by David Lesue, Creative Director, Workfront
Let’s be honest—most creatives, both individuals and teams alike, often can’t achieve their creative potential due to various external roadblocks. We’re put through infinite rounds of review, copied on hundreds of emails, given ad hoc requests without any details, and asked to do endless admin tasks every week. Or so it seems. Creatives are usually restless, risk-taking dreamers, driven by curiosity and their own hearts. It’s safe to say this can often be a fickle group who flourishes when they are free to do what they do best: be creative.
This is proving to be a trend across the industry—close to 25% of creative professionals spend less than two hours a day on creative work. We’re getting paid to be creative full time, right? And being creative does take time if we are going to think of new ways to express things that have never been done before.
When we can come back to the core purpose of our roles, we feel productive, effective, and happy. By determining where all this time not spent on our primary job duties goes, we can begin to get back to our creative roots. There are five things that get in the way of creative work—and five ways to combat those roadblocks and revive your creativity.
Challenge #1: Poor processes = poor creativity
Creatives want to be creative, and there shouldn’t be a process around that. At least, that’s what many in the industry are bred to believe, but a creative’s work naturally involves, at minimum, a loose level of process: a project is assigned and often followed by a brainstorm; ideas are presented, refined, and then delivered to the client in a certain format. Process can facilitate creativity when incorporated in the right amount. Too little process means responding to sticky note requests, reworking projects because a creative brief was never received or digging through emails because there’s no single repository for resources. Conversely, too much process makes creatives feel restricted, extends approval time, stifles collaboration, and makes it nearly impossible to get stuff done.
Adding a simple and appropriate level of organized procedures and steps into the mix can improve productivity, build the credibility of the department, boost client satisfaction, increase the visibility of the work your team is doing, and open up more time for actual creative work. Finding the process sweet spot is the real challenge!
Challenge #2: Ad hoc requests lead to detrimental imbalance
A chief contributor to creative teams’ stress is ad hoc requests. Most professionals are likely familiar with these types of requests: the last-minute client project, an assignment that came through via sticky note, the urgent ask from your boss’ boss that’s due by the end of the day. It’s difficult to achieve balance when there’s no rhyme or reason to the tasks a creative is expected to complete, and team members can quickly become overwhelmed.
Team and project managers should not only look at a creative’s workload and skill set to determine where to assign incoming requests, but also should employ a single venue to house requests. This strategy helps avoid team members being sucked into projects out of their wheelhouse. Furthermore, a two-fold approach to work requests can help avoid burnout and avoids overworking some team members while underutilizing others.
Challenge #3: Too much of a good thing (technology) can be bad
A recent study showed 60% of marketers and creative people use at least six different tools every day to get jobs done. It may seem like a glorious day when you finally convince the boss to purchase the latest and greatest file sharing tool for your department. Unfortunately, when coupled with the messaging app, proofing tool, design suite, and every other tech resource your team accesses before their second cup of coffee, a new addition can become a distraction rather than a value-add. Tracking down information between tools evolves into a huge undertaking and visibility gets sketchy. Ultimately, workers become too busy navigating various tools that they are unable to concentrate on priority items and don’t have an accurate view of all the information floating between tools. It’s imperative the technologies used within a team or work environment are fine-tuned to achieve a reduction in distractions throughout the day. The focus truly should be on quality over quantity.
Challenge #4: Meetings + meetings = meetings?
The mass of meetings on our calendars hampers our days and stalls creativity. It’s difficult to have creative ideas in meetings where people are discussing the work that needs to be done instead of actually doing it. We are all too familiar with meetings that aren’t as fun and productive as they are depicted in online stock photos, and they often do very little to offer insight into what each team member is actually doing. In fact, the average employee spends 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings, and 56% of creatives say unproductive meetings are their top work inefficiency.
But as long as meetings remain the corporate default, the best we can do is work together to minimize the total number scheduled. Utilizing a tool that supports visibility across teams and departments is a great way to drive collaboration. For the meetings that need to happen, creative managers can refer to dashboards from their collaboration tools to help streamline the meeting to-do’s and next steps.
Challenge #5: Rigid culture shock
Researchers estimate if we spend our entire lives working, which most of us do, we will spend around 10.3 years at work in our lifetimes. That’s a significant time to be away from family and friends. One would imagine making work a pleasant, comfortable yet mentally challenging environment would obviously be an imperative to overall employee wellbeing and happiness. Managers should consider this and work to create a culture that is flexible and conducive to creative, productive employees, rather than rigid or unyielding.
Culture is a much more important work component than many think. It speaks to much more than overall job satisfaction and allows new ways of working that could ultimately lead to greater efficiencies. While the suit and tie culture is changing, there’s no need to go out and get a ping pong table or setup a colorful coworking area like a lot of trendy startups are doing. Instead, ask yourself if your team is open to trying new ways of working, reducing meetings, or moving to digital proofing. You’ll want to gauge their openness to change to baseline how quickly and how far you can go.
Creative teams can do their best work if they have the right amount of process, a streamlined request system, fine-tuned tech tools, necessary meetings only on their schedule, and an open, innovative culture. As each team is unique in these areas, it’s about understanding what works best for you and feeling empowered by your resources and tools to transform your environment. Time to get our creative groove back.
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