When Jill is focused on a task, there is no stopping her. She puts her head down and cranks away at whatever is in front of her until it’s complete. Jill ships. Always.
However, that’s also the downside of Jill’s approach to her work. Because of her fear of not shipping and her personal determination to get the work done whatever it takes, she often misses important environmental clues that could help her get the work done more effectively. Sure, she gets the job done, but it’s often not her best work, and she knows it.
Jill is a classic example of one of the three productivity types I frequently encounter in the creative workplace: the Driver.
The Three Types
Drivers are those who are motivated by the task in front of them. They can easily lose themselves in the work and ignore outside stimuli. The main goal is to get it done with less concern for the qualitative aspect of the work. They’re not trying to create something of lesser quality, it’s just that their primary metric is shipping.
There are many positives to this productivity type. The most advantageous part of being a Driver is that you regularly hit your marks on time, budget, and spec. You are less likely to fall prey to perpetual iteration. The downside, however, is that you can easily miss opportunities to make the work better because you are so concerned about getting to the finish line. A narrow focus horizon sometimes prevents you from seeing the periphery.
The second productivity type is the Drifter. They bounce from task to task, project to project, engaging a bit at a time as they go. It feels like they’re always “pushing a wall forward” because they have so many projects going at once. They are chronic starters, but they don’t always finish.
While there are clear downsides to being a Drifter, there are also a few times when it can be helpful. If you have the luxury of time, planning some drifting time into a project may not be a bad thing as you’re getting your bearings, but you must lock in at some point and take some ground. The Drifter has too broad of a focus horizon. There are few windows in the life of a creative pro where being a Drifter is acceptable.
The final mode, and in my opinion the most desirable one, is the Developer. These are creatives who function in alternating patterns of broad and narrow focus. They are able to step back regularly – daily, weekly, quarterly – then lock into task mode to get things done. They main thing that marks the Developer is that they are comfortable making forward progress even in the midst of uncertainty. Even in the midst of their work they are perpetually scanning the horizon for new insights, new opportunities, and new ways of approaching their work.
Here are a few strategies for spending more time in Developer mode:
1. Dedicate time each day to doing an analysis of needs for your work. What resources do you require? What conversations do you need to have?
2. Set clear goals and expectations for your day. What will success look like at the end of today? At the end of the week?
3. Spend a little time at the beginning of the day dreaming about your project(s). Take a walk, sit in a coffee shop, or space out at your desk and allow your mind to drift as you imagine the possibilities for your current work.
4. Dedicate focused time on your calendar to your most important work. Don’t expect brilliant work to happen in the cracks and crevices of your life. Dedicating time on the calendar for your most critical projects provides confidence that it will get done, which frees your mind to focus on the work itself rather than processes.
So much about effectiveness, especially in the uncertain world of the creative pro, is about preparation and clarity of expectations. Set yourself up for success by practicing alternating intensity and soft focus, and lock into Developer mode!