I have a confession...I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I take what I do seriously. I want to do a good job with the work that’s given to me. I want the things I create to be beautiful, unique, excellent. But I also have a problem...I’m often faced with more creative projects at once than I know what to do with. I want to give each of them the time and care they deserve, but there simply aren’t enough hours in a day. I find myself in this struggle between quality and time.
Do you ever feel like that? Whatever it is that you do, my guess is that, at some point, you have found yourself facing the same dilemma. If I just had more time, I could….You fill in the blank. The reality is, sometimes you just don’t have more time. What you have is all you’ve got to work with. So what can you do—miss the deadline? Skimp on the quality? Or is there another option?
This is a tension I wrestle with constantly. And I get the feeling it’s not going anywhere. Since this doesn’t seem to be a problem I’ll be rid of any time soon, I’ve had to find ways to work with it in my life. I’m still working on it. I’m still experimenting weekly. But here are some things that have helped me along the way. I hope they’re helpful to you as you pursue quality work in your context.
1. Consider the Possibilities
One way to deal with a demanding work schedule is to anticipate the ask. As you progress in your organization, or work with the same or similar clients, you should also grow in your ability to see creative requests coming. At VOUS, we deal with a combination of planned events and projects—like Christmas, Easter, and Conference—and unplanned or unforeseen initiatives—like a new building project, a book release, or an album recording. In order to manage the unexpected, I have to be proactive in preparing for what I know is coming. I can’t wait for someone else to put Conference on my radar, I need to include that massive project in the regular rhythm of my work. If I can get ahead on the things I know are coming, I can create margin for the things I can’t foresee.
Another way to stay ahead is to build a bank of inspiration to draw from. Because a creative project could pop up at any moment, I can’t afford to wait for inspiration to strike. If you only start the ideation process after a request has come in, you are already late. Personally, I have a library of references that is constantly growing and instantly available whenever a creative need arises. You never know what your next assignment will be, but you can get ahead of the project by already having creative direction ready for when the moment comes.
2. Consider the Project
Developing a habit of looking ahead and staying inspired will set you up to win. But eventually—or all too frequently—the moment will come and a project will land on your desk. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. Does anyone receive projects that way anymore? But I digress.) As you receive a new assignment, take time to consider it deeply before launching into your work. A few minutes on the front end could save you hours on the back end. Taking time to answer questions like these will help to focus your efforts.
What is being asked of you?
What is the win?
What is the deadline?
What is the estimated time requirement?
How important is the project in the grand scheme of your organization?
Is there someone else who could support you or take it off of your hands?
Often we think that a new project requires a completely new approach. But you may not need to start from scratch. Is there a quick hack that you know will achieve the goal in less time? Is there a previous project you’ve worked on that could serve as a template for your new endeavor? Sometimes reinvention is just as good as invention. Perhaps what you need is not a new idea, just an old idea executed in a new way. Quality varies from project to project. Don’t spend more time than you should when you could meet the requirement with less effort. That’s not lazy; that’s efficient. And efficient work is a win for everyone.
3. Consider the Pressure
As you consider the details of your project—the goal, the deadline, the direction, the execution—don’t forget to consider the pressure. Every task brings with it an accompanying burden. The more important the undertaking, the heavier the weight. As you carry out your assignment, you carry that weight on your shoulders. And it can be crippling. You may find yourself feeling stuck. Maybe what you’re facing is not a creative or professional issue, perhaps the real problem is emotional or personal. How you relate to your work has a huge impact on how you accomplish it. If you can heighten your awareness of the pressure of what you’re doing, you will find yourself more equipped to manage it.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck, take a break. Take a walk. Take some time to process with your team. Sometimes “powering through” just won’t work. Counterintuitively, taking a break from the work could ultimately save you time. Be intentional to get yourself into the right headspace and watch your creativity return. Your state of mind is critical, especially in creative work. So address your thinking first. The struggle between quality and time is not a problem to solve, it is a tension to manage. It’s not too much. You can handle it. You have what it takes. Just take a step back, take a breath, and take the first step.