A constant question prolific creators get—regardless of what they do — is something along the lines of “how do you manage your time?” or “how do you get so much done?”
The sad — mostly because it’s unsexy but not because it’s untrue — answer is always something along the same parameters:
“I try to stick to a routine”
“try to find time between the crevasses of the daily need-to-dos”
“take an extra hour at night to work on X”
“I work on it while I wait to pick up my kids from school”
“I constantly think about what I want to prioritize and I do that (referring to their “art”)
It gets to a point where you can start filling in the blanks when anyone gets asked this question. In case the memo wasn’t clear by this point: there is no secret time management skill other people have that you don’t. Though we so badly want this to be the case — since it seems like it’ll save us from the hard path.
Hobbies vs. Non-hobbies
Not all of us want to work on creating things that get bigger than just something we do — which is fine. But many of us do. We look up queries like “how to find time to write”, “how to find time to make a product”, how to find time to be creative.” And if we’re not making those searches, we’re searching for advice on the activities that’ll get us more time, energy, focus to then have the time for the former.
But when you realize the nature of a sustainable creative career is long-term and built on earned effort that compounds, it clashes with how we’re wired and the default expectations that come with that. Yet, the implication of time investment will always be there. Standing between us and building the thing.
If we understand that succeeding doesn’t come quickly, we then tend to get grabby and get impatient with the smaller things. We want instant feedback, or the instant acknowledgement that something was done. I’ve come to realize that sometimes the problem isn’t finding more time, rather it’s coming to terms that there will never be enough of it, and especially not how you want it to be enough.
“The media” focus on outliers when it comes to success. And through our busy everyday life, it’s easy to make a fast assumption that it’s the only definition of “making it.”
The machine that runs everything we consume is fueled by our lowest denominator impulses. As it relates to time, what we consume daily doesn’t let us see the true stories of how brands are built, how businesses grow, and how people become better at what they do.
It doesn’t let us see the sheer amount of time worthwhile things take to create. Yes, even though it looks like they’re having more “fun” this also goes for the newfound breed of social media outliers.
Consider that 99% of the time we are never fed the entire story. Often, a big chunk that’s left out is the time investment that goes into anything. We only see the beginning, and then the happy ending, but almost never get a glimpse of all the floors and ceilings of the middle. As we become more mindful of this, we become more at ease with the little fistfuls of time we have to throw at something.
Tactics are largely abundant for the obvious reasons. We try to use them to ease the moment by moment decision-making process we’re met with every waking day. To make the daily friction palatable. But it’s in the name — tactics are tactics at best, half-useful tricks at worst.
My sad and unsexy answer to time management is also the same. I get on the struggle bus and stop, go, stop, go, stop until I have to go take care of the more mundane tasks that make up living. As you create anything, you take it bit by bit and struggle through the thing. Yet, the struggle isn’t always referring to the “flow” that you get into when you’re working.
Sometimes — or often — the flow can come easy. Especially when and if you do something you enjoy. It’s the doing part that’s hard. And the part where you’re filled with dread because you see time pass by as you try to compose yourself and try again, as more pressing matters tug at your collar — first softly then anxiously.
Lenin said —
It’s true for anyone trying to create anything — which is hard to deal with, because most of us aren’t that good at foresight. We’ve been conditioned to think that things happen in a linear and consecutive progression.
The 40 hour work week punctuated by brief weekends. The monthly bills that show up without fail. The hours on the clock that don’t take a break. I’ve come to learn that it’s not about working for long expanses of time as much as possible. But then, it’s easy to conclude that it’s best to wait for when time and creativity shake hands, so you can do your best to take advantage of that intersection.
The problem is, this doesn’t always happen. So the only thing left to do is to gauge your time according to your life, figure out what takes priority and then estimate what the payoff will be and make educated guesses.
Tactics only help up to the line where the nuances of your life begin. Where reality muddles our linear idea of how things are supposed to happen.
Consistency is hard, in part because of our definition of it
It’s easy to default into thinking that success is a series of stairs, a ladder, or an upwards escalator that you don’t get off until the end. The tactics don’t save us from the complexity of managing your time as you go through the ups and downs of creating anything.
Instead of getting good at knowing when you should do something. It’s more a question of how to do something consistently enough — regardless of whether that’s in completely random intervals of time. When you shift your attention to the question of just enough consistency instead of finding “the time” to do something, it suddenly opens you to an enabling perspective you didn’t have before.
On our journey to finding time, it’s necessary to fall in love with broken approach to creation that the cadence of our life demands from us. There is no linear anything, only moments that you add up to something over time, assuming they’re constant enough.
Unsurprisingly, the secret is non-existent. The best time management skill is the one you create that molds into the nuances of your life, who you are, and how you move about the world.
It takes truly coming to terms with the fact that you have agency.
And time is yet another area in our life where we can flex the creativity muscle to find it and make something of it.