How to be more productive without losing your creativity

Creativity and productivity are two irreplaceable elements for achieving success in business. Although they are two sides of the same coin, there’s a widespread misunderstanding saying that creativity kills productivity and vice versa.

As a result, it is not a surprise that teams with more creative functions (e.g. marketing, design, etc.) are sometimes putting up resistance when they are faced with methods such as Kanban that put a heavy focus on increasing the efficiency of their work process.

Coming from an engineering background I am all about efficiency and performance but after a few years or managing a marketing team I’ve come to the understanding that creative people such as marketers rarely consider efficiency vital when performing their duties.

Having extensive experience working in a lean environment and practicing Kanban in particular, I want to address this issue and provide some advice on how to be more productive without losing your creativity.

Creativity VS Productivity

The common understanding is that creativity and productivity are fundamentally different.

People believe that productivity and creativity are fundamentally different.

Creativity is usually associated with chaos and inefficiency. This is mostly due to the fact that creating something new or coming up with a creative solution to a problem often requires time. Time for thinking and looking at the issue from different angles and as cliche as it may sound “breaking out of the box”.

Productivity, on the other hand, is associated with strict order and efficiency.

In the software industry, both creativity and productivity are necessary for developing a successful product.

It needs to be supreme to those of your competitors. You have to develop a creative marketing message and deliver it to your targeted customers in a memorable way so they can understand how the product stands out. Nonetheless, enhancing the product quickly enough to remain a step ahead of the competition is a must for business survival.

So the question is: “How do we become disciplined and efficient without losing our creative thinking when implementing Kanban?“.

To answer it we need to remember what Kanban stands for and what are the method’s means to achieve it.

The Core Principles of Kanban

The Kanban method was built on 4 principles that people often forget or don’t even bother learning when they get started with it. This is why creative people may feel constrained by practices such as limiting work in progress. The core principles are as follows:

  1. Start With What You Do Now
  2. Agree to Pursue Incremental, Evolutionary Change
  3. Respect the Current Process, Roles & Responsibilities
  4. Encourage Acts of Leadership at All Levels

Together, these principles aim to bring process improvement and allow you to achieve evolutionary organizational change without turning your team into a group of robots that just process whatever you assign to them trying to achieve maximum efficiency of their work. You just have to find the right balance for your organization.

Always Keep Your Goals and Context in Mind

Goals always matter as they are what make you prioritize one task over another. Context, on the other hand, is how you find the best way to achieve your goals given the surrounding circumstances.

Always keep your goals in mind

Kanban can help you achieve a variety of goals such as achieving workflow transparency, improving the efficiency of your process, increasing the quality of your work, and many others.

Your teams have goals of their own. For example, your development team’s goal would be to develop a stellar product with working features.

On the other hand, your marketing team’s goal would typically be associated with generating leads and bringing revenue to your company.

To make the most of Kanban in the different contexts of your teams, you’ll have to adapt your implementation for each team in your company and find a balance between creativity and efficiency.

The Balance Between “Creativity” and “Efficiency”

Creative people tend to generate a large number of ideas on a daily basis. That’s natural and that’s the reason why we need them in the first place – they are different and they can do things that others can’t.

Though, if a marketer is only good at generating ideas and cannot execute on them, then a lot of waste could be generated and the value for the company becomes questionable. Another possible damage is the frequent changes in priority (mind), which tends to be daily in the “creative” business where projects are thrown away when the boss forgets about them.

Having that said, what would be a good way to streamline the work of such people? Kanban helps with two major concepts:

  • Try to do as few things as possible at a time
  • Finish the work you have started before taking a new one

I don’t see any issue being creative and still keeping these simple rules. It’s just a bit of discipline to make you much more efficient and still does not imply strict limits that would convert a designer into a poor mind-crippled engineer :).

In just a few words – don’t be extreme when creativity is important. Have some basic rules that allow you to accomplish, but not too much to be hurting new ideas generation and brainstorming.

Good luck!

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