4 Work Problems of Creative People and How To Solve Them (2022)

It’s official! I’m a “Creative” and I’m not meant for traditional 9-to-5 work. Pop internet psychology confirmed it, and I see no reason to argue. Like an eerily accurate horoscope, this article nailed many of my own work habits, need for flexibility and motivation in my work.

But the articledidn’t go far enough. It’s all fine and good to offer up ways for us creatives to have the “a ha” moment or pat ourselves on the back; the trick is to stay creative and still be able to pay the mortgage and buy groceries.

Maybe you’ve noticed – the bank has absolutely no interest in nurturing your special snowflake artist nature. But that’s okay! Never in the history of the world have more opportunities been available to Creatives to actually bring their creativity to the world and be recognized and even paid for it. But being creative is not enough – if you can’t harness and, yes, even discipline your creativity, autonomy and unique world view – then you will always be in limbo. Your creativity will always take a back seat to the job that keeps a roof over your head and foodin the cupboard.

Here’s what I’ve learned about succeeding as a creative in a 9-to-5 world, withlessons from both worlds.

4 Work Problems of Creative People and How To Solve Them (1)

1. Conceptualization is Never a Problem. Implementation Can Be.

I was bitching to a friend once about feeling overloaded with work for this site. She suggested that I should hire an intern for $15 a hour or something to come up with blog topics for me. I had to laugh. Coming up with new ideas is never the issue. Creatives can’t walk down the block without 30 new ideas popping into their heads. I have a spreadsheet with over 500 blog topics I’ve brainstormed for 2015 alone.

However, you’ll notice I don’t write 500 blog posts a year – to do that would mean churning out crap content with no longevity or unique voice, and that just bores me. Unless I’m really excited about something, I find it tedious to write about.

The Creative’s Solution

Stop trying to do everything you know you could do. You must give yourself permission NOT to embark on 95% of the ideas that pop into your head. If you try to chase your latest concept, you will never complete anything and your work will be sub-par.

Allow yourself to simplyhave ideas, and keep an idea list, pin board, or other inspiration space and write down all those concepts that pop into your head. If you don’t get those ideas out, they’ll start piling up like rush hour traffic. But, somewhere at the top of the list, write “This Is An Idea List, Not A To Do List” because the last thing you want is your Creative Brain to think you actually have to doall the things you can think of.

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The 9-to-5 Solution

Before you rush into a new project, check your idea board. Have you written down versions of this idea before? Has your creative brain tried to approach the same concept from 5 different ways, and you have the proof on your idea list? Great! That’s a sign this idea really resonates with you and you likely have the passion to see it through.

But wait! Before you start, make yourself an outline, a sketch, a bubble diagram, a sloppy copy – whatever. Know more or less where you are going before you dive in. If your project grows in a different direction as you nurture it, that’s totally fine, but take a few minutes at the start to visualize where this project is going, and what it will look like when it’s done.

Real Life Example

Before I started writing this post, I made a list of the main points I wanted to cover. Here’s a screencap of what the rest of this post looks like right now. The10 minutes I look making this outline will save me literally hours as I craft this post.

4 Work Problems of Creative People and How To Solve Them (2)2.We Prefer Projects To Routines. 9-to-5 Life Requires Routine.

Creative people tend to prefer one-off projects to long term routines. I’m certainly like this. I’d rather deep clean the stove with a toothbrush than unload the dishwasher. Like many creative people, I find the act of changing one thing into another (empty page to story, dirty stove to clean stove, blank canvas to painting, ingredients to special meal) very fulfilling. Doing the same thing over and over (empty dishwasher, make bed, pack lunches) is boring, and boring isn’t fulfilling.

The Creative Solution

Where possible, make routine activities into projects. Take a day and make big freezer meals, set up auto-pay for all your routine bills, make frozen sandwiches for your kid’s lunches, spend an entire afternoon responding to a week’s emails. As much as possible, get out ahead of routine tasks by going full-tilt when the mood strikes.

The 9-to-5 Solution

Suck it up, buttercup. Look, here’s the reality: being a grown-up means doing certain routine things. I write myself morning routines, weekly routines – all kinds of routines, and then do my best to follow my own plan. Is this because I’ve suddenly decided I adore making the bed every morning? Nope, not at all.

Do I love pulling myself away from product development or writing to invoice a magazine for an article I wrote? No, Ifind the “business” side of life as a Creative about as much fun as putting toothpicks in my eyes.

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Turning your creative passion into a job and not working for other people is many people’sdream – but it means sometimes you have to do stuff that’s really fricking boring and that you aren’t even that good at (like book-keeping, for example). That’s life. Deal with it.

Real Life Example

Check out this post on how I batch-make sandwiches for my kids lunches once a month, thereby turning boring drudgery into a fun occasional project.

3. Creatives Are Internally Motivated. The World Gives External Rewards.

Why is the cliche artist always starving? Why does the cliche musician sleep in his van? In work, the Creative needs their project to become what their mind has already seen. Seeing the vision made real, and in the best possible way we can execute, is ourdriver. Everything else is secondary. Creatives are primarily internally motivated. All those external motivators like money, fame, bonus vacation days or prestige are a distant second to the need to get the creative expression right for ourselves.

Now, Creatives aren’t exclusively internally motivated – most of us still like nice stuff, good food, and warm, dry homes – but we aren’t interested in putting up with an endless stream of work that slowly kills our soul in order to prove to society that we can die with the biggest pile of nice crap. External motivation is secondary, worn like a coat that doesn’t quite fit.

