As a graphic and website designer who has grown a business, I fit into the typical definition of “creative entrepreneur.”
So do photographers, interior designers, furniture designers, illustrators, and anyone else who makes money from these “artistic” endeavors that fit neatly into the “right-brained” mold (which is actually a myth). In fact, I believe that lots of different entrepreneurs can identify as creative—even logistics analysts and financial consultants.
It’s persistence, especially in the face of adversity, that differentiates those who go the distance and those who give up on the entrepreneurial journey and go out and get a “real” job. You need to keep moving forward, learning as you go, even when some days you just want to stay in bed—otherwise, what are you left with? Navel gazing and a feeling of failure, that’s what!
If you’re feeling creative and have big “smart” goals for your business that you’re determined to reach, here are my tips on how I’ve lasted all these years!
1. Visualize the results
If you are working toward a goal, you need to put yourself in the right mindset and imagine what it would feel like if you were already there. Things exist in our minds before they exist in reality—everything is a thought before it’s a thing.
Many scientific studies have shown that concentrated visualization works: the more vividly you imagine the feelings and all the little details of success, the more successful you can be. This is something you can even do in bed. Picture yourself being successful at the end of the task ahead, and imagine how it feels, looks, smells, and sounds, and visualize the experience. Then, when it actually happens, it will be just as satisfying as you remembered.
2. Design the plan
Creative people are creative in different ways. Not all of us can draw! Still—taking a pen and paper to draw out the plan on how you’re a going to divide up your time and what steps you’re going to take is a useful task. It serves as a motivator because you connect with it when you’re putting it down and then again when you see it in front of you.
It’s up to you how you approach it—you can start at the end and work backward, put key milestones in place, add in the potential obstacles, and ideas on how you will overcome them. You can add little icons to represent different things—like arrows, a little light bulb for an idea, or a cloud drawn around something you really need to remember.
You don’t have to be embarrassed about your handwriting, it’s just for you—and it’s fun to try different methods. Check out the bullet journaling methods for some visual inspiration.
3. Work on your rocks (or the small steps)
One of the theories I subscribe to is setting “big smart rocks.” Smart goals are based on the acronym S.M.A.R.T—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. There’s a video on Franklin Covey which explains this—but you can also visualize the following:
Imagine a jug. Add some water, some sand, then add stones, then pebbles, and then try put in big rocks. Oh no! They won’t fit! Rocks represent the big priorities you have and the rest of the items represent the daily things you do—the firefighting, the unexpected little tasks, the email filing, and so on.
However, if you do the opposite, and put in the big rocks first (which represent your goals) and then the pebbles followed by the sand, it all fits in.
This technique shows it’s possible to get the big things done in life, and the smaller tasks can fit around it. You just need to make sure that every day you do something to progress your big rocks and move toward your goals. In my company, we each set our “rocks,” or milestones every quarter, and review them weekly in our team meeting. The idea is that because you work on your rocks daily, you are far more likely to achieve these goals.
4. Score yourself
I am not sure if it’s classified as creative to use something as logical as numbers, but it helps my motivation a lot.
I give myself deadlines (deadlines are amazing motivators!), and say to myself, “by that time, I will file 20 emails,” or “I will source all these logos for this design by this time.”
There are plenty of ways to become more productive using numbers, so don’t let your creative nature cause you to shy away from them.
5. Coworking with sprints
I’ve saved my very favorite for last. It’s a little geeky and works well for people like me—workaholics who love to get things done and tick things off our never-ending to-do list.
Here’s how it works: You take your laptop out and meet with a friend at a coffee shop, members club, or coworking space with WiFi. You block out a few hours for your time together. After a brief catch up, you each say what you will work on in the allotted time—e.g. 45 minutes. Then you start the timer (or just note the time).
Each block of time is known as a “sprint.” There’s even a time management app that helps with this—called “Gero.” You aren’t allowed to talk during the sprint (too distracting) and should only work on that one task or group of tasks you said you’d do.
It’s amazing how when the time is up, you both want to keep working. So if you want to, you can do another sprint. But otherwise, you force yourself to stop–order coffee or food, catch up with your friend, and then go again. I have one friend who I do this regularly with, and we usually do five or six sprints in a coworking session. It’s our most productive time of the week!
Motivation can come from a lot of things but if you’re feeling unmotivated regularly, it may mean you have to do some soul searching to discover what you want out of life—and why you want it. What makes you happy? What are you noticed for? What are you good at? What do you enjoy? In an entrepreneurial life, you need to be following your true passion at the very least.
If you are clear on this–then try out the productivity motivators above to see which works for you. Experiment with variations, enjoy, and have fun. With each experiment, you can also measure how much closer you are to your SMART goals, milestones, or rocks—and how many smaller tasks you completed along the way.
If you have any more motivators to add, please share what works for you so we can all collectively feel more motivated and productive. Go team!