conceptual representation of creative process among a team of coworkers

Schedule meetings with your creative team that help–rather than hinder­–productivity.

Creatives are notorious for their deep and abiding hatred of meetings. For most of us, they come as a disruption: something that occupies a lot of our time, but which prevents us from really getting to work and being productive.

Yet, we all know that we can’t avoid meetings entirely. Yes, we can probably cut many of them from our schedule and chop the time we devote to the remainder in half. But we will all acknowledge, however grudgingly, that some meetings are necessary. So how can you better schedule meetings with your creative team that feel productive rather than burdensome?

Let’s start by understanding how your creative team views time and interruption.

Understand the difference between the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule.

Our creative lead, Ian, linked me to this article the other day from programmer Paul Graham about the difference between the maker’s schedule and the manager’s schedule. It’s brilliant, and struck a chord that probably all creatives feel when they see a meeting pop up on their schedule for the day.

Essentially, those of us who make things (writers, designers, programmers, etc.) need large blocks of uninterrupted time to work effectively. Interruptions cost us dear, and that’s exactly what most meetings are: an interruption in the middle of an otherwise productive block of time.

The creative process requires momentum. Our initial inertia comes from having to orient ourselves toward the project at hand. We may need to open and review several documents to remember where we last left off or remind ourselves of our ultimate objective. We need time to build up some steam. But once we get going, the sheer force of our creative effort propels us forward.

Once we hit that groove, we want to keep plowing forward. Meetings disrupt it.

Keep your meetings focused on the work at hand.

Most creatives feel frustrated by meetings because they take time away from work. We can bounce around some ideas, coordinate our processes, and establish some deadlines, but at a certain point (usually after about 15 minutes) we start to feel restless. We’re trying to pay attention, but in our heads we’re thinking OK, great chat, let me go put some of these ideas into practice.

That’s some great work ethic which you want to reward, rather than restrain. So don’t waste any time in your meetings. Get to the point:

  • Set an agenda
  • Finish with concrete next steps
  • End on time

This type of hyper-focus can fuel your team’s creative drive rather than hinder it. It does so by keeping your creative team in the zone. According to Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine:

If you’re working on task A and somebody comes in and interrupts you about exactly that task people report that’s very positive and helps them think about task A.

Use this to your advantage by having your meetings align with your creative team’s project of the day. Instead of having a rambling, hour-long meeting where you skip over four or five different topics, find out what the priority of the day is for your creative team and schedule a 15-mintue meeting to talk about only that. Save the other topics for when your team is ready to work on them.

Schedule meetings with your creative team at the beginning or end of the day.

When a meeting comes in the middle of a work day, say at 11:00 in the morning or 3:00 in the afternoon, it derails the creative process. Studies show that it takes over twenty minutes to recover from an interruption, and again: your creative team will almost inevitably view your meeting in that light.

So instead of disrupting your team’s creative momentum, schedules your meetings to bookend their day so that you maximize their periods of interruption-free time. And avoid above all the temptation to pull your creative team into unscheduled meetings, or to bring them along to ones where their presence is not absolutely critical.

Remember: all your creative team wants is to get their work done. Your company will be most productive if you just leave them to it.

Published 11/25/16 by Laura Lynch