The Creative Benefit of Structure

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years trying to figure out how to self-motivate and be more efficient and productive.  It seems that a lot of people become entrepreneurs because they want to set their own schedule and be their own boss.  What they (and I) quickly learn is that in order to be successful, you have to adhere to a schedule.  Everyone is your boss and your schedule can be 24/7 if you allow it to be.  Just like you wouldn’t (well, shouldn’t) launch a business without a clear roadmap, you shouldn’t live your daily life without one.

The benefit of this structure has become a hot topic over the last month with Brad Feld and the NYTimes discussing the danger of being “busy”.  I think a natural outgrowth of preventing the busy trap is to create structure.  From that structure, creativity blossoms.

Over the course of the past 6 months, I have discovered that I am most productive when I set short term time limits (under 4 hours) around tasks.  The structure is not “I will get this done by 3PM”, but instead it is “I will only work on this until 3PM and then go play ping pong”.   Instead of the stick, I am using a carrot to self-motivate and improve efficiency.

What I have noticed is that when I do this and I work for set blocks of time and relax for set blocks of time, I am significantly more efficient and productive.  This efficiency leads to more work being done and, I think, more creative work occurring. I have more time to block out for thinking and contemplating and that spurs new thought.   There have been a lot of studies done around hours worked and how you become more inefficient after working a set number of hours. I don’t agree that it is the number of hours, but I believe it is the number of hours worked at any one time that affects productive and efficiency.

My realization has led to applying this same structure to other parts of my life – I will exercise or run between 6AM and 7AM only. I will read the newspaper before 8AM only and on and on.  I believe that creating this structure has led to more productivity and more “stuff” getting done both personally and professionally.

Once of the hardest parts of being an entrepreneur is having to answer to no one and everyone.  Finding the right balance that allows you to hold yourself accountable and makes you more productive is crucial to being successful in the long run.  A lack of structure in your life, just like in your business, will ultimately lead to declining   returns over time and has the potential tocause you to dread working for yourself.  What tricks work to organize and structure your life?