One Productivity Hack Managers Can Learn from Artists

Let’s face it. You’re busy. You have a to-do list that is constantly growing. As the day speeds by, you think to yourself “It’s fine, I’ll tackle these after my next meeting.” Yet after a string of meetings, none of the things on your list got done.

“Tomorrow will be better” might be the next thought in your head, but tomorrow is interrupted with…you guessed it, more meetings.

This is commonplace in today’s corporate environment. As companies obsessively optimize around structured syncs, they unintentionally hamper employee output.

However, creatives know a thing or two about finishing long, complex projects. It’s actually organic, uninterrupted time that unleashes super charged productivity.

Here’s how we can get there.

Another Super Important Meeting

As a founder, I get it. I’m guilty of numerous weekly meetings for my teams and clients. Meetings make sure people are on the same page. Meetings remove bottlenecks.

But there comes a point where meetings become the bottleneck.

So how do we counter this?

Set up a “No-Meeting” day.

This means specifying a certain day of the week as a dedicated day of no scheduled meetings. This includes no meetings for clients, partners, team check-ins, investors or all-hands announcements.

It will be scary to make the adjustment. It will be painful. And at times, it will feel counterproductive.

And yes at first, it will be challenging as meetings pile up on other days.

Create Alternatives to Meetings

If you’re the manager in charge, you can replace meetings with more efficient measures that don’t kill productivity.

Before putting time on the calendar for a meeting, ask yourself if you can accomplish the same things without one:

  • Perhaps you have a meeting each week to report on accomplishments. Try converting those updates to Asana or a shared Google Drive. Voila, you’ve accomplished an entire meeting by glancing at one sheet.
  • Migrate micro decisions to Slack or email
  • Implement 5 minute morning stand up meetings. You would be surprised at how efficient people become at communicating when standing…

Give it one consistent month to adjust and before you know it, No-Meeting Day will be your favorite day of the week. Now of course, you and your team won’t be perfect and there will be exceptions (okay, a lot of exceptions) where you need to take a meeting on your sacred day.

But, research shows that simply designating spaces and time for creativity can actually be highly productive. IDEO’s Tom Kelley talks about the importance of designating specific types of workplace creativity in his book, The Ten Faces of Innovation. By setting a rule for yourself and your team, you welcome new waves of unprecedented productivity.

Let’s dig in to see why.

Solving Complex Problems

Many of our thorniest issues in the workplace (and in life) require creative problem solving. By nature, these issues are challenging, because there are no simple answers. Without even realizing it, we use a tremendous amount of creativity to mentally redefine problems, assess opportunities and come up with innovative responses and ultimately solutions.

Moreover, companies today are facing a complex world in which they need to generate and execute on new solutions in order to compete. That takes creativity and more importantly, a creatively capable workforce.

Empowering your employees to be creative and hit their work stride will allow your team to arrive at better solutions, faster.

The Time Investment of Creativity

With research, we know that creativity is fueled by free thinking and flow. Flow is a state of complete immersion in an activity. This is the ultimate state of productivity as you are entirely consumed and engaged with the task at hand. This state can happen for many different types of people in different activities: the artist entranced in painting, the athlete in competition, the writer finishing his novel. You have likely experienced this at some point in your life.

And you know that flow is completely addicting and rewarding.

And more importantly, it’s completely achievable in the workplace.

However, it takes time. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour of undistracted attention to engage in flow.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly describes in his book, Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Creativity:

“Focus and concentration hold the key to achieving flow. Many of the peculiarities attributed to creative persons are really just ways to maintain concentration and lose themselves in the creative process. Distraction interrupts flow and it may take hours to recover the peace of mind one need to get on with the work.”

Which day is best?

The best time to set up a no meeting day depends mostly on the present structure of your organization. Mondays are great for agenda-setting and Fridays can be hard to capture momentum, so for us, we do Wednesdays for a mid-week creative recharge.

However, you should take a moment to think about the current flow of your team’s work week and determine what’s optimal for your own team. Capitalize on the momentum of a productive day and don’t be afraid to change it up every once in awhile.

Creativity is a tricky power to harness. We create plans and processes to implement creativity while forgetting that the most effective way to take advantage of the creative wealth of our teams is to give it space to grow organically.