Advice on productivity and organization is typically written by left brainers, for left brainers. Which is great for our logical, detail oriented mathematician friends, but excludes people like us. A creative person doesn’t think in a logical, linear pattern. Instead, we’re ruled by emotion, feeling our way through the world based on intuition. Creative types are often visual learners, preferring colour images to verbal directions. We also like to daydream and contemplate abstract theories. We’ve mastered the art of simultaneous novel-writing-coffee-brewing-Simpsons-watching and sometimes we can do all that while brushing our teeth. This is what people love about us. This is what we love about ourselves.
Unfortunately, this means our workspaces often resemble a natural disaster. Scribbled notes written on paper napkins and a pile of month-old coffee mugs are telltale signs of a creative mind at work. It’s not that we’re innately messy, it’s that standard systems of organization do not work for us. A creative person might have several foot-high stacks of paper on her desk, but if you ask her for one specific document she’ll be able to find it in a second. This is a result of our well developed visual memory. This is also why left-brained organizational plans don’t work for us. If you look up organizaion or productivity tips, you’ll find that every article mentions the same things:
1. Put every document into a file. Organize files alphabetically or numerically so you can easily find things.
2. Keep clutter to a minimum. Put everything away in boxes with lids, creating a non-distracting workspace.
3. Set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and work at your desk, leaving only when the timer goes off. Set a rigid work schedule.
4. Have a quiet area where you can work without interruptions.
5. Focus on one thing at a time.
These are great tips for the business minded, but doesn’t all of that sound like a nightmare? Those tips would make my day unbearably boring. I simply could not accomplish anything worthwhile in that environment, nor could most creative people. These kinds of tips can be found in magazines, on personal development blogs and in every HR office. Sadly, these kinds of productivity and organization practices squash creative potential and foster stress in a right-brain person. If you are creative, if you think with your right brain, THESE TIPS WILL NOT WORK FOR YOU. Here is an alternative list of tips, made specifically for creative types, that I’ve developed myself after researching several sites:
1. Everything needs to be visible. We are the living embodiment of “out of sight, out of mind” so when items go into drawers they cease to exist. Organize paperwork by month and throw it into a tray on top of your desk. Group books together by color. Place pens and other writing utensils in coffee mugs or purchase see-through containers without lids. Make sure your desk is large enough to accommodate several books, a sketch pad and pencils, a computer and your lunch. Organization means being able to see everything laid out before you.
2. Have a beautiful work space. Creative people have very particular aesthetic styles. Your space needs to feel like you in order to be comfortable. Consider paint or wallpaper. Decorate with knick-knacks and mementos. Fasten a clothesline-esque string across the wall. You can hang inspirational images from the line with clothespins. Cut out and print off any photo or artwork you come across that inspires you to keep working or is related to your project. Change them out with each new project, but glue the old pictures into a book as a visual journal of your work.
3. Give up. If something is making you less than ecstatic, if you’re not completely obsessed, drop it. Creative people can’t commit to something they don’t love. You’ll be wasting your time on a project that doesn’t excite you from the beginning. No amount of willpower or money can make you change your mind. If your heart’s not in it, your work will suffer. Move on to a better idea.
4. Be stimulated. Surround yourself with interesting things. Create amazing playlists or get a DVD set of your favourite show to play in the background. Have something close by that you can toss around (I have a Frida doll and a plush Hello Kitty.) Use a fitness ball instead of a chair. Frame pictures of your favourite artists or tape interesting quotes to the wall. Light scented candles. Creative types need background noise and visual stimulation. If you’re feeling unmotivated, you’re probably just bored. Put you’re multi-tasking skills to good use. When I paint, I like to have Sex and the City DVD’s playing on mute while I listen to podcasts and drink coffee.
5. Variety is the spice of work. Change up your work environment at least once a week. This could mean taking your laptop to a coffee shop, reading in the park or taking a day trip to another town. A change of scenery is essential for creativity. This is true for creative pursuits and for creative people in traditional jobs. Your work will suffer if you spend 8 hours a day staring at bare cubicle walls. Ask your boss if you can work from a different office or outside at a picnic table once a week. Ask about working from home, even just half of a day. If you work in retail, ask about taking shifts at a sister-store or a different chain owned by the same company. Anything you can do to vary your routine will foster productivity and give you new ideas.
Those, my right-side friends, are your tips. Our productivity is determined by freedom and individuality. We organize based on aesthetics and visual memory. This is completely opposite to left brainers who work best in the orderly, routine environments suggested by most productivity guides. Keep this in mind the next time you’re ripping your hair out in frustration or wondering why you can’t get anything done. Stimulate your senses with colour and music and watch your creative visions come to life. Still don’t believe me? Here’s a real-life example:
Google gives their employees 20% creative time. That’s one day per work week. During this time, employees are allowed to work on any project they want. They can develop items for personal use. They can create something fun. They can do anything they want, provided it’s not what they work on during the rest of the week. This creative time is essential for Google’s success. It is during this creative time that employees came up with the ideas for AdSense, G-mail and Google News. Furthermore, these ideas did not come from high-level employees, but from average workers. Google doesn’t track hours on a 9-5 basis, doesn’t believe in hierarchy and allows employees to work on pet projects, yet Google is a very successful business with very happy workers.
Think about it.