The Creative Department is the best place to work inside a company/agency/shop.
You get paid to invent and be productive. You're not filling out spreadsheets or conference-calling clients to discuss budget issues. The most difficult part of your job is deciding when to stop generating concepts.
You can dream up the funniest TV campaign, slickest mobile app or biggest social media movement. But the second you write it down, questions pop up in your head: “What else can it do?” “Can I think of something better?” You change, twist and tweak until you run out of time, or your creative director gives his or her blessing to move forward. Getting burnt out is common.
Advertising’s creative process was difficult for me to manage when I switched to this industry in 2006. Assignments bounced around my skull 24/7. I’d wake up at 3AM and my first thought would be trying to figure out a brochure headline for a childcare client.
During moments I realized I wasn’t ‘concepting’—no matter if I was riding my bike to the barber, standing in the audience at a concert, or bodysurfing at Newport Beach—I would try to force myself into thinking of a work idea.
This practice would quickly suck the enjoyment out of whatever I was doing. I started to resent my job.
After reading some articles explaining the negative side-effects of multi-tasking, I started concentrating more on compartmentalizing work. Take time to work. Take breaks. Take time to not work.
Avoid the S.W.A.T. Approach to Productivity
Most days we sit at our desk and try to squeeze out a good thought about Client A, B and/or C. We surf the Net for hours looking for anything that might give us an answer. We concentrate so hard all day long.
You come up with some decent stuff, head home for the day, watch Breaking Bad on Netflix before going to sleep, and come up with a great idea the next morning in the shower while you scrub your manbits or ladyparts.*
Why did the idea generation happen then and not yesterday at work?
Because you gave yourself some time to NOT think about it. You ignored it.
Your subconcious is a problem-solving machine. But if you fail to focus on something else that pushes the “problem” out of your conscious mind, you miss taking advantage of your brain’s magic trick.
In the TV show, To Catch a Predator, the crew waits for chatroom pedophiles to enter a trap-house and get arrested. Notice that Dateline isn’t following a S.W.A.T. team into the suspects’ homes. It’s too much work and resources. They sit back and let the creeps come to them. You catch more flies with honey…or in this case, you catch more perverts with fake 14-year-olds.
It’s the same process for wringing ideas out of your brain. You can’t knock down the front door and snatch them up. You need to stay calm and collected like Chris Hansen. Immerse yourself in things OTHER than work. That’s when ideas show up by themselves and you can taser/ridicule them into doing what you want.
Doing Things Outside of Work
At several points in history, somebody said something along the lines of, “Every new invention is just a combination of two pre-existing inventions.” Give yourself some time with inventions that aren’t work related. Put your mind out there and let it absorb and make connections.
If you’re an Art Director, study the segment bumper designs on MTV. If you’re a copywriter, read McSweeney’s and Chuck Klosterman. If you’re a human, go for a goddamned walk without music or your phone. Play laser tag. Ride your bike to work twice a week. Get your mind away.
If you're serious at trying a new approach, check out the Pomodoro Technique. I've gotten good results from this rapid-fire time-managment tactic.
An 80-hour workweek isn't cool like it was in the 1990s. Don’t kill yourself working. Ignore it every once in a while and let your subconcious do your job while you enjoy life.
*Author Note: Two minutes is all you really need in the shower. Growing up on the farm, the house’s water came from a well. The well stayed full with rain, or from hauling water back from town in a truck-sized tank. To conserve, my dad would yell down the basement stairs at the two-minute mark for me to “get out of the shower." I internalized this time constraint and it carried over to adulthood. My rapid-showers surprise new friends and made my now-wife question my cleanliness at the beginning of our relationship. No worries. Two minutes is all you need.