Getting Things Done (GTD) or Creativity: Which Is More Important? Our Thursday Cuppa Joe Discussion

On Thursdays we grab a cup of coffee and talk about issues and opinions. Join the fun in our comments!


The Other Guy (OG) and I run a quirky house here.

We try to balance straightforward financial advice with fun topics. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, as I’m sure you can see, we’re having a blast and bringing you along for the ride.

Wouldn’t it be better if we did one or the other? Wouldn’t a site work better if it were just humorous all the time or only provided financial advice? Maybe, but OG and I don’t think so.

I’ve always been obsessed with human motivation and process management. For people to learn, remember, and replicate a concept, I think the teacher needs to set a strong anchor. Maybe our anchor isn’t strong, but the anchor I always seem to remember is humor. So, we’ve decided that they go together.


This creates a problem.


In a recent Harvard Business Review Ideacast (podcast), Portland State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Charlotte Fritz discusses the concept of microbreaks.   Here’s how they work:  if you want to get things done (GTD), it’s better to engage intensely during the day and then drop everything when you head home. Working all night on the blackberry or computer doesn’t increase productivity. Taking microbreaks each day or mini vacations every several weeks instead of coffee breaks and a long vacation can pay dividends when trying to accomplish more tasks.


What’s wrong with this finding?


Is “getting more done” better or would you be wiser to get less done and produce brilliant, creative results?

Who better to argue against conventional definitions of productivity than a Disney alum. According to Don Hahn, author of Brain Storm, Unleashing Your Creative Self, (and the producer of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast), the goal of GTD productivity stifles creativity. While a numbered checklist and intense focus on the bottom line increases productivity, it doesn’t make you more creative. You just turn into a machine.

If we’re trying to manage a site that balances something as serious a financial security and something as playful as humor, it’s a juggling act. I often feel the pull between the need to be creative with “funny” pieces and the desire to write something meaningful and direct.

But I don’t think the problem is only felt by OG and I here at the Free Financial Advisor.


We All Need Creativity


Every day in your job, wouldn’t you preform better if you could come up with creative solutions? You may think that you don’t need creativity, but if you’ve ever had a difficult boss or a particularly intense client, you know that a creative solution is sometimes the only way to win the day.

For creativity to blossom, we need down time, according to Hahn. We need time to let our mind wander. Not surprisingly, he advocates napping in the afternoon. His concept of GTD flips our predefined goals of greater productivity on their head. For creativity to blossom, do something that at first seems irrelevant. Listen to music and sit by the stream. Wander.

In short, I haven’t asked it, but it seems that he agrees with Fritz on the value of breaks, but isn’t onboard with why we want them in the first place.


The Financial Tie-In


I’ve often felt many workplaces are run too stringently. The boss doesn’t really get how her employees operate more effectively. A shop that provides more services for employees and that is able to create raving fans by first empowering workers to think and build creative solutions will win the day.

Even if they don’t win, it’s more interesting to invest money and follow companies that are fighting to win rather than finish every day with a .03 percent productivity improvement. Yawn.

I seek out and invest in companies that have a progressive view of workplace motivation….not because I’m a liberal thinker, but because I’m a greedy capitalist. Firms such as GE, Disney, Whole Foods and Google, at different times during their development have been able to attack more quickly because of their attention to process that creates innovative solutions.


The Good News


Both Assistant Professor Fritz and Mr. Hahn agree on one aspect: whether you’re looking for innovation or GTD, how you detach from the assembly line of productive work is intensely important to the outcome.

(photo credit: origami coffee cup: scarygami, Flickr; Dicky juggles: Mike Burns, Flickr)


Okay, that’s my story, minions! Now it’s your turn: how do you value creativity? Are you more interested in GTD solutions or finding a novel approach? Do you think you should work on being more creative?


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  1. says

    I would kill (not really) to be creative! I’m just not creative and my sense of humor sucks sometimes. I think much of my problem is that sometimes I get too focused on what I’m doing and I stretch myself fairly thin.

