We all love talking about time; we measure everything by it. As a society, we gauge our lives, our accomplishments, and successes of our daily routine by how long it takes. But, unfortunately, time is a terrible marker for creativity. The problem is that the amount of time we spend on a task usually doesn’t correlate with its quality.
How often have you heard someone describe their busy job as a “60-hour work week”? How about Tim Ferriss’ famous book The 4-Hour Workweek? People love talking about their busyness. The problem with measuring work in increments of time is that time does not address either the volume or the quality of their work.
I know people who have had jobs where they sit at a desk and do nothing all day, for eight hours a day. That means they’re doing almost zilch for a 40-hour work week. Compare that to air traffic controllers who are regulated in how much they can work in any given week. No one is going to say air traffic controllers don’t work hard, and no one is going to say doing nothing every day is difficult. The real issue, however, is that the amount of time you work doesn’t prove anything about how hard you’re working, or how much you’re getting done.
So what about creativity? Well, Keith Richards wrote what has become one of the most famous songs of all time, Satisfaction, in two minutes and then promptly fell asleep for a 40-minute nap. On the other hand, Leonardo da Vinci worked on the famous Mona Lisa for an estimated 14 years. How long we spend on something doesn’t make it either good or bad. Instead, it is our skill, intention, and action – among a myriad of other factors – that make our art great.
Above all else, there is no such thing as a typical speed for doing anything. I work fast. Faster than a lot of other creatives I know. One of my proudest moments as a layout designer was when I finished laying out a 60-page booklet in just 8 ½ hours. Of course, there are other things that take astonishingly long for me to finish – namely anything to do with math. We are all fast at some things and slow at others.
I think what is possibly most damaging about this concept of the “work week” for any kind creative work, is that it implies that there is work time and non-work time. It delineates our lives into when we are creative and when we aren’t. I’m a big believer in always being open and receptive to creative impulses. I would hate to think that if I had a good idea for a project, I wouldn’t do it at the first opportunity because I wasn’t “working.”
When we measure our lives not by the amount of time we spend working, but by what we create, we remove barriers that can stop us from finishing a project or starting something in the first place. I think we all should skip thinking about the time we spend creating something, and instead concentrate on the idea of fulfillment.
Instead of asking ourselves “Do I have the three hours I need to finish this?” we should be asking ourselves “How long do I need to work on this to be fulfilled in what I create?”