The Creative Solution

Align your life with your values, as much as possible. The more you can tap into your creative core, the happier you will be. The less you are dependent on money earned in a way that stifles your creative core, the more free you will feel. Sometimes, this will require sacrifices – a move, a career change, a paycut.

The 9-to-5 Solution

You can work in a traditional 9-to-5 job environment as a creative, but you must be surrounded by, and managed by, people who will not squish your internal motivation in the name of corporatehomogeneity.

It’s true that most traditional “artists” aren’t going to make Wall Street-level bucks, but there are careers that can be both very creative and financially rewarding – website development and programming come to mind.My husband says writing code taps into the same part of his brain as writing fiction. Even at my humble just-pick-through-the-css-and-html level of understanding, I can say that tinkering with the underlying code of my website to make things look just as I want them is a deeply creative and satisfying task.

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Real Life Example

My husband is a Creative who, because of his specialization, works in large,corporate environments. At a prior job, he worked for a total micromanager, who could not understand why Nick wasn’t eager to climb the corporate ladder to soul-crushing middle management. Sherequired that hespend about 30% of his time filling out forms detailinghow he spent his time (“Mostly filling out bullshit forms”?). Thatkind of pointless paper-pushing is the quickest way to lose the interest of a Creative. Stripped of any autonomy or creative outletin his work, Nick rapidly became miserable.

He quit after about 10 months and took a job with an even morenotoriously corporate corporation – one of thelargest, oldest, most conservative companies in the U.S. Don’t worry – ComHugeCo turned out great – he works several days a week from home, is given considerable freedom to deliverhis projects in his way, andlikes and respects his supervisor.

The moral of the story: not all9-to-5’s are created equal. Immediate surroundings and people matter more than genericcompany policies. Don’t be afraid to look for a better fit.

4. We Need A Balance of Deeply Focused and Unfocused Brain Time. 9-to-5 Worships Ineffective Multitasking.

Creative people tend to be able to hyper-focus. When we are deeply engaged in creative activities, the whole world except the project seems to fall away. This is because the right side of the brain controls creative thinking, and has absolutely no awareness of silly things like time (that’s the left side’s job). When our environments allow us to hyper-focus, Creatives can accomplish incredible amounts at a stretch.

However, this deep, intense focus can’t go on forever. It’s also important that we have time away from our project toallow our brain to just run where itwill without that tunnel-vision focus. Some of the best ways I know of to break up focused creative work is with physical activity: walking, gardening, yoga, even briskly taking care of home chores can help re-boot my ability to get back into that deep, satisfying project flow-state.

Alternatingstretches of high-productivity hyper-focus and “I’m-just-screwing-around-here” is nearly impossible in a world where people expect constant multitasking and 24/7 availability. (Science saysmultitasking doesn’t work, but trying telling that to a boss who needs an answer 10 minutes ago.) Creatives must protect their deep-focus time aggressively if they want to do their best work.

The Creative Solution

Set yourself up for success by removing external distractions as much as possible, and taking deliberate, periodic breaks. When I’m writing at home, I use “Freedom,” an App that temporality takes my computer offline and makes text pop-ups, email alerts and the always tempting internet just go away for as long as I want.

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I generally set Freedom for 45 to 60 minutes and work in bursts. After I’m “allowed” back online, I take some kind of physical break like doing the laundry, cleaning the chicken coop, or running up the street to get the mail. In twofocused 45 or 60 minute bursts I can get more actual work done than in 8 or 10 hours of “working” while also responding to text messages, checking Facebook,etc.

The 9-to-5 Solution

Corporate Creatives should learn to book themselves stretches of time when they are “in a meeting” with their own project, just to cut down on interruption. Hiding somewhere other than your office or cubicle is a good strategy, too. All corporate Creatives should figure out how to turn off auto alerts for new email, meeting pop-ups and inter-office chat as needed.

Sometimes you have to eek out your effective time away from prying eyes, gossiping voices and interrupting coworkers (or children). Consider if it’s possible to shift your schedule to work on your key projects earlier or later in the day, before or after the time the rest of the world feels entitled to steal your hours.

Real Life Example

Just go buy Freedom – it’s $10. (This isn’t an affiliate link – I get nothing for therecommendation. I just know how much Freedom helps me get my shit done.) Use it for a few hours and you’ll become your own Real Life Example for efficient productivity.

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The Bottom Line

Creatives aren’t good paper pushers or corporate drones. We want freedom, self-direction, and the joy of creation in our work, so it’s our responsibility to appropriately channel our own skills and work style.

By disciplining our lives with routines just a littlebit and setting up some structure to protect our most effective work style, we can create environments where our creative work can be satisfying and highquality. With a bit more discipline, perseverance and (yes!) creativity, we might even be able tobring our career and our creative together.

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Are you a Creative type? How do you do your best work in a 9-to-5 world?



1. John Cleese on Creativity In Management
(Video Arts)
2. Simple advice for creative people
(Nathaniel Drew)
3. Creative thinking - how to get out of the box and generate ideas: Giovanni Corazza at TEDxRoma
(TEDx Talks)
4. You Need The Antidote to Creative Dread
(Brookes Eggleston - Character Design Forge)
5. Creative People Who Are On Another Level !
6. Jordan Peterson - The Curse of Creativity
(Bite-sized Philosophy)

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