    I have to be ultra productive and somehow I never think to be creative, witty, or funny.

    WorkSaveLive recently posted..Read My Guest Post at Tackling Our DebtMy Profile

    • Average Joe says

      I laughed when I read your comment, Jason. You’re so very creative. Do you ever read your posts?

      A side story your comment reminded me of: I read recently that most people don’t feel humorous because they don’t get any humorous inspiration. The author of the piece then looked at late-night television comedy writers and was surprised to find out how they wrote funny stuff. Instead of waiting for inspiration they wrote their way to funny. They kept drafting and drafting until it became funny.

    • Average Joe says

      My head is right on that very topic now, Miss T. I need to get more sleep and get back on the exercise train. I ran five marathons in 400 days and felt good. The last month I’ve been off the exercise train (a little burned out) and I’ve really felt it with my creativity and productivity.

    • Average Joe says

      I prefer creativity also, SB. I would imagine it’s the choice of many of us who decide to sit here and type on top of the other activities we accomplish during the day. I think you have it right that both are equally important, but society sure does seem more geared toward GTD than creativity.

  2. says

    i find that if you are too busy getting things done, than you never have the chance to creatively find ways to do things more efficiently. this is a big problem where i work. there are ways to innovate and automate, but the talented folks are too busy dealing with noise and the fires of the day to be able to devote their attention appropriately.
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    • Average Joe says

      Man, do I agree, Jefferson. Every place I’ve worked has been the same. We’re so busy optimizing the workflow to have “just enough” people on each task that we ignore the brilliant solutions these people could come up with if we’d just give them a few seconds to breath. I totally agree. It’s got to be frustrating, isn’t it?

  3. says

    Super interesting! It reminds me of this quote from a short story by Matheson:

    “God help all us poor wretches who would create and find that we must lose our hearts for it because we cannot afford to spend our time at it.”
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    • Average Joe says

      Far more eloquent than my piece. I just tried to say that, FF, using about 700 words instead of 29.

  4. says

    When I worked in finance, I was trained like a sea lion to bark on command…I mean, trained to work, work, work and never be creative. In finance, I think that works. We were all productive; the bank made money; everyone was pretty happy.

    In more creative lines of work, though, I like to work in spurts. Like work all day one day and allow myself a creative breather the next. I don’t know which way is more productive, but this way of working allows me the freedom I need right now.

    • Average Joe says

      I don’t know about that, Christa. My current bank is very innovative and the employees are taught to think on their feet. They have weekly meetings with the staff to talk about creative ways they impressed customers. They focus on one little creative tweak each week. It’s awesome. You know what…I think I’m going to do a blog post on them because I’m so impressed with how they’ve grown quickly using techniques other banks can’t even imagine.

      By the way, my wife has me trained to bark like a sea lion. I’m not a big fan of the little fish I get as a reward afterward, but it’s a living.

    • Average Joe says

      Holy cow! Did she talk about ATP’s and phophorylation in the Harvard piece? If so, my unscientific mind skipped right over them!

      Apparently my ATP’s go away PDQ sometimes.

      What’s an ATP and a phophorylation, Dr. Dean? …or is that your next piece? 😉

    • Average Joe says

      That’s interesting, Carol! Search out David Allen’s GTD books. Good stuff to add more productivity to your life.

  5. says

    Great post Average Joe! When I was younger, get out of my way as I plugged into my job. Now, I take things less seriously, have fun with things, and my productivity is higher. This balance with being serious and creative spawned my blog, too. Please get out of my head!
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  1. […] There are a few blogs I could easily link to every week and not really feel all that bad about it. Average Joe’s Money Blog is one of those. Since we were speaking about getting things done (this transition actually makes a little more sense), I think it’s important that people find style that suits them best. In their Thursday Cuppa Joe Discussion, Average Joe and The Other Guy ask Getting Things Done or Ceativity: Which is More Important? […]

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