Productivity against Creativity?

By Francisco Sáez • January 28, 2013

“I try to stay focused on my creativity.” ~ Christina Aguilera

For some reason I don’t quite understand, it seems that creative people are not very fond of seeking greater productivity through better personal organization. There is the idea that to be creative one must not be subject to any rule or system that can stifle the freedom that creativity requires. You must unleash your imagination, intuition, and intellectual curiosity.

This is probably because creativity comes from what is called divergent thinking (the one that generate ideas), while the to-do lists are the result of our convergent thinking (the one that analyzes and organizes our ideas to get the best outcome). The two types of thinking are important and complementary and, ideally, you should be able to switch between both of them as needed to accomplish tasks and come up with creative solutions.

Creativity at work is the ability to contribute new ideas or concepts that create value or new associations between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity is not limited to designers, architects, artists or scientists. If you think about it, chances are we all have a job that requires some degree of creativity somewhere.

So are creativity and productivity mutually exclusive?

Let’s see. There are several theories about the creative process, but one of the most accepted is that of Graham Wallas. After setting the parameters and constraints of the problem, people go through five stages:

  1. Preparation. You try to submerge and absorb all the information as possible to understand the problem, explore associations, and prepare your brain for a possible answer.
  2. Incubation. You internalize the problem and give yourself time and space for ideas to flow.
  3. Intimation. You play with all the ideas that emerge. You make schemes, draw sketches, create prototypes, etc. Here you begin to feel that the solution is close.
  4. Illumination. Finally, the creative idea jumps into consciousness.
  5. Verification. The idea is being consciously verified, developed, and applied.

Although the creative idea may appear at any time, to invent, your mind must be prepared beforehand, consciously or unconsciously. This is a thorough work that can be done better with good organization: search processes, research, brainstorming, associating ideas, finding analogies, etc.

The verification of the idea involves getting things done, which means a high level of effort that requires planning, consistency, and control.

Therefore, both at the beginning and at the end of the creative process, you need some planning and organization skills. These are times when you have to switch to convergent thinking and clearly establish the path to take.

Personal productivity methods are tools that help you focus on what really matters, not a lock on your creativity. On the contrary, if you know what you must focus on most at any time, it will be more difficult for your brain to get distracted by nonsense when it comes time to be creative. It will also be much easier for you to get in the zone and flow.

Also, being creative does not mean you don’t have to do mundane, repetitive tasks. Tasks that can generate crises and kill your creativity if you do not define and plan for them properly. Automating repetitive tasks and having a task management system you trust will not only let you have more time available, but will also give your mind more room for creative thinking.

I consider myself pretty creative. Most of my work is devoted toward finding simple solutions to complex problems. Sometimes a happy idea comes to me while I am taking a walk by the beach listening to music on my iPod, and sometimes I suddenly wake up at midnight with an idea to solve a problem I could not find when I was awake. But most of the time, great ideas come to me when I am working, as a result of my scheduled actions and a detailed investigation of the problem. In short, as a result of my personal organization.

What do you think? “Creativity or Productivity” or “Creativity and Productivity”?

About the author

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Francisco Sáez (@franciscojsaez) is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a web developer specializing in Ruby on Rails who is passionate about personal productivity and GTD as a means to a better life.

2 comments so far

Brain Cutlery
Commented over a year ago

Couldn't agree more! Creativity and Productivity are absolutely complementary. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but there is definitely a 'creatively productive' methodology and it's totally compatible with the 'list-crunching' methodologies like GTD. I think my foray into sketchnoting (see braincutlery.co.uk/sketchnotes ) is a good example of how the 2 come together.

Francisco Sáez
Commented over a year ago

Hi @Brian, I love the way you share your sketchnotes in your blog. I have my Moleskine plenty of draws like those too ;)

Thank you for comment!

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