How to be productive and creative – at the same time

Above: From my new line of creative journals featuring artwork from my Flying Apostrophes series.

I think there’s a common misconception that productivity and creativity are polar opposites. In one way, I guess this is true. Creativity thrives in those down moments when you’re not thinking too hard – like in the shower or doing housework. If you’re cramming ten thousand things into your day, it’s hard to find that down time.

That’s why, for me, creativity and productivity actually go hand in hand. In order to find those free moments, you need focus and a bit of life management. If you know you’ve ticked off everything on your to-do list for the day, you can settle into your creative projects with a clear conscience.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because people often ask me how I fit it all in. I don’t have any ‘tricks’, but here are some tips that I think can help you be both creative and productive.

Know your work style

I often talk about creativity being a journey. As an artist, you’re always learning – about yourself, your materials, your style, your way of working. So think about how and when you work best.

You could be one of those people who wake up full of brilliant ideas for a work project – so it’s probably not the best time to schedule in easel time! Consider that your productive time. Write lists, draft emails, create tasks – whatever you need to do to get those amazing ideas out of your brain and in progress. If you can understand how you do your work, your housework, your family commitments, then you can better understand how and where to fit in your creative life.

You don’t have to be completely relaxed to work on your creative projects. Ideally, you should have at least 10 minutes to yourself. So whether that’s after a run or while waiting to pick the kids up from school, after a shower or before bed, know yourself and your style and work with it.

Switch it up

One thing I find that keeps me productive in my creative, personal and professional lives is to have several projects on the go. And I mean that literally. In my art space, I can be working on two or three canvases at once. When one presents a stumbling block, I just move on to the next one.

If you only have 15 minutes a day to dedicate to your art, you want to make the most of every single second. You could stand there staring at a blank sheet and produce nothing. Or you could start to play in a sandbox. Try a different medium, try a different style. When you start to play with something else, you’ll often suddenly hit upon the solution for whatever you’re stuck on. And you might also stumble on something new and amazing.

Finish what you start

Having said that, always try to finish what you start! I know it’s not easy. The poet Paul Valery said that a work is never truly completed, but only abandoned. It’s a question I hear a lot. How do I know if my novel is finished? How do I know if my painting is done?

Sometimes you just don’t! Sorry. But at some point you have to let it go. I look at things I wrote years ago and I want to take a red pen to them. There are articles or books I would write differently now. That doesn’t mean I’m not proud of them. My first artworks are completely distinct to my current work, but I’m happy that I finished them and that I let them go when they were ready.

Just keep going

I totally believe that you should schedule in time every day for your creative life. For you, that might mean actually creating an appointment in Google Calendar or writing it in your diary. Or you could commit right now to posting one artwork or photo on Instagram every day.

Some people think that ‘churning’ work out like this is not creative. Yes, you sure will be productive, but will your creativity suffer? I don’t think so. If you’re creating, you’re being creative. Not everything is going to be as good as you like, and that is also part of the creative journey. 

Which is why it’s also okay to break your own rules sometimes. If you commit to posting daily and you miss a few days because of a holiday or whatever – that’s fine. Keep going! Start again. Or if your art supplier runs out of your favourite paper, use something else. Just keep going!

If you dedicate time right now to your art, commit to it and stick to it, you will be both creative and productive.


By Valerie Khoo

August 19th, 2019
About the author