Creative Energy vs Time

Written by Max
, tagged as #freelance

People debate so much on the time and efforts they spend on work. Are you working hard or hardly working?

In this article, I want to share my thoughts on time, whether client work or your own projects.


The main question here is the priorities you have, like finishing a project within a time frame or creating an MVP (minimum viable product) as soon as possible.

There can be one more fake priority, like creating a perfect something. By perfect, I mean when it's nothing to add or change. But let's face it. Actually, it's not a priority, and if we talk about artists, designers and musicians, we are perfectionists in some sense, and we often can't reach the point when it's ready. At least in our subjective opinion.

Usually, we know that there is always something to add, fix or polish. Sometimes you spend an enormous amount of time on a project, and at some point, you're just bored and no longer can continue working on it.

Make Time vs. Have Time

Sometimes people ask me if I'm busy, and honestly, that's the question I struggle to answer. From one side, I'm always doing something, but from another side, I control my schedule, and I can do whatever I decide to do. So I'd ask myself if I can make time for something rather than if I have time.

It wasn't questionable when I was working on a 9-5 job. Since there were always managers and team leaders who set priorities for you. But when you are self-employed or building your startup, you are 100% in charge of your time, and your outcome depends on the priorities you set.

Why is it wrong to sell hours?

Should You Always Charge Per Hour?

There is no strict rule that you should charge your clients per hour. Also, there is no rule to only work with fixed budgets.

Honestly, I do not like working with people on an hourly basis, but sometimes I do this if I don't know the actual scope of work or if I have a trial period with a new client and we're just figuring out the direction that we want to take and what strategy to use. Because even if you have a scope of work document, you can change it during your work on the project, or there can be some of the things that weren't included in the beginning, but it's something critical that should be included anyway. As a result, you spend more effort and resources on the work, and as an outcome, it cuts your profit. And it adds a good amount of bureaucracy to agree on every point that changes. So hourly basis can be fair enough for both sides in cases like this.

However, it's not fair for long-term projects. There are so many factors like the energy you spend, emotional investment, the equipment you use, assets you have, the type of work you do at the end of the day; it's too simple to charge per hour. Easy for a client, but bad for you as a creative. I believe it works better for work that requires similar actions and almost no emotional investment.

Every creative work requires emotional involvement at some point, and sometimes it can drain you within an hour, but you can go easy on some other things and don't spend that much energy. You can spend a huge amount of energy and hard thinking in a conceptual part of the work, but this is often hard to sell as a separate project or hours that you spend on this part of work. It's something that definitely should be included in the whole budget of the project, but not like a part of it. It's just easier to avoid any bureaucracy this way.

You can be efficient or productive. It depends on your mood, diet, what media you consumed, whom you talked to, how you started your day, etc. So many factors apply to how much you can do per hour or how cool the result can be.

What Time Means For Makers?

Why do we even think about a time when we want to make something? That's something that adds complexity rather than making our plans better. Someone said that we have to schedule and have a scope of work, but actually, that's someone's opinion, and we can have our own. We can do things differently, experiment with the way we accomplish whatever we want to. So let's think about our life and creative process if we remove time from the equation. What will it change in our workflow? What will it change in your mindset? How will you approach the task?

I think that by removing time, you can focus on just one thing, and it's a result. It's no longer matters when people want results from you, and it doesn't matter if you fail and do not ship whatever you make in scheduled time. You know what you want to accomplish, and you can reverse engineer that to small steps that you can start doing right away. So why do you even need to think about time? You have a goal; you have a roadmap. All you need to do is start moving according to the step-by-step instructions you have in mind until the result you want.

I do believe that minimalism wins. And time is a distraction in cases like this. You need to think about the end goal. So you can go through all the journey with stages and tasks. Some of them you'll probably not like, but it's something that you should do. You always have stuff that you don't like to do, but the reward makes sense to us to do these things anyway.

Of course, we want many things right now, but my experience says that you do not always get what you want instantly, and sometimes it takes months and years. But eventually, I get what I want. Of course, if it's something I am 100% percent sure about.

We as human beings can't plan properly, and I'd even say we make huge mistakes if we want to schedule our time. And almost every estimation fails. Especially if we talk about creative work, making new things, etc. We're not capable of doing a 100% stable prognosis for any activity that depends on people. So why do you even need to take time into account if, in most of the cases, it demotivates you?

Let's make it practical. I'm going to do one project, and I'll do it without any timeframes. I'll just set up the goal I want to achieve with this project, then write a to-do list with steps that I need to do, and then I'll see how much time it will take, but it will not be the most crucial part of the equation.

It's not about time you spent. It's more about if the weather is sunny or not, how much cups of coffee have you drunken and what kind of music playlists have been on.

Energy and intention matter because you can do the same thing having a different mood and a level of energy.

Surprisingly, you'll spend a different amount of time, like 2-3 times faster or slower. Think about it. It's not about the time you spent. It's more about if the weather is sunny or not, how many cups of coffee you have drunk, and what kind of music playlists have been on.

Let's focus on what brings us energy instead of focusing on time. Otherwise, it flies away, and you'll not even notice how it has happened.

Have you seen movies where one day on repeat and you can't break the loop? The only thing that you can do is to make the most of it. Figure out why are you in the loop and what you can do with it?

Money can be managed. People can be managed. Schedules can be managed. Time can only be accounted for.

People who think they have time management problem have self management problem.

Too many priorities mean that you have none.

So what about priorities and how to build a great strategy for that? I have several points on it:

Leave tasks that require time but do not need your attention by the end of the day.

You'll eventually get there, it's just a matter of time.

Very often, time blocks this voice inside us that tells us what you actually want. It's easy to become a slave of your schedule. But it's hard to do something wrong when you have priorities and vision. And as people say you'll eventually get there, it's just a matter of time.

Creative Time Limitations

I noticed that if I have highly creative tasks, I can spend more time than I expect. However, I can almost destroy my perfectionism when I need to deliver something real quick.

Night Owl Or Early Bird?

I saw well-known designers/creatives who changed their schedule changed what they do and what results they have. There is nothing wrong with working early in the morning or late at night. It's a matter of choice.

All creatives have different backgrounds, knowledge, location, environment, and habits. These things change the way we work, what we do it and how we communicate. However, if you change some of the variables, you can change your results.

I love working late at night. I don't know exactly why and how I acquired this habit, but I remember that it's started in my student times.

I naturally do routine stuff in the daytime and the most creative part of the work at night.

It's always felt wrong when all those successful people shared the idea that they've achieved their executive positions and business success because they wake up early (4 or 5 am) in the morning. It's not empty words.

I've actually tried to wake up really early. Everything felt different, and basically, I couldn't do anything amazing and creative in the morning. It was never the right time for me to be passionate about something. It felt like a lot of energy, and I could think logically. Good for exercises and to quickly do some tasks that do not require much focus, but not a creative type of work.

After so many years of studying, working 9-5, freelancing, I experimented all the time and explored schedules of other creatives and what they say about it.

I've read a blog about a guy who was a great hand-letterer back in the days. After years of hustling and practicing this craft, he even created an awesome course, from zero skills to amazing results. Mostly he was working on this at night. However, he switched his focus to other things and changed his approach to the business side. And started spreading the thought that if you want to be successful, you need to wake up early and do your thing. There is nothing wrong with that, but I noticed that the creativity level of the guy has dropped, and from that point, everything he produced looked less and less creative. It was more about the content of how to be successful, motivated, run a business, and make money. And as far as I know, this shift hasn't brought greater results than it was at creative times.

One other guy that is the author of the awesome book "The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F..." wrote in his blog that he couldn't write a decent paragraph before it's nighttime.

DJs and producers create fantastic sounds at night when everybody sleeps, and nobody disturbs them except other musicians who collaborate with them.

Try to understand me right. I'm not promoting this lifestyle and not prescribing you working late at night if you want to be very creative.

It's actually bad for your health, and that's probably the biggest trade-off for results you want to achieve. Everything has its price.

I want to say that you shouldn't believe other guys what they tell about productivity, creativity, and efficiency until you try it yourself and compare your results before and after.

Whether it's a day or night, it doesn't matter. Choose the time where you have the most creative energy that you can use for your purposes.