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Is creativity the enemy of productivity?

On this week’s episode of Secrets of the Most Productive People, we discover that the creative process is a messy one.

Is creativity the enemy of productivity?
[Photo: Dewang Gupta/Unsplash]

My creative process is long and messy. When I need to come up with great ideas, I know that inspiration won’t come to me if I’m sitting on my desk staring at a screen. It’ll come to me later that evening when I’m out for my run, in the shower, or on my commute home from the office. It never comes when I need the ideas to appear. Producing the work itself is no less painful. Sure, I have bursts of “flow” states here and there, but most of the time it’s a frustrating process of staring at a screen, standing up, sitting back down, and walking around. It often feels like the opposite of being productive.

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But as we discovered on this week’s episode of Secrets of the Most Productive People, that’s a normal part of creativity, and something everyone should embrace. We also spoke to psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman–who acknowledged that today’s workplace isn’t always set up to encourage optimal creativity, and that we should learn to redefine “productivity” when it comes to the creative process because it’s not going to look the same as getting things done.

Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to get unstuck when you want to get those inspirational juices flowing. Here are three examples:

1. Create a state of psychological distance. Just as you come up with great ideas when you’re not trying to come up with one, you’d be in a better position to solve your thorny problem when you learn to remove yourself from the problem. Try thinking about it from someone else’s perspective, read about how people have tackled similar issues, or just switch tasks completely and work on an easier project.

2. Schedule your deep work during your most productive hours. That way, when your mind starts to get tired and begin to wander, you can let it do so without feeling guilty that it’s interrupting your flow. Schedule your mindless task when you know your brain will be in a less-than-productive state, so you can let your ideas incubate while also checking things off your to-do list.

3. Do something unfamiliar. Sometimes all you need is a jolt of novelty to refresh yourself. It doesn’t need to be a big scary thing–it could be talking to that coworker you walk past every day but have never talked to, or just ordering a different meal for lunch. Routines are great for maintaining habits, but you do need to switch it up a bit if you want to inspire creativity.

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You can find the episode on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcherSpotifyRadioPublic, or wherever you get your podcasts. What is your creative process like? Tell us about it with the hashtag #FCMostProductive and click here to subscribe to Secrets of the Most Productive People so you don’t miss an episode.

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About the author

Anisa is the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She covers everything from productivity to the future of work

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