Lola Rasminsky is the founder of Beyond the Box, which delivers team building and leadership training workshops across Canada.
If you’re feeling the bite of time poverty, you’re not alone. A Harvard Business School survey of 1,000 professionals found that 94 per cent worked at least 50 hours a week, and almost half worked more than 65 hours a week.
Starved for time, ground down by the day-to-day demands on it, with barely enough time to think, much less think creatively, we stop believing in ourselves as creative beings.
We stop imagining we can come up with new ideas at work. Best to just leave the innovative thinking to people who make that their full-time job – the people who we assume were lucky enough to be born creative.
Well, guess what? We were all born creative, and we all have the potential to manifest that creativity in everything we do.
What we need are ways to clear the clutter, and let our time-starved, work-smothered creative instincts breathe free again.
- Question your assumptions. What assumptions are we making about what we absolutely need to do at work every day? What do we assume about the order in which we have to do things? Are we questioning how much time we allow ourselves to spend on each task? Are we assuming that we can’t afford to spend any time that is not guaranteed to generate income? Are we avoiding creative pursuits because of fears of failure?
- Prioritize your projects. Are we investing enough in what is important, or too much in what is not? Do we put off tackling the “real work” each day until all the easier tasks have been knocked off?
- Reframe the challenge. Are we really bogged down by a lack of time, or might the challenge be one of focus? Exactly how are we focusing our time? What is taking our focus away – social media, energy depletion from conflict with colleagues, or just lack of engagement? How can we better deal with assaults on our psyche from aggravating colleagues, unsupportive bosses, or ridiculously inefficient systems?
- Give yourself a break. Research shows that we do better work when we take more downtime – that’s when our brain’s stores of attention and motivation get replenished. We often have our most original ideas when we least expect it. Ideas grab people when there is some white space to penetrate – in the shower, on a long walk, in the pool. Archimedes was in the bathtub when he came up with his principle of displacement.
- Study time management tips. Time management gurus like David Allen and Tim Ferriss have incredibly useful suggestions for how to move from having an excess of to-do’s on your mind, to executing on everything you need to get done, and relieving stress in the process.
- Dare to acknowledge that you are creative. Many of us believe that we’re simply not creative. Yes, it comes easily to some people, but like any muscle, creativity benefits from being exercised. The guiding principles are learnable – then it’s just practice, practice, practice.
- Step outside of your comfort zone. Creativity is all about seeing new possibilities. By definition, if an idea is new, it is not tried and true. There’s no guarantee it will work, so it feels risky. Everyone can play a role in creating an environment that feels safe enough for people to surface their new ideas.
Both management and workers must recognize that not every new idea will bear fruit. Deep down, many view creative thinking as a form of play. Who has time for that, when there is so much more important work to do – so many hours we could be billing for? It’s easy to pay lip service to the need for an innovative culture, but a genuine tolerance for risk has to come from everyone in an organization. It takes the form of not punishing “failure” that comes with experimentation.
To revitalize the creative potential that we once had, either as children or in a previous work situation, we need to adopt what Stanford University psychology professor and researcher Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. Believe it, and you’ll find you can do it. By simply believing we can do things differently and more effectively, we open a world of possibilities.
Time poverty? Clear the clutter, unsmother your brain, reset your mindset. When it comes to time and creativity, as a well-known bank likes to tell us: You’re richer than you think.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.