Giving yourself permission to be unproductive

Working in Professional Services broke me. For years, I have been trained to “maximize utilization”, which is shorthand for maximizing billable hours. As a consultant, I was taught and incentivized to spend as much time as possible billing customers and minimizing the time that wasn’t billable. This works great when you are trying to maximize billings, but this has many destructive side effects.

Stifling Creativity

The biggest destructive side effect to maximizing utilization is stifling creativity. Creativity by its nature is exploration, wandering off to find a solution to a problem you haven’t solved yet. Or perhaps not even solve a problem at all. It’s giving life — to an idea, to a concept, to a piece of art, to a song, to a book. In my experience, creativity is not something I can turn on and off at will. I have to give it room and time to develop.

Being OK with Thrashing

For those times where I am able to take a step back and allow myself some room for creativity, I find that it’s important to give myself permission to thrash, which is a vulgar way to describe the creative (and destructive) process. It’s really like being a kid again, playing around with things that interest you, with no care for its productive value. If you’re like me and you tend to be overly critical of how productive you’re being, giving yourself the grace to be unproductively creative is important.

Loving the Process

The creative process is messy and it’s easy to get discouraged if you don’t see results quickly. Because of this, I believe it’s important to love the process. And when I refer to “love” I am not talking about the feeling of love, but the act of love. It’s putting forth effort even though you don’t feel like it. It’s having faith that the time you’re spending is worth it. It’s sacrificing your time, talents, and treasure for something you don’t immediately see.

I love watching cooking shows and I was always fascinated with shows like Project Runway — the creativity on display by those artists are truly inspirational. I wish I was that creative. In my own little circle, I do have opportunities to let my creativity shine. I am reminded of this today, as I’ve spent much of it working on new projects to get my business in order. It has felt good to give myself permission to thrash and try out new things.