Shonda Rhimes is a television producer for ABC – a really good one. Fast Company recently interviewed her on the rhythms of her life as a professional creative. The article has several excellent tips for creating in the midst of a busy life.
1. Start the first hour of your day without interruption.
There’s only so many top tier creative hours in any day. I try to avoid spending them doing administrative things.
I think my biggest problem with time is that I need most of it for creative space, [but] there is a giant part of my job that is running my business.
My creative time is the same as Shonda’s – from the time the kids leave for school until about 10:30 or 11. I try to do this at home at least 2 times a week, and to avoid booking meetings in this window, and stay as off the grid as possible, so I can accomplish the things I am paid to do. Without this time I could spend all of my hours on administration, and never actually have any true creative work to show for my title as a Creative Director.
If you’re a video producer, what do you need in order to be able to tell good stories? If a pastor, what would it look like for you to give yourself the necessary time to write sermons?
2. Don’t hoard decision-making, but push it away from you.
…I had to allow people to rise over the years. Sometimes people don’t want to be empowered because they are afraid of being the person to make the decisions.
Force other people to make decisions to cultivate and grow them, so you can focus on what is most important.
The way I handle this is to think to myself every morning, what is the most important thing I can do today? I don’t let my inbox dictate my work. Rather, I keep lists. (I have heard envy and scorn my my list-making, so I wrote this post about it.)
If something has been on a list for several weeks and has never made it to the top of my important pile, then maybe I should either delegate it or trash it.
3. Create boundaries for the most important content you are tasked to make.
I work for ABC. If the thing that ABC is paying me for is storytelling—not to make sure that a costume is exactly right or all those other things—then it is up to me to find the most creative space possible, so that that function of my job can happen.
If you’re a pastor, it is on you to carve out 15 hours a week (or however many hours a week it takes, not including precious weekend rejuvenation time) in order to create.
Further, on boundary setting, she says,
At work I have a rule that you’re not allowed to come into my office unless you’re coming into my office with a solution to a problem, and not with a problem.
I don’t completely agree with this as it’s presented – sometimes as a leader you’re paid to be the fixer and the decider. But I do agree with the sentiment, that many problems others deem necessary of your time can be fixed without you, if others are forced to figure it out on their own.
4. Don’t be scared of really talented co-workers; instead, use them.
Creatives have a tendency to be insecure and look for validation, which can discourage co-workers because it leads to hoarding praise. This is toxic. Rather, look for ways to heap praise on others. Shonda says,
I think it’s really important to be surrounded by people who know more stuff than you do, and are better at it than you are…. I didn’t give The Catch to Allan Heinberg because I thought I was gonna have to hold his hand. I could hand it to him and then breathe a sigh of relief because I knew it was being well taken care of.
Cover your ego needs elsewhere – at work, surround yourself with stars (in the end, their stardom reflects onto you as a leader anyway).
An important caveat: stars can’t shine unless they are in a position to do what they do best. Many organizations are using talented people in the wrong ways and stunting their talent, and the organization. One of the most important aspects of finding stars is making sure they can do the thing they do.
5. Finish your day with another list.
The last thing I do at night is make a list of all the things that are in my head so that I don’t think about them while I’m trying to sleep.
I find it easier to unwind and sleep well when I know that all I could be worried about is written down in a list, comfortably synced across three computers.
The article has several additional insights and is worth your time.
What do you do to maximize your time to create?