One of the core tensions I identify in The Accidental Creative is the tension between time and value. As creative pros we are not compensated for the amount of time we put in, we’re compensated for the value we contribute to the company or project. So even if we bill hourly, we have no way of knowing that the value we’re accountable for producing can be squeezed out of the time we have available for the project. Because of the “x factor” of needing a creative breakthrough, much of what we’re required to deliver feels somewhat beyond our control. I’ve started calling this phenomenon value creep, because the pressure to do more and more in less time infiltrates our life and affects every aspect of it. So this raises the question:
When is it done?
When have I contributed enough value? When can I stop thinking about the project? Because my mind goes with me everywhere, I often find that I’m thinking about a work project while at my kid’s soccer game or sitting down to dinner with the family. This creates a unique set of pressures for creative workers.
In addition to the strategies I recommend in the book, here are a few more things that seem to be effective:
- Establish boundaries ahead of time around your work time and personal time. When everything is left up to how you feel in the moment, you may find that you’re working when you should be doing something else or doing something else when you should be working. Setting boundaries during your weekly checkpoint is an effective way to make sure you’re not experiencing value creep.
- Get clear on what success looks like for your client or manager. Sometimes value creep results from a lack of clarity around what we’re really trying to do. Much time is spent spinning wheels and trying to determine what we’re really trying to do. When goals and metrics are crystal clear it makes progress easier to gauge and quitting time easier to abide.
- Re-affirm that you are not your work. When doing creative work there is a fine line between who I am and what I make. As a result, anything I put out into the world is a reflection on me and in some way speaks to my value as a person. Even though very few of us would say that we believe this to be true, in practice many of us find that our moods swing according to how our work life is going and this infiltrates every area of life. It sounds trite, but write “I am not my work” on a Post-it and place it on your computer monitor. It’s a good reminder. (Oh – but don’t forget that you still have to kick butt on your work.)
Don’t let value creep invade your life and take over your every waking thought. To be prolific, brilliant and healthy means having the time, energy and attention you need for every area of your life. Long-term creative sustainability is about knowing when to work and when to punch out for the day.
Do you have any strategies for dealing with value creep?