Even in a culture that has embraced “work from home” and “remote work,” there’s a persistent prevailing myth of what “work” looks like or “should” look like:
Fixed start and stop times.
Ass in chair.
Work for a certain amount of time.
This is the belief about work behind the well-known Pomodoro method that advocates working to a timer set for 25-minute intervals with 5 minute breaks.
It’s the belief that fuels the need for “face time” if you work in an office setting.
There’s no question that certain types of work are like this. If you’re a practitioner who sees patients or clients on a schedule, if you work in a manufacturing plant, or in a retail store, or on site in any capacity where you have a schedule of clients or classes, this applies. Start and stop times are relevant.
If that’s you, you can skip this.
If you’re a “knowledge worker” or “creative” as Todd Henry defines it — anyone who “turns thoughts into value” — if your work involves identifying and solving problems — this prevailing belief simply doesn’t apply.
In fact it can be damaging.
Because this is likely the standard you use to judge whether you’ve been “productive.”
And quite simply: this isn’t how creative work works.
Creative work is cyclical. It operates like the seasons.
Yesterday was the Autumn Equinox, technically the first day of Autumn in the Northern hemisphere.
We often think of autumn as when the days start to shorten, the temperature starts to drop, and the leaves change color.
In fact, the days have been growing shorter since the summer solstice in June. The temperatures have slowly been falling for a few weeks. And yet we still have warmer days ahead. And some leaves have already begun to turn.
Autumn is also harvest season in the agricultural cycle. Yet the wheel of the year has other harvest points.
The pace of nature is not linear. We don’t see immediate changes at the moment we turn the calendar.
The process is cyclical, and gradual. There’s overlap: one season bleeds into the next.
Summer’s warmth carries over into autumn, until we reach a point at which the temperature no longer rises quite as high. The leaves will turn and fall until we look up to bare trees.
The creative process follows the same rhythm.
Expecting to be creative or “productive” just because you put your ass in a chair at a certain time and set a timer is like expecting the calendar to dictate when the flowers grow.
The process of harvesting begins with seeding and planting, way before you sit down with your kitchen timer.
The seeds of ideas blow into our consciousness without concern to time or space. They don’t wait for a season. If we cultivate our soil we can plant them at any time in any location.
We incubate, nourish and nurture them as we move and interact. Conversations water the soil and germinate sprouts. New insights provide fertilizer for the seeds.
Cultivating the soil in which ideas can germinate is essential to the process. This work happens anywhere and everywhere. It’s happening all the time.
You can’t dictate creativity by clocks and calendars.