing Desk vs. Sitting Desk:
I believe that everybody should at least try standing. I would not suggest that you make the switch until you have tried it for at least a week and can see how it effects your productivity and of course your body. We all want to be healthier but we also need to finish work and get paid. I moved out my sitting desk when I started this so I have adapted to my standing workspace. I really wish that I had the room for both. I believe that for longer web projects that I would be better served by sitting a comfortable position while I write code. I plan to look for a good bar height chair so I can recreate my sitting desk environment for when I need to concentrait on projects for a long period of time. I will however continue to use my standing desk because I know that it is better for my body.

If you are in a job where you are behind a computer all day with out moving, a standing desk may be kind of hard for you. It will be much easier if you can have tasks separated by space or location as opposed to one space such as your desk. I found myself most productive when I was able to move to different locations and handle a task away from my standing desk. When I came back to my standing desk I was always more productive for the first hour.

We were created with the ability to move about which is why I am left wondering if we are designed to stand in one place. If standing was so productive why would sitting ever have came into the picture?

Let me know if you have tried a standing desk or considered it. What are/were your thoughts and concerns? I would love to hear more about what others have experienced so I can determine if I am just crazy or if there really is something to this.