Think about your career in marketing, and reflect on your most successful projects and your proudest moments. What were they? What was the process like? Who was involved?
I don’t know about you, but the projects I look back on most fondly are ones where I really pushed myself (or my clients) creatively. There’s something magical about uncovering a new design theme, content topic or campaign theme. You unravel the pieces, one by one, like you’re pulling an infinite scarf out of a top hat. When eventually…aha! You discover the idea you’ve been waiting for all along.
In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, however, taking time to do heads-down creative work is difficult. As marketers, it feels like we wear more hats by the day. Deadlines loom, last-minute campaigns emerge and our cohorts in other areas of the business have something they “absolutely need our help on.”
Well, it’s time for us to prioritize it. After all, our buyers rely more on content than ever before. But not just any E-book or white paper will do. They’re expecting content that’s tailored to their unique needs and pain points and is delivered in a fun and personalized way.
As I’ve noted before, creating great content experiences takes work. And it’s time for us to put it in. Here are some tips to help you give your creative side the time and attention it deserves:
1. Take Control of Your Calendar.
This may feel easier said than done, but there’s nothing more jarring than seeing just how much time and money is wasted in meetings. There’s a tool called Meeting Stats that allows you to do just that, and when I saw my results I nearly fell out of my chair.
Of course, some meetings are necessary. They’re the only way teams can come together, collaborate or make decisions on specific tasks or initiatives. What I’m asking you to do is take a careful inventory of all your standing meetings. Ask yourself: Are there any meetings that are no longer relevant? Can I sit out of a discussion this week? Can we add a creative component to this meeting so we can uncover some new ideas?
Most of all, I’m asking you to think critically about any meetings that you plan. Is it necessary? Will it be vital to your success? What outcomes will you aim to achieve? I recently started listening to Rachel Hollis’ podcast, “Rise,” and when discussing her crazy calendar with a friend, she got a response that made me guffaw: “Rachel, you’re a grown woman. Take control of your life!” It’s time for you to, too!
2. Make Group Thinking More Productive.
In the cases where you’re sitting in a brainstorming meeting with your team, there are ways you can inspire more creative thinking and problem solving. The foundation of this is understanding that there are different types of collaborators.
Author and creativity expert Todd Henry found in his research that there are “slow twitch” people who take time to process the information they’re being served and “fast twitch” people who eagerly share any idea that pops into their head. Inspire the “slow twitchers” to engage by sharing some preliminary questions or topics ahead of the meeting. This will give them ample time to solidify their own ideas.
3. Embrace Time Blocking.
This is a technique I’m still personally working on. Although I have no problem rejecting an unnecessary meeting or asking team members to condense several topics into one conversation, I still have trouble blocking the time out for myself. The goal is to take inventory of the most critical creative projects you need to complete (or make headway on) for the day, week, month or year. Determine how much time — especially heads-down, thinking time — it’ll take to make progress. Then, block time on your calendar that’s dedicated to those specific projects.
If you’re interested in learning more about this approach, listen to the podcast I linked to earlier in this section, or check out this detailed article, which includes steps and images.
4. Use an App.
It’s sometimes hard to set your own limits. While technology can certainly be a distraction (hello, Instagram rabbit hole!), it can also be your friend in the creative process. There are a slew of apps out there designed to help you manage your time and tasks, and to be more productive overall. Some even allow you to block specific websites or apps for a certain period of time, so you can buckle down and start creating.
5. Know (and Embrace) Your Work Style.
This ties into my previous point. If you can do heads-down creative work with Slack, email and Twitter open and your favorite podcast playing in the background, more power to you. Other people need pure silence or white noise to focus. Know what you need to make your creativity thrive. Create an environment that calms you and supports you through the process. The worst thing for a creative exercise is distraction, so if you’re feeling the urge to check your iPhone alerts, throw that sucker in a drawer!
6. Get Active.
One of Arianna Huffington’s secrets to great ideas is taking a walk. She has been an advocate for “walking meetings” and prioritizing physical health over meeting that deadline. Personally, I find great value in taking a break from my work to go to an exercise class, take a quick walk around the block or even take a shower. The ability to focus on that particular act (walking, running, etc.) gives me clarity, and sometimes new ideas just pop into my head. The secret is trying different things and knowing what sparks those aha moments for you.
7. Step Away.
Part of the creative process is knowing if and when you’re tapped out… and simply walking away. You may hear the term “hustler” thrown around as a compliment around social media, but sometimes it feels like hustler culture is killing the art of creativity. We’re spending our time answering emails, jumping into last–minute tasks and pivoting direction. It’s all taking a major toll not only on our well-being but our creative output as well. Consider this quote from a Thrive Global article on the detriments of hustle culture:
“This is hustle culture: our always-on, always-working mentality where being frazzled is a badge of honor and your work and identity are one and the same. And it’s really stressing us out. That’s a major conundrum because chronic stress is terrible for our minds, bodies, and productivity.”
Remember that rushing doesn’t do you any favors in the creative process. If anything, the pressure of completing the task or hitting the deadline will force you into doing the same thing you’ve always done. And this “sameness” will simply make your brand blend in with all the other companies out there.
It may feel jarring to take these steps and completely revamp the way you work. What I’ve learned, however, is that when you take the time to think and create, truly magical things happen. It’s time to give creativity the time and love it deserves.
What are you doing to prioritize creative thinking in your day-to-day? I’d love to hear your tips and lessons learned!