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The Pressure To Produce More

by | Process

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?

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for this article today, Todd.  This exact thing is kicking me in the tail this week and my wife and I discussed this exact thing last night.  “I am not my work” is probably the hardest part for me, but setting boundaries is something I’m going to force myself to practice.

    • Todd Henry

      Fantastic, Christopher. Glad it resonated. That’s something I continue to have to regularly remind myself of as well. It’s very difficult when you put so much of yourself into what you do.

  2. Mike C

    I run into this a lot. Just cooling down from 2 1/2 months of basically constant work (firm deadline for creative work plus daily emergencies that also need to be done, plus keeping up with other lower priority but still necessary work – only way to accomplish all of that is with 12+ hour days). When I was not working (office, home, airplane) I was collapsed on the sofa. As a result things at home fall behind – laundry, cleaning, exercise, good eating habits. This becomes unsustainable.
    Last week I worked about 100 hours. Not healthy at all.

    • Todd Henry

      Sorry for the late response, Mike, but I hope this week was a little more sane. You’re right in that this kind of stress in one area creates a dearth of activity in others, and pretty soon life feels like perpetual catch-up. It’s good that you’re seeing that and are at least aware of how it’s affecting you. Some people feel the pressure but don’t know where it’s coming from.

  3. Michael

    It is really difficult to unplug your brain…it is that

    • Michael

      sorry, hit send before finished my thought….

      It is really difficult to unplug your brain.  I think we need to think in terms of compartmentalizing our lives as much as possible.  When I am at home I try not to share too much with my wife about work, but occasionally when I am stuck, I may float an idea to her to discuss.  The toughest part for me is when you wake up in the middle of the night, maybe to go to the bathroom, and start thinking about a project.  Although, this can be some of my most creative times….just up from fresh sleep….they say that is a fertile time for thinking about creative things. 

      • Todd Henry

        True, Michael. I heard a story that Edison would sleep with two metal balls in his hands, sitting upright in a chair. When he was just on the verge of sleep, the balls would drop and hit the floor waking him from his short sleep. He would then go to work on something. He believed that his greatest ideas came when just on the verge of sleep, when consciousness quiets. 


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