Imagine you’re standing at the bottom of a mountain. You have your climbing pack, your helmet, your crampons, and all of the other essentials for scaling to the summit.
A) Charge blindly toward the top?
B) Consult a map, a route description guidebook, the weather forecast, and your compass before you begin?
Even if you have no experience mountaineering, I’m sure that Option B seems like the more logical, not to mention safer, approach.
As founder of Jotform, I think every day is a little like climbing a mountain: a sometimes arduous path with moments of calm, and ultimately, a very rewarding journey. I’m a big advocate of mapping out each day and a crucial aspect of that habit is dedicating a full hour to my most meaningful work. Think of it like investing some time to consult your guidebook before you charge forward — a relatively small investment that pays off in spades. What’s more, much of your remaining tasks can be either delegated or automated, a topic I write about at length in my forthcoming book.
Personally, the creative aspects of my work — strategizing, conceptualizing, and writing — are the most rewarding. Not only do I genuinely enjoy them, I also have faith that they deliver the most impact. What’s more, science shows that creative work delivers multifold benefits.
Here, a closer look at the power of carving out one hour for impactful work every single day.
The perks of creativity
When we think of creatives, we tend to imagine the “tortured artist” trope. But in reality, studies have found that flexing your creative muscle actually boosts your emotional wellbeing.
In a 2016 study in New Zealand, researchers asked 650 young adults to complete daily online diaries for 13 days. Participants reported how much time they spent in creative activities, their positive and negative affect, and whether they were “flourishing” — defined as feeling an overall sense of meaning, purpose, engagement, and social connection in their lives. The researchers compared measures of creativity on one day to measures of well-being on the next day, and vice versa.
So, what did they find?
Participants who did more creative activities than usual on day one reported increased positive affect and flourishing on day two. Negative emotions didn’t change. On the other hand, people who experienced higher positive emotions on day one did not engage in more creative activities on day two.
The bottom line: everyday creativity leads to more well-being. Creative activities quite literally make you happier. And as studies have shown, happier people tend to be more successful, insofar as their career achievements.
Worried that you’re not that artsy? Don’t be. Neuroscience shows that certain activities — like engaging with nature, meditating, and exercising — can boost creative thinking. As Bas Korsten wrote for Harvard Business Review, “Think about it. Great athletes train their bodies for days, weeks, and years to whip them into peak performance. Why, then, wouldn’t a creator do the same with their brain?”
It’s worth pressing pause to determine which of your daily tasks truly get your creative juices flowing.
How to identify meaningful work
Self-help gurus will have you believe that success is all about productivity. They’ll peddle you their secrets to getting more done today. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not about getting as much done as possible. It’s about doing the right things at the optimal time (and then, of course, putting in place your army of automation tools).
In my book, Automate Your Busywork: Do Less, Achieve More, and Save Your Brain for the Big Stuff, I lay out my strategy for identifying meaningful work.
First, grab a pen (or open your favorite notetaking app — automation is the name of the game, anyhow). Then, take 15 minutes or so to describe your vision of work that matters to you and your career.
- What do you enjoy doing the most?
- What would you like to save your brain to do more of?
- What delivers the most impact?
Don’t hold back — include as many details as possible. And don’t worry about organizing it in any particular way. Just build as clear a picture as you can, and keep this picture in mind each morning when you plan your day. Make sure you carve out at least an hour to do this kind of work, and protect that time slot at all costs.
Measure the results
In my book, I also write about Peter Drucker, the Vienna-born academic, journalist, management consultant, and author of 39 books. Some people credit Drucker with developing the concept of key performance indicators (KPIs), which Investopedia defines as “a set of quantifiable measurements used to gauge a company’s overall long-term performance.”
Regardless of whether Drucker came up with the KPI concept, one thing is certain: he did dedicate his career to maximizing human performance, especially in the workplace. In fact, the phrase “what gets measured, gets managed” is actually a misquote from his 1959 book People and Performance. The real excerpt reads: “Unless we determine what shall be measured and what the yardstick of measurement in an area will be, the area itself will not be seen.”
Why am I talking about KPIs?
Because when you’re committing to any change, be it minor or major, it’s crucial to clarify what you’ll measure and how you’ll measure it — that way you know whether it’s worth the effort.
Let’s say you take my advice and commit to one hour of creative, meaningful work each day. If you don’t define how to measure your success, you won’t get that motivating boost from knowing that it’s really working.
Keeping your most meaningful work in mind (remember the exercise above), think about what results you want to see more of. For me, it’s KPIs like strategizing how to grow our company and publishing articles (and most recently, a book). For you, it might be developing new tools or refining your business model.
Once you identify your KPI, choose your metrics — that is, how you’ll measure your progress. Some metrics you might consider include: number of blog posts; time saved through automation; profit increases and cost reductions; quality improvements. For example, with an eye toward growing our company (the KPI), I keep tabs on employee turnover. The metric I use is the number of new employees who complete our automated onboarding process.
Even the most qualitative-sounding task is bound to have objective, trackable metrics. It’s just a matter of breaking each process down into steps and identifying the quantifiable aspects. Needless to say, once you’re tracking, remember to continually refine.
Creative work may sound like an extracurricular activity, but in reality, it’s vital for longterm success. Automation is a big part of making space for your most meaningful work, as is taking the time to regularly define your KPIs and refining your processes as you go.
But the beauty of building this kind of system — mapping it out, if you will — is that once it’s in place, it’s really self-propelling. Instead of baking the pies, you write the recipes — and enjoy the results.