Episode 6: Does Time Tracking Kill Creativity?

Mastering the business of creative entrepreneurship depends on maintaining complete and accurate time records. But the deeply engaging “creative zone” causes us to completely loose track of time. Does that mean that the more diligent we are in managing time, the less effective our creative product will be? Is there any way to resolve this tension?

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Since most creative services businesses bill by the hour, or fees based on hourly estimates, dealing with time is something every creative entrepreneur has to contend with. But most creatives minimize their interaction with the clock as much as possible. There’s a creative zone we can enter, where we are so locked into our work that we lose all track of time. That is a deeply engaging and highly productive zone to get into.

But what if everytime we got into that zone, we were interrupted by someone telling us how much time we had left to complete the assignment? Such intrusions would completely disrupt the creative flow. Which is why most creatives like to go heads down and eliminate distractions when they set themselves to work. The more aware of the clock we become, the less effective our creative process and our productivity.

And yet mastering the business of creative entrepreneurship depends on maintaining complete, accurate, timely, and detailed time records. Does that mean that the more diligent you are in managing your time, the less productive and effective your creative product will be? This tension is the reason why it’s so common for creatives to resist, delay, or minimize their engagement with the clock. But is there any way to resolve this tension?

While we might not ever remove this tension completely, there are ways to minimize and balance it. There are some practical tips such as blocking off sections of your week devoted to creative work. So you can shut down email, put your phone in airplane mode, set your timer and forget it as you dive into your work. You can also work on establishing a concise set of categories for timekeeping to make the mechanics of your system easier to maintain.

But the realities of this tension are really more psychological than mechanical. And so we have to change how we think about time constraints at a deeper level. For example, rather than dwelling on the negative tensions of timekeeping, consider instead the effects on your creativity if you don’t track your time. Do financial pressures, mounting task lists, and blown project schedules improve your creative process? Try to think of your timer as an ally rather than a task master. A little bit of discipline with your time can relieve you of so many other tensions that will kill your creativity—but that can be avoided with just a bit of diligence in timekeeping.

Also, remember what Leonardo DiVinci one said, “Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom.” We’ve all experienced blank canvas syndrome. But with clearer objectives and goals we do our best work. Perhaps we need to think of time as just one more constraint that simply has to be worked into our creative process?

Tracking all your time, and more importantly evaluating this data regularly. will help you estimate more accurately, account for overhead more realistically, and restore your control over your projects. All of which will improve your profitability and reduce financial pressure. And under those conditions creativity really will flourish. So do yourself a favor and make peace with the ticking clock. If you’re not tracking all your time, make a commitment to start this vital practice today.

So until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?