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5 Tips for Working Smarter—Not Harder


What does living the Freelance hustle look like? For some, it means working your own hours, at home, in that ripped sweatshirt you love. For others, it means being highly organized and knocking through projects as efficiently as possible.

Freelance creative director Emma Pueyo knows a thing or two about working smarter and living better. She started her career as a Creative Director at Poke and DoubleYou, and went on to work freelance at some of the top global agencies, including Wieden+Kennedy, AKQA, and more. She's developed award-winning work for brands like Nike, Ikea, Reebok, and Harper's Bazaar; and she has some killer advice on how to best manage your time and creativity. Chief among them: Keep a calendar!

These days, if you ask different people what “creatives” are, you might get such varied answers you’d think your question was wrong.

Some see creatives as flamboyant toddlers who spend their days between eureka moments and business class flights to their next shoot. For others, creatives are modern heroes whose side projects have become their businesses, who balance work and life and even recycle their trash.

(You might be thinking this is an extreme view. And you’re right. Here’s a truth about creatives: We love drama!)

In the real world, “creatives” are neither divas nor heroes. They’re thinkers and doers who make a living of solving business problems with imagination. It is true that the culture of their company can affect their shape—some places expect them to be film scriptwriters, whilst other companies think if they don’t code they deserve the guillotine.

But luckily, our industry has plenty of shades of grey—or more appropriately, shades of rainbow. Most of the creatives I know and respect are bright minds with a sense of pragmatism. People who invent, listen, fix, and surprise. They are artistic engineers.

Whilst on the subject of engineering, here are a few practical tips and tools to help us work better—and live happier.

Be more “Comaneci”

By definition, accidents will happen along a creative process—and they probably will make the result better. What seemed the best idea at first will be dropped along the way. Opinions will change. Timings will change. The team will change. Even stakeholders are likely to change.

Creation is a fluid process with many more inputs than you can control. It’s not about coming up with an idea and defending it from the elements (i.e. team debate, client requests, budget cuts, viral trends). It is about concept proof—evolving a concept until it works.

So train your flexibility. The more flexible you are, the fastest you’ll react, the better you’ll think and the highest your somersault will be.

Own your time

You don’t need to become a freelancer to gain control of your time. You don’t need a project manager to define your milestones. All you need is a diary and some common sense.

The perks of owning your time are so obvious it’s probably painful to read this. But the truth is, I still meet creatives who don’t have a diary—and what’s worse, they don’t believe in having one. Because “creativity can’t be scheduled.” Nonsense. We don’t wait around for the muses doodling poems under a candlelight dressed in victorian nightgowns.

Modern creatives should be little (or big) entrepreneurs. And one can’t be an entrepreneur without a sharp notion of time.

Start with a diary, and the rest will follow.

Embrace online tools

Taking into account that I’ve talked about a diary as a glimpse into the future, you might be wondering what other crazy technologies I could be about to mention now. Fax? Email???

There are a few online tools that can be hugely useful to creatives if embedded in their everyday stream of work.

Not everything is for everyone, and you have to try it as a team—and find what’s the best way to collaborate. For me, as a creative and strategist who usually works remotely and provides guidance to other creatives, