In my initial post on this three part series, I discussed the underlying reasons why our current trend for creativity and productivity was fundamentally at odds with itself. Simply put you cannot simultaneously push both creativity and productivity – not unless you first understand the core meaning behind creativity, as covered in the preceding post entitled “The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Cultivating the Creative Thinker”. With a solid grasp on what it means to be a creative thinker, we enter the realm of productivity with the ultimate goal of offering a sound strategy that empowers creative productivity.

In the West, we have a love-hate relationship with stress. We wear stress as a badge of honor, offering a daily public service announcement about how stressed we are, or how we’ve hardly had anytime to eat, step away from our desk, or catch more than just a few hours of sleep. We suffer from a diminished ability to discriminate between being a hard worker and a workaholic. On the same note, most people are also fairly poor at telling the difference between productivity and keeping busy.

Someone who is a slave to their work, for example, cannot get things done despite being a workaholic. They may be working 50 hours a week but they’ve no more put a dent into their goals as the week before. Here’s why. Productivity pitfalls include tasks that might appear to be moving as forward, but in reality they’re just moving us sideways. The delay in reaching your destination is much like when you’re swimming far out in the ocean just around the rift before the waves break. You might be focused on moving forward getting back to the beach, but despite your earnest efforts, you’re simply moving laterally and getting nowhere.

The same thing happens in the workplace. You have a project deadline but there are any number of irrelevant tasks busy but not productive. The inability to filter emails is one of them. Another is digging so deeply into the details of the project that you’re paralyzed from moving forward in achieving any concrete benchmarks. A third (of many) involves content overload, which leaves you pulled in many directions and makes it difficult to regain focus in the wake of an information flood.

I’ll give you a real life example from my own experience. As an avid curator and content writer, it’s my job to know everything that’s going on in several different industries. Naturally, there’s an archiving issue since I also need to be able to pull any piece of research data, past articles, or content at any given time. I thought of archiving all my links and reading material into Evernote, but (after much procrastination and playful thought) opted instead for using Pocket. Pocket was not only faster and a better system of archiving, it also saved me about 3 weeks worth of work. Sure it would have felt good to archive all this mined date, but where’s the purpose in that? It would have been a devastatingly lateral move that I couldn’t afford.

The sooner you can start questioning your methodology, the better off you’ll be in discerning ‘busy work’ from real productivity. Ask yourselves whether your task makes you feel better or whether it gets you one step closer to our proverbial beach.

Then there’s the issue of resources. The number one under-appreciated and over-utilized resource is energy, especially as you get older. You might think it’s time, but it’s most certainly energy; I’d argue time is a close second. For example, I may have 5 hours of time each day (whether in chunks or spread out) to work, but I only have so much energy. If I allow my energy to be depleted with drop-in visitors, unnecessary phone calls, internet browsing, etc., then I’ve wasted my energy on other people’s demands, their needs, and their interests – thereby lowering the acumen I need to work efficiently. In order to be productive, you need to be very selfish about where your attention is spent. Even if you had all the time in the world each day, you only have a static amount of mental (and physical) energy to perform. The more energy you allow drained on irrelevant factors, the less resolute you can expect to be when it come time work. Entertain the occasional distraction since your brain needs a break from long periods of focus, but don’t become snared by serial distractions whether in the form of people or technology.

Being exhausted and mentally drained also does very little for your creative output. As Creative Bloq shared in a blog post entitled “Four Secrets to Enhancing Creative Productivity,” “unfortunately, most people are typically overloaded and exhausted mentally and in a stressed state when trying to produce good work.” In order to efficiently produce your best work, you have to learn how to manage your creative time.