“Aditya, isn’t creativity something that lies outside the box — something that doesn’t have a single way of going about it?”
But, hear me out.
Creativity needs space. And you can’t have the space to be creative around your highest priority projects if you have to think about every little mundane thing.
To think out of the box, you need clear space for unstructured, unorganised creativity to flow. And let me tell you that as counterintuitive as it sounds, being organized and structured can be your best way to be creative.
Alfred North Whitehead, a 19th century mathematician and philosopher once said,
“Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.”
This means, designing reliable and predictable systems that do the unimportant work and decision-making for you, with processes that don’t need to be thought about every time you want to get some routine activity done.
And the simplest way to save cognitive resources on tasks that are not high leverage but need to be done nevertheless is to
Outsource your decision-making to simple checklists.
Military personnel are always looking at checklists. They have checklists for every situation under the sun. That’s why the entire nation can rely on them to do their job well.
Whenever things fail, they update and improve their existing checklists, so that problems get documented and no one has to think about the operating procedure in the future.
Another way is to decide once and never decide again.
Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are known to lead really simple and routine lifestyles outside of work, which allows them to be creative in their work. This boils down to wearing the same clothes every day, having a predictable routine, and just generally making choices once and sticking to the same choices for the long term.
The clothing thing is actually called the capsule wardrobe movement — you have one less decision to make every day, which means less time wasted, and less stress.
But do you need to do this?
It's not necessary. But it helps.
All because motivation is fickle. The mind works in spurts and is rarely consistent. Hence, it is a long term strategy to not rely on yourself every time you need to make a decision. Externalise your most routine tasks to processes and checklists. Save your mental bandwidth for the really creative work.
The less you have to think, the better.
When you see that a task is fully dependent on memory and not on creative thinking, consider making a checklist.
In this way, not only will you automate the task for yourself, but also spot repeated activities and inefficiencies within the process. You’ll start thinking about optimization.
And once the checklist is made, anybody in your team can perform that operation, provided it’s a routine one.
Delegation becomes easier. You have more space.
And creativity thrives in space. To create space for important work, let your systems do the thinking for you when it comes to the other relatively trivial stuff.