An Interview With Mark McGuinness

If there’s one word to sum up Mark McGuinness, it’s ‘creative’.

But that tag could be applied to many people.

The difference is, Mark has tapped into a little known principle concerning the issue of creativity.

Contrary to popular opinion, Mark proposes that it doesn’t just happen -- consistently producing anything original requires solid foundations rarely associated with spontaneity.

Here, Mark McGuinness shares some valuable insights into creativity, productivity and managing time...

Mark, I noticed you replied to my interview request the day after I sent it.  Have you been reading 'Do It Tomorrow'? :)

Yes, I love 'Do It Tomorrow'! The idea of not trying to respond to every email as it comes in is essential if you want to get any focused work done.

Having said that, I don't stick to the system rigidly, except during quiet times. At other times, my approach to productivity is more like 'Do the mission-critical things now and catch up on the rest later!'.

Usually, 'later' is about once a week, but alas, at other times it can be several weeks.

So prioritizing is a critically important skill for me -- knowing what I absolutely need to do to move my business forward, and doing that, in spite of all the tempting distractions and clamouring demands.

When your creative juices are flowing and you're 'in the zone', do you habitually keep going at the expense of whatever else you've decided to do that day?

Sometimes. But I find my creative juices are fairly predictable -- they tend to flow in the mornings and late afternoon/evenings. So I use mid-afternoon for admin, email etc.

You've said that, to get creative work done, you would have to start getting up earlier. Could everyone stop making excuses and do this, or do you think some people genuinely just aren't wired that way?

If you want it enough, you'll find a way to do it. If it's not worth getting up early for, it's probably not that important.

When it comes to doing the tough stuff you have to do but don't want to do, what strategies have you found most effective for getting them done? To what extent do you rely on self discipline?

For creative work, where the 'not wanting to do it' comes from resistance to a difficult challenge:

  • Deciding what to do beforehand. E.g. mornings are writing time, so I'm either writing or making excuses. If I waited until the morning to decide whether to write or fiddle about with my website, then I'd have a much lower hit rate!
  • Habit and routine. Boring but true.
  • Making a public commitment. E.g. announcing a publishing schedule or launch date. I'd feel pretty silly if I didn't follow through on my word.
  • I guess there's an element of self-discipline as well. But to me it feels more about being very clear what I want to achieve, and very determined to get there. So I'm going with my desire, not against it.

And for boring tasks, where the 'not wanting to do it' comes from their dullness:

  • Imagine having done it. What's the payoff? Focus on that until it's done. (If there's no payoff, don't do it!)

How do you recognize 'Good Enough'?

When it's time to hit the 'publish' button! I'm also getting less ‘perfectionistic’ as the years go by -- not lowering standards, just recognizing when I've done the best I can and any more would be faffing.

In your work as a coach, what are the most common time management problems you come across in individuals and across organizations?

I work with creative professionals, so a big issue is finding enough focus and mental space to do quality creative work or performance, i.e. not letting their concentration get shredded by email, interruptions, the phone etc.

This is particularly challenging in creative agencies, where everyone needs to collaborate -- one person's interruption is another's request for vital information!

I find David Allen's concept of 'buckets' very helpful here -- writing stuff down and getting it off your mind so you can return to the task in hand.

Of course you need to empty the buckets, but if you use them consistently you know where to find them. So I almost never forget anything, even if I don't always have time to do it!

Regarding the collaboration/interruption issue, there's no simple answer but it helps if I can get people to find ways of signalling to each other when it's OK to interrupt, and to stop and think how urgent/important something really is before tapping them on the shoulder.

What are your own worst time wasting activities and what are you doing about them? :)

Having twins last year was an incredibly effective cure for time wasting!

I have much less time available, so there's a much bigger incentive to get on with things when I can -- work feels like precious time, so I don't waste as much time as I used to reading blogs, football forums, Twitter etc.

That's an extreme solution though, so I'd advise your readers to think carefully before implementing it!

The people who need to improve their time management probably aren’t reading this. How do we reach them? Or do they come when they’re ready?

They come when they're ready.

I Iearned this when I started out practising psychotherapy -- there can be all the reasons in the world for someone to change, but they won't do it until they're good and ready.

Running three sites and contributing to several others, not to mention your day job as a coach and trainer, you’re spinning many plates. How do you organize your time on a daily basis?

My workdays are bookended by my share of the childcare, in the morning and early evening. In between, I spend the mornings writing or building things and the afternoons working with clients on Skype and doing my email/admin work.

It's different on days when I'm running an event or working with clients at their office; those days revolve around appointments and training schedules.

It's important to feel I'm running my work instead of letting it run me; so I've forced myself to get into the habit of daily meditation for 30 minutes in the mornings, even on days when I'm itching to get on with things.

Meditation isn't a productivity tool, but the productivity benefits of stopping and putting things in perspective every day are huge.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mark - it’s been fascinating to learn about your approach to time management.

* * *

Mark McGuinness has a lot of quality content online including a number of excellent (and free) e-books and courses.

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