Make more time for ideas: Creative Consultant Deej Johnson explores time management for inventors

Deej Johnson
Controversially, the most important lesson in regard to managing time is to accept that we can’t. What we can do, though, is work out which things contribute toward achieving important goals… And spend more of our time focusing on them at the expense of things that don’t. Here are a few tips that help people in creative industries do just that!

Emails Second
I’ll start with a tip that significantly impacted my own perception of time… When I began working – and yes, that’s a while ago – the very first thing I would do each morning was check my emails. It took a lonnnnnng while for me to realise what a time thief that was! Reading emails more or less dictates your priority list for the rest of the morning. Nowadays, I almost always get my top priority sorted before I read any new emails

Urgent vs. Important
One of my friends seems to have an incredible case of FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. It’s so pronounced that – no matter what he’s doing – he goes through the same hullabaloo whenever his phone rings unexpectedly. He’ll look at the screen, see an unrecognised number, then loudly agonise over whether or not to pick up. He inevitably does, then gets cross when it turns out to be a sales call, wrong number or scammer!

Alas, my friend is failing to distinguish between things that are important and things that are urgent. His ringing phone is URGENT: it demands immediate attention! However, there’s nothing to suggest that his ringing phone is more IMPORTANT than the thing on which he’s already working…

That’s not to say, of course, that some important things aren’t urgent, or that some urgent things aren’t also important! Rather, it’s about learning to differentiate between them. Many people benefit from starting to work on the stuff they know is important long before it becomes urgent.

Deej Johnson
The Eisenhower Matrix

This is very useful tool helps illustrate the idea of urgent vs. important tasks. The grid above makes it clear. The aim is to get on top of things and then operate – as much as you possibly can – only on tasks that belong in the top right quadrant! In other words, work on important things before they become urgent.

Another way to organise tasks is to write down everything you want to get done in a day… Then use just five letters to prioritise them. Put an ‘A’ next to the things that you Absolutely have to do. Write a ‘B’ next to the things that it would be Better to do, and a ‘C’ against things you Could do!

Next, use the letter ‘D’ for things you’re able to Delegate, and an ‘E’ to Eliminate things if it turns out they don’t need doing after all. So… You might mark an important meeting with an ‘A’, while a Mojo Nation interview might be a ‘B’. You get the idea!

Of course, you’re likely to find that you have more than one thing that you absolutely have to do! In which case, put a number against all the ‘absolutelies’… A1 would be the thing you absolutely have to do first, then A2, A3, etc. Simply work your way through the A’s before you look at the B’s, and so on.

Small Chunks
In 1962, Egypt faced a dilemma. The building of a much-needed dam was set to cause the ancient and priceless Temple of Ramses II to be lost under 60m of water. So engineers came up with a plan to save the temple and its monuments. How? By moving them 64m up a mountain!

Deej Johnson

Unfortunately, the façade alone measured 33m high and 38m wide… How could anyone possibly move it? Well… It turns out the only way to move that temple and its statues was to use the same method that you can use to make big projects simpler: break it down into smaller chunks. The engineering team literary sawed the monument into more manageable pieces – then moved them, one piece at a time.

When you break a huge job down into smaller bits, and assign those bits an appropriate deadline, huge projects start to look much easier. They also become psychologically more appealing. So if you set yourself a large, vague goal – “Be more creative”, for example – it’s less likely to happen than if you set a smaller, more specific goal: “Try a new creative technique, for one hour, every Friday afternoon”.

Keep Going!
You’ve almost certainly had the experience of dreading a big job and putting it off… Then finally getting on with one small part of it, only to find you quite want to do the next bit – right? That’s a great example of the way our brains reward effort. So once you’ve broken a job down into smaller chunks, assign yourself a realistic minimum number of things to achieve per day or per hour…

If, though, at the end of that ‘time slot’, you’ve done what you were aiming to do, and realise you want to keep going – then keep going! That way, if you merely stick to your plan, you finish exactly as you planned. If, though, you decide to keep going, you end up ahead of schedule – which is motivating in itself.

Do Tough Stuff First
It’s been said that, “If the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you can be pretty sure that’ll be the worst thing to happen to you all day!” Business guru Brian Tracy agrees – metaphorically, at least. In his excellent ‘time tips’ book, Eat that Frog, Mr. Tracy suggests you start your day with whichever ‘A’ task is most unpleasant. That means your day can only get better… And that you won’t be stretching out other jobs in order to put that one off!

Deej Johnson
Have a Deadline

Do you know why special-offer coupons have an expiry date? It’s simply because a tremendous number of people are psychologically motivated by deadlines. If you’re one of them, start putting deadlines against little tasks and bigger goals alike… Studies show that setting deadlines against actions vastly increases the chances they’ll get done. This is especially true if you look to reward yourself for hitting deadlines.

Small Rewards
If you find it helps, then by all means give yourself a little reward for completing a task. Even as I’m typing this, for example, I’m looking forward to making a cup of tea as a reward! It’s not much, but even making a cup of tea conditional to doing something important means I avoid the trap of procrastinating by making the tea first! I’m also not tempted to abandon the work if I get stuck in the middle of it.

A number of people I know in creative industries do this. Indeed, they even use some of the more fun tasks on their lists as a reward… It might be, for example, that you only get to work on an exciting new idea after you follow up on a publisher that’s been ghosting you! In other words, use your favourite jobs, tasks and contacts as rewards. If this approach appeals, you can add an ‘F’ to the A, B, C, D, E technique from earlier… The F stands for Fun, naturally.

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