5 Things You Can Do Today to Make Yourself More Creative, And Productive, Tomorrow

From Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People report: Simon Rich, one of the most productive writers we know, outlines 5 steps to upping your own creativity quotient.

As we’ve noted here before, Simon Rich is a mind-bogglingly prolific creative force. At 29, he’s built a body of work that includes screenplays, novels, magazine articles, short stories, and Saturday Night Live sketches. He wrote his first book at 18 and his latest, a collection of short stories, The Last Girlfriend On Earth, debuted this year.

Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People In Business honoree follows a strict routine that allows all that productivity. Here, he shares five key creativity boosters that you can put into play right now.

Know when you work best.

When Rich wakes up, the first thing he wants to do is write, so that’s what he does. As the day progresses, however, the story changes: "I don’t usually have a lot of problems getting stuff done in the morning," he says. "But after lunch I really slow down." He estimates his pre-lunch versus post-lunch productivity ratio to be about 80/20. "It’s really diminishing returns."

Work on what you want first.

For more on global leaders in technology, design, media, music, movies, marketing, television, and sports, see Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People In Business 2013 report. Read more with Simon Rich here.

Recognizing that not everything you do today will be something you’re dying to do, Rich says you might be better off tackling your favored task first. "It sometimes depends on deadlines, but I’ve found that the most efficient thing is to write what you want to write," Rich says. "So if I have a movie script due, and I don’t really want to do it—really what I want to do is write some short story that I’ve started—I’ve found that it’s actually faster to just write the story and then go to the screenplay. There are exceptions to that, if something is really due imminently, but I always secretly know, in the back of my mind, what I really want to be writing."

Go for quantity over quality.

Rich calls himself a "law-of-averages guy." "I figure, if I throw enough stuff out there, some of it will hopefully stick." His favorite writers are the ones who keep writing: T.C. Boyle, P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh. "I just read this great biography of Charles Schulz, and he produced a new Peanuts every single day for half a century. And obviously not every Peanuts strip is on the same level, but still, it’s pretty staggering."

Know how you work.

Simon Rich

Routine works for Rich, but to each his own: "I know a lot of extremely talented people who are very successful who hate work and never do it," he says. "And they’re fine. I really like the band Tegan and Sara, and I read that…one of them generates hundreds of songs, and the other generates five or six, but they have an equal number of songs on each album. I thought that was really interesting. It’s like, if I had a higher batting average with my pieces, I wouldn’t have to write as many of them. I think everyone’s got to sort of figure it out."

Forgive yourself.

Rich says that he was horrified at 18 when he reread his first novel and discovered that it was—in his words—"terrible." "I remember being so upset because that novel accounted for probably half of the pages I’d ever written in my entire lifetime. Whereas a couple years ago I threw out a novel, and it was just a small portion of the pages that I had even written in that year." The lesson? The more you do, the more you know you’re capable of. "You write a bad novel. So what? You just write a better one."

[Image: Flickr user Steve Ryan]

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  • patmcgraw

    I'm struggling with the 'go for quantity over quality' - there has to be some minimum standards, right?

  • satya

    I think what he means is just crank out stuff- standards will come as you keep on going, and you'll eventually figure out what sticks and what doesn't.

  • Maggie

    GREAT article. Just what I needed this morning (as I finish my most productive two hours of the day.)

  • Stewart

    Very refreshing indeed. In particular the bit about the band he knows and the output ratio being equal!!.
    To me this is not only as stated, but far more!! as it serves as a nice daily reminder to get the most out of life and the things I and others deserve!!.

  • Reina Carpeso

    I couldn't agree with you more especially on "Know when you work best." For me, my productive hours would be after waking up. Good thing I'm working from home. :)

    If it's okay, I want to add an article that I just bumped
    into that was also surprisingly helpful for my productivity -

    It's an interview of Nomadic Matt. A traveler who's also
    running a remote business all at the same time. His productivity tips are
    simple that even those who doesn't travel but are working from home and
    suffering from a poor productivity can pretty much relate. I know I did.

    Admitting your distractions is surprisingly one
    of his tips. May it be social media sites or having fun outside, you need to
    know what your distractions are, in order for you to know how to handle it. :) 

  • Stewart

    This makes sense. Add a faster laptop and organisational skills and a creative mind is away.

  • Dr.YKK (Kam K Yew)

    Great sharing! It is good to know what works for Simon, though it does not necessarily means that it will work for us. Each one of us has to find our own creativity pathway. It is a tough task indeed. However, with the sharing my world's most creative people, our task will be progressively easier as we get greater clarity. Anyhow, it is about experimenting until the right formula fits. Simon's formula found the right formula early. I think that accounts for his success.

    I believe each of the 100 creative geniuses featured in fastcompany found their own distinctive formula. Who knows, if we find ours, we could be featured in next or subsequent years' features.


    Dr.YKK (Kam K Yew PhD)
    Chief Mind Unzipper

  • Don Maruska

    Make Your Creativity a Priority and Everyone Wins
    The first two elements -- know when you work best and work on what you want first -- align with what we have found helps people to optimize use of their talent.
    It's more than just knowing when you work best. It's following through to use that time for what you most deeply hope to accomplish with your talent. So many people give away their most creative times of the day to minutiae or other people's priorities. That leaves them struggling to do their creative work when they are tired and wrung out. When our clients reserve even one or two times a week when they work best for their creative work, their results and fulfillment soar.
    Similarly, when people work on what they want first, they are nourished to do everything else so much more effectively and less stressfully. Feeding our creative spirits is like breathing oxygen. As they say on the airplanes, in the event of loss in cabin pressure, put your oxygen mask on first and then assist others. We can't help others much less ourselves when we are running on empty.
    For more stories and examples of how to put these practices into productive use for yourself, we offer specific guidance on pages 98-112 of "Take Charge of Your Talent." 

  • Jennifer

    I dont agree with his "do what you want first". I usually do what I have to do first and knowing I can do what I want later serves me as motivation. If I did what I wanted first, I'd never get anything done.

  • Con

    Everything you do is what you really want to do. People don't exercise because they don't truly want to exercise. Motivation and free will are two different things.

  • Hillary Rettig

    Approach your work nonlinearly. Picture it as a big landscape (like one of those topographical maps at museums) and then work on whatever part is most appealing. As soon as you can't go any farther on that section, hop right over to another and work on that. Work on the easy / accessible / fun sections first, and you'll gain insight and confidence that will help you tackle the harder sections. And you'll work fast!

  • Jason W. Womack, MEd, MA

    "I am at my best when..."

    Besides time of day (something we can easily get conditioned into believing) it's important to know what the other things are that could set us up for success...

    I know I'm at my best when...

    I eat a balanced breakfast
    I reach out to a mentor to ask for help
    I capture my agreements as I make them