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Jun 13, 201711:44 AMOpen Mic

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Want to produce your best work? Protect your power cycle

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Creativity is such an elusive thing. But if you have to “be creative” as a fundamental part of your every-day-of-the -week job, and you’re paying attention to the periods when you’re most productive (or completely unproductive), you’re sure to have noticed a few things about the way you work.

I found this out the hard way very early in my career as an advertising copywriter. Come mid- to late afternoon, I could wrestle with a problem for literally hours and never come to a satisfactory conclusion. But it never failed — the same vexing issue that eluded me the late afternoon before was solved dead in the first 30 minutes of the next day.

Why? A fresh brain and rested body? A subconscious mind that worked on the problem throughout the night? Just not so tired, hungry, and aggravated? Yes, to all of the above, but an even bigger yes to recognizing my personal power cycle. There was one insurmountable problem at that job, though. My boss’s power cycle started at around 7 p.m., and he was a “nobody leaves before I do “type.

Yeah, that didn’t last long.

Creative power cycles are personal, and not easily altered

I didn’t waste any time trying to adjust my naturally diurnal cycles to match my boss’s nocturnal ones. All that would have gotten me was a lot of physical and mental pain, and a portfolio of crappy work. I got out of that job, learned to recognize and defend my power cycle, and was not only a lot happier but more productive, too — in both quality and quantity.

As I realized this truth about myself, I started to see it in others, as well. My longtime art director confrere Wayne Koenig, now a standout UX lead at Raven Software, is notorious for killing it with amazing work created in the wee hours of the morning. He’s naturally nocturnal. I’m naturally diurnal. We managed to work together seamlessly for a close to a decade — primarily during the periods when our power cycles overlapped. Then we’d disengage, go about our individual roles as required, and reconvene when necessary, typically when our power cycles overlapped again.

Is that any way to run a creative department? Damn right it is, and we have the awards to prove it.

As a creative director, I made it a point to determine my team members’ individual power cycles as quickly as possible — and then schedule things appropriately. Late afternoon concept meetings? A complete waste of time. Early morning job starts for my late owl art director? Same thing. It’s not about pandering to the fragile artist and their oh-so-precious schedule preferences. It’s about getting what you really want — brilliant, creative work.

This is no excuse — it’s biology

The mental effort required to create — not modify, edit, kern, or optimize, etc. — is significant. A writer friend of mine once told me that he believed a focused, bent-on-perfection writer could only effectively write for two hours a day. And I agree.

There are outliers, of course. Isaac Asimov is said to have written at least eight hours a day, seven days a week. That worked for him (as one of the most prolific authors in history with over 500 significant published works). But seriously, he’s the exception. Even the wildly creative polymath Benjamin Franklin made sure to identify — and defend —his most powerful parts of the day from distraction.

Smart guy, Ben. Knew enough to identify — and defend — the most creative and productive hours of his day. From The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, circa 1793.


Jun 19, 2017 09:25 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Very good article - a pressing problem along this line is integrating children's sleep cycles into learning and school (which also are restrained from variation by normal work cycles of parents). I just spent time with my granddaughter who is 3. There was a dad and grandads event at her preschool/day care . It was early so she got waked up and I took her to the center (also enabled her mother to go to work early) but she was clingy and whiny- I ended up doing what most parents can't do spent a half hour reading to her and other children and getting her settled - not a normal problem if she works on her normal sleep cycle and just wakes up. That night however she was in fine shape and mastered a number of complex building block tasks creatively that she had not done before- that is her cycle but as she moves into formal schooling there will be less flexibility. This is a bigger issues than my granddaughter and over time needs to be addressed if we are to maximize learning in our schools as well as performance in our businesses.

Note to employers and political people- a major reason my daughter stays at the bio-research center at a university in another state is the flexibility it provides her as a parent. Walker's (and presumably the business community's) attempts to provide industrial processes like the recent proposed evaluation process to the university is a key factor that she and many younger phd. researchers that UI know have written off the UW.

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