balance productivity and creativity

There is a big difference between productivity and creativity. That’s a fact. But these two supposedly opposing forces that are constantly fighting for your time are actually two sides of the same coin. And if the work environment is established in such a way, one can fuel the other, which leads to achieving amazing results.

Yet, most project managers tirelessly chase productivity and try to organize the work using a specific method. But creatives (e.g. marketers, designers..) are putting up resistance when they are faced with project management methods because they feel it will restrain their creative freedom. Truth is, if implemented and used correctly, specific methods such as Kanban focused on increasing productivity, can help you stay focused. Thus, increase your productivity (and creativity).

But is there a way to implement Kanban and find a balance between productivity and creativity and get more done without sacrificing the one or the other? In short, yes. But you need to understand how productivity and creativity work. Then, you can decide when you need to let your creative juices flowing, and when you need to turn on the autopilot and crunch out some tasks.

Productivity vs. Creativity

We are all capable of being productive and creative, but not at the same time. We all have the ability to be creative, but often, it can feel unnatural because most of the time our brains are engaged in a logical, task-oriented mode.

This is what we refer to as analytical or convergent thinking. We use this type of thinking when we need to evaluate our options using logic, standards, and probabilities to make a judgment. It is the process of taking ideas and sorting through them and then make a choice, give the ‘right answer’ to standard questions or solve known problems. Moreover, this type of thinking is what we rely on when we want to maintain order, be disciplined, efficient, and ultimately, productive.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have creative or divergent thinking. The creative mindset is what we use when we need to come up with new ideas and explore different (possible) solutions to a problem. This approach allows us to express ideas without analysis or further discussion. And since there is no single/correct answer, we can go big and discuss possibilities freely. We let our minds wander creatively when we are looking to be innovative and imagine new ideas, processes and process improvements, or developing new products.

But be careful not to become too reliant on only one type of thinking. Too much creative thinking can lean to endless ideation and no real solutions. While too much analytical thinking can lead to repetition and stagnation.

Understanding these two types of thinking and how to identify which method is most suitable to the task at hand can have a big impact on how you balance productivity and creativity, and the overall efficiency.

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Striking the Balance Between Productivity and Creativity

There are many concerns when it comes to managing productive and creative work. Since the effect of creativity on business success is almost impossible to quantify, many managers prefer to see their teams churn out a certain number of tasks, rather than have them work on generating creative ideas and solutions. When in fact, creative thought and action add value to productivity and make work diverse and progressive.

So how can you strike a balance that enables you to be more productive, generate more ideas, and continually improve your process?

First, you need a system or method that supports being productive without forcing you to sacrifice creativity.

And we have just the one – Kanban. Kanban relies on 4 foundational principles:

  1. Start With What You Do Now
  2. Agree to Pursue Incremental, Evolutionary Change
  3. Respect the Current Process, Roles & Responsibilities
  4. Encourage Acts of Leadership at All Levels

They are instrumental in creating an environment that aims to enable continuous improvement of your process through evolutionary change. Unlike other project management methodologies that can easily turn you and your team into ‘robots’ that are focused solely on achieving maximum efficiency without question, Kanban encourages you to rethink your process and identify possible changes that lead to significant improvements.

balance productivity and creativity 2

Understand your Process

If you want to use the right amount of creativity and productivity in your work, you must understand the stages in your process. Different parts of the process are concerned with different types of tasks and problems. Some require heavy ideation and fresh ideas, others require completing repetitive tasks. When you understand the type of work ahead, you can put yourself in the right state of mind- divergent or convergent.

Focus on One thing at a Time

Another way Kanban help you streamline work is by setting healthy WIP limits to determine the amount of work you can have in progress at any time. Even though it may seem WIP limits do not work in favor of creativity, these restrictions are actually very important and useful. They help people do as few things as possible at a time and finishing the work they started before taking on new one. So they can take the time focus on and complete the task they work on without distractions or pressure.

Keeping Your Goals and Context in Mind

Even though you might have expected to find a secret formula that would help you calculate the time you should dedicate to creative vs productive work, so you can balance productivity and creativity, there’s no such thing. Your process is yours alone, and you have to understand the demands of each phase to decide whether you need to divide your time more generously towards creativity and ideation, or productivity and standard work.

Having a Kanban board can help you do this since you’ll always have your goals and context visible to help you prioritize tasks and understand the best way to do them to achieve your goals in the momentary circumstances. As a result, you’ll be able to switch to creativity or productivity as necessary. Thus, improve the efficiency of your process and increase the quality of your work.

Check out our Creative Process Template to help you become more creative in your day-to-day life.

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About the Author: Ivana Sarandeska

Ivana Sarandeska is a digital marketer, creative writer and master procrastinator. An Agile enthusiast and a firm believer that thorough planning is key to good execution and even better improvisation. She has a soft spot for technology, so most of her full-time jobs were in IT companies where she was introduced to Agile and Scrum. After she got her Scrum Basics certification she started actively using these methodologies and their main principles. Learning how to organize her time and tasks better has motivated her to dive deeper into these methodologies. Now, she is an avid advocate of Agile and Scrum and happily shares her knowledge and experience to fellow procrastinators.

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