Before some time last year, I was convinced that time management and creativity don’t go together. That time management was surely a good thing—for other people—but that I had little use for it.

I’m a creative person, after all, and aren’t organization and structure anathema to true creativity? I personally like to think of creative activities as a space for freedom and inspiration without any constraints or pressures.

And where structure is given, at school, at university, and later at work, for example, I found that I really didn’t need to bother with time management techniques. If I was using any without noticing, I couldn’t tell. But I am naturally pretty well organized and never particularly had to think about how I did things.

Now that I started working full time and having my own household to take care of, however, it feels as if I had barely any time for myself and for my creative projects. Particularly it feels like I hardly get anything done. That’s terribly frustrating.

Where most people seem to talk about time management in the work context, therefore, I was getting the feeling that I could use some in my spare time.

It wasn’t that I sought out information on time management. Rather, when I discovered the world of podcasts, I stumbled into one on time and self management by chance.

Just listening to Thomas Mangold speak about time management motivates me immensely. I can totally recommend both his podcast and his blog. And I’m very glad this was the first thing I discovered on the topic because next to various great techniques, Thomas taught me four vital points about time management that have shaped how I approach it now:

Time Management as Self Service Buffet

Firstly, time management—like many other things—is a self-service buffet. We cannot just follow someone’s instructions and become perfect time managers. Everyone is different and what works for one person does not necessarily work for another. You have to find your own way, try things out and keep the ones that work for you while discarding the ones that don’t.

Seeing the way to time management as a personal creative journey makes it easier for me to embrace.

Perfectionsim Keeps You From Finishing Projects

Secondly, he keeps hammering down what I need to hear most: perfectionism is no good! I’m a total perfectionist and the main reason why I don’t get things done is not that I’m not working on them but that I keep redoing them again and again because I feel they are not perfect.

Keep Track of Your Success

Thirdly, you have to keep track of your progress. Be it a success journal, lists you tick off, or a weekly/monthly/yearly… summary of what you accomplished. This way, you don’t just get things done, it also feels that way.

Time Management is Not About More Work

The fourth point that I like in particular is that time management is not about getting more and more stuff done in less and less time and becoming this productive machine. Rather, it is about concentrating on the things that matter to you and your project, that advance your project, and get rid of the stuff that is unimportant. It is about doing things without stress because you planned in enough time to do them in. It is about having more time, energy, and peace of mind to do things that matter, which includes both your projects as well as having more time for family and frieds or just downtime.

So maybe, time management and creativity do work together in some way.

I’m sure my productivity increased after I started trying out some techniques that appealed to me. However, I also found that trying to commit myself to working on one particular project at a particular time just doesn’t work.

The more I set myself goals to do this and this at that and that time, the less likely I get to actually get that thing done. Often other things got in the way or I just didn’t feel like doing that particular thing right there and then.

If I was getting the feeling that maybe I was too much of a creative chaotic type for such techniques, the other podcast I found on “time management for creative chaotic people” taught me otherwise. That didn’t work for me at all. If anything, I found that I’m not a creative chaotic type after all.

So I gave this whole thing some serious thought.

I love working on creative projects in my free time. But I also need to make sure I carve out enough downtime for myself—where I’m really not doing much—to recharge my batteries.

Also, it feels absolutely terrible to me to turn fun creative projects into items on a list that are just worked through. For me, that takes the fun part out of it. Even if it would make me more productive, would it make me more creative? I doubt it.

A creative process is still something that I don’t want to plan overmuch. I want to start and see where it takes me. I totally see that if you’d like to earn money with your creative output you can’t afford this .You need to get things done.

But I don’t need to pressure myself too much. If you do stuff primarily for yourself, it feels good to get things done. And it is vital to feel that you are accomplishing something because otherwise it is just frustrating. But there is no need for a rigid schedule.

Yet, I’m totally aware that I need some sort of plan because I know that I’m just not satisfied with the status quo.

I’m still in the middle of trying things out, really. However, a few preliminary conclusions I can draw:

Rather Vague Goal Setting

Firstly, while it doesn’t work for me to schedule: “Write post X on Saturday from 2-4,” I can set a goal to “finish ONE post over the weekend, preferably on topic X.” That really helps keep me focused.

I don’t know what is going to be happening in my life at 2 PM on Saturday, but if I wake up early on Saturday morning and the house is still quiet, I know I will very likely be working on a post.

If I write goals down, they are less easily forgotten and replaced by other sudden inspirations.

Set Free Creative Energy With Organized Planning of Errands

Secondly, while I don’t like planning through my creative projects, it does help me to plan my other, not-so-creative activities around it.

I recently changed to a day-job where I have a little more freedom but where I also have to keep a lot of things in mind that need to be finished at a particular time. Not just stuff that I have to be doing but I also have to make sure other people are finishing their part in time. This requires much more organizational energy than my previous jobs. I’m now working on a workflow that will help me to time everything without a sweat.

Likewise, I find that both personal projects and small personal errands take up too much of my energy if I just try to remember them.

Thus, I made a decision this month to plan more in written form in two ways: I will start using a planner to keep track of larger projects and installed a to do list app on my iPad where small daily errands will be living. I can time them, I can move them around, and I can check them off when I’m done. Which just feels awesome!

I’ll have yet to see how this works out for me on a long-term basis, but so far I find that if I write things down in an ORGANIZED fashion—not those little to do notes that fly around everywhere that I used before—it frees my mind to focus more on my projects. And have more fun with them. I don’t have to think about having forgotten something that I’d need to be doing instead.

Planning may take some additional time, especially setting up a system that works for you, but so far I think it is worth it.

Especially because ever since I started this new job that tends to stretch into my free time, I was beginning to feel overtaxed and stressed and felt like I was forgetting things. I was still gettings things done, but it was stressing me out. Now it feels like I’d have something there.

Make Your Own Customized DIY Planner

And the good part is that you can really customize your planning. I stumbled into an entire community of people on the web making their own DIY planners, which I find totally awesome. I also made one of my own, which I’m going to show you in a later post. But beware: 😉 That, too, is an ongoing process.

To be honest, if I were an app programmer, I’d go ahead and create my own to do list app as well. They all have some good parts and some bad parts and functions missing that I’d like to have. But since I’m not a programmer, I guess I’ll have to work with what I’ve got.

Perfectionism Is No Good

And third: My perfectionism has got to go for good. I’ve been fighting it for as long as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong: I have high standards and I’d like to keep them, but I’ve got to lose this feeling that everything has to be perfect.

As Woody Allen said:

Eighty percent of success is showing up.