The Secret to Creative Work

The Invisible Prep Behind Your Real Work

Written by

Justin Hall

on September 26, 2019

When it comes to creative work, why is it so hard to get down to business? You just have to outline the bare bones of the course, write the campaign strategy, or sketch a few logo ideas. You know: It won’t actually take very long. Just a few minutes! Maybe ten (fifteen tops). But you can’t seem to find that time.

Or is it you? Have you lost your edge? Usually the pressure works in your favor. The squeeze makes your best work emerge (are you toothpaste?). But not this time. And, really, not the last few times. What changed?

I’ll tell you the secret at the top. Creative work takes a really long time. You think fifteen minutes, but in truth you have to feed it hours. Wait, that can’t be right. Right?

Let’s start at the end and work backwards to tally up what actually goes into the “real work.” You know the to-do you’re thinking of takes fifteen minutes. But you had to write two bad drafts before this great one (it happens), so say forty-five minutes.

You managed your coworkers’ demands on your time today. Guarding your calendar kept interruptions away. As your mother wryly used to say, you don't need peace and quiet all the time, but a piece of quiet would work wonders. Making the space in your day took five minutes ten different times.

Maybe you took a walk too, which really helped you see today’s true priorities and get your metabolism going. Walk: fifteen minutes.

You had the energy because you ate breakfast, not just coffee. Even if breakfast came from a cereal box or a freezer, it took an extra ten minutes to prep and eat.

You felt clear-headed when you woke up today, which means you slept better last night. That took an extra hour of eyes-closed time. To get to sleep, you read in bed for thirty minutes instead of clearing your inbox for tomorrow. You made dinner a balanced, unwinding meal too—that cost another hour and a half, even if you left the dishes for later (they need to soak, right?).

The motivation for last night’s dinner came from the self-care you did before it. You squeezed in a short run, meditated, read a novel, or caught up with those friends you’ve been playing calendar tag with for weeks even though you really do like them (you do!). It only took an hour. These conscious actions told your inner kid—the one who’s coming up with these great ideas out of nowhere today—that you care for her or him, too. They paid it forward at crunch time.

So, the real work only took fifteen minutes. But making it possible required an additional five hours and forty-five minutes. Just for those fifteen minutes! The grand total comes to six hours.

Your creative work itself formed the tip of a ginormous temporal iceberg.

Knowing that this is how creative tasks work means the end of your guilt about not getting to that to-do before. Instead, acknowledge the hours of work and self-enriching time you must give to the true task of creating your own optimal conditions. Lay the groundwork. If the real work only took fifteen minutes, anyone could do it all the time, including you.

Going to yoga? Catching a matinee? Reading a book? Suddenly, that’s time very well spent. Give yourself credit for all those hours being part of the process, even part of the work itself.

We at Pathwright build our platform to be a clear, pleasant place to do your creative work when you’re ready. We can’t create more hours in your day, but we can make sure you don’t waste any of the ones you do have. We’re all in this together.

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