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The Business Owners Fiercely Guarding Their Time To Protect Creativity



Burnout, email overload and meetings bloat all feature in Microsoft and LinkedIn’s new Work Trend Index which reports that 68% of people struggle with the pace and volume of their work, and 46% feel burned out.

Creativity is suffering as the workday skews toward communication: people spend 60% of their time on emails, chats, and meetings, and only 40% using creation apps. So it’s little wonder that busy people are finding novel ways to guard their creative time from distractions, set boundaries, and boost their productivity. I call this ‘intentional inflexibility’ and, in a working world where distractions are near constant, setting limits is now imperative if anyone is to get anything done.

Make ‘no’ your default answer to demands on your time

Clara Emanuel, who co-founded WorkWelle to improve the work-life balance of self-employed mothers, says that, in order to guard her creative and productive hours, ‘no’ has become her default response when dealing with requests for her availability.

She explains: “I have scripts ready to reiterate my boundaries. When a simple ‘no’ or ‘I’ll get back to you’ is the default, you have the time to re-prioritize when a ‘hell yes’ opportunity arrives.”

Emanuel is also strict about communicating her availability, using her out-of-office auto-response for more than just vacations, such as when she’s on nursery runs, deep in writing sprints, or taking time to meditate. She adds: “As a mother and business owner, it’s important for me to establish clear boundaries between my work and family life.”

Pause working in your business to work on your business

Some business owners are going even further. Reshmi Bennett, who founded London craft bakery Anges de Sucre and has penned a series of children’s baking books, took the difficult decision to shut down her bakery one day each week so she could have uninterrupted creative time to create and trial new cake flavours and designs, and focus on her writing.

When her bakery is open, she manages production and oversees operations, including customer service, fulfilment and driver logistics. But being ‘on call’ to employees, customers and suppliers was disrupting her creative process.

Bennett adds: “We made the decision to close production on Tuesdays which we identified as one of our lower demand days. I’ve been able to expand our cake range, creating new styles–some which have had viral fame–and I’ve published seven books.”

Ringfence time for creativity and set a hard limit on meetings

Even in professions notorious for overwork, there are ways to protect creative time and productivity gains to be made. Paul Britton, CEO and founder of Britton & Time law firm recalls that, for years, his calendar was swirling mess of meetings, emails, and last-minute requests that chipped away at any chance he might have to focus on the business as a whole.

He adds: “It wasn’t uncommon on a Monday morning in the city to find businesspeople, me included, bleary-eyed, having just wrapped up a late-night client call on a Sunday, only to face a day jam-packed with internal discussions on everything from printer ink, office snacks and the latest performance improvement plan that was going to be rolled out. Thirty hours a week in meetings wasn’t abnormal; it was the norm.

Today, working life for Britton and his colleagues looks very different. Tuesdays are now meeting days, for all internal and third-party meetings, barring emergencies. Thursdays are designated idea days, now sacred for uninterrupted creative exploration. On these days emails are silenced for the most part, phones are put on do-not-disturb, and the entire team is focused on deep concentration.

Britton says: “Initially, I got the usual pushback to change… ‘but what if a client has an urgent request?’ So we appointed a designated point of contact who could triage urgent issues, reducing disruption for the rest of us.”

Like Emanuel, Britton has also developed the courage to say ‘no’, in his case to anything that does not directly contribute to high-quality creative output, revenue generation or furthering business objectives. “This included some networking events that were not rewarding, law events that weren’t focused on business, strategy and creativity, and even certain client requests that didn’t align with my vision for work the firm would undertake,” he says.

The impact of the changes has had profound effects. The once chaotic ‘always-on’ environment has become one of focused productivity, the team has thrived on the predictability of scheduled meetings and uninterrupted workdays, and started producing work and securing business they are truly proud of.

Britton says: “For many of us, our creativity–the very reason we get into business–is held hostage by a lack of time. The bottom-line is this: your creativity is your most valuable asset as a business leader. Protect it fiercely.”

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