In Part One of this five-part series on the HeART of Design Business, I considered how a negative view of money, and of commercial enterprise in general, can demotivate a designer from the business aspects of their work. Our resistance to evaluating balance sheets and tracking our cash flow rises when we suspect that matters of finance are somehow tainting or corrupting the purity of our artistic expressions.
But money is not the only business matter that can challenge the artistic sensibilities of the graphic artist. Here in part two of this series I’ll address the limiting factor of time. Does your creativity falter when you are aware that the minutes assigned to your task are unrelentingly ticking by?
Time constraints do not have to undermine creativity—but we will have to come to terms with the ticking clock in order to escape its tyranny.
Measuring the time you spend in the various activities of your business is a crucial discipline for running a professional design practice. And I don’t just mean measuring the time you spend on projects. You need to track all of your time: administration, marketing, meetings, professional development, communications, and the like. And if you have employees you must insist that they track all their time as well. I’ve written on the hows and whys of time tracking before so I’ll just assert the necessity of time tracking and move on to my main purpose in this series. We want to address the heart, the inner barriers we have to tracking time. Sure it’s always a pain in the neck, but the real resistance comes from someplace deeper.
Do Deadlines Kill Creativity?
The most common objection to time tracking is that “deadlines stifle creativity,” or “you can’t rush the creative process.” When you took the S.A.T. you were probably worried that you might forget a theorem or not know a definition—but the added stress of that exam was knowing that time was running out. Soon you would hear the dreaded “pencils down!” Trying to do creative work under “pencils down” pressure can truly stifle creativity. If your account manager keeps poking their head in the door for an update on the status of your work, the quality of your work is going to suffer.
On the other hand we all know that time is a limited resource and deadlines must be met. Ideally our projects are afforded sufficient time and have reasonable schedules. Ideally. But even when projects have reasonable timeframes, there is something about the very awareness of time passing by, of the ticking of the clock, that can stifle our creativity. A heightened awareness of time limits, even when a reasonable amount of time has been allowed, can kill the creative process. We’ve all experienced being “in the zone,” locked in on our work, losing a sense of time, and being completely wrapped up in the process. But then an alarm, or an interruption, or a phone call disrupts that experience. And so, in a sense, simply being too aware of time can keep us out of “the zone” and limit our creative productivity. That is why introducing time tracking systems and policies often provoke negative reactions from designers. It’s not just that it’s a pain; it is an impediment to maximum creativity.
Can we reconcile the need to track time with the value of being able to focus our creative energy? I think we can.
On October 20th, from 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm EST, The HeART of Design Business series will be presented as a webinar through Rhode Island School of Design Alumni Relations. Fees: $12 RISD Alumni, CE Students + Public, Free for RISD Students. Register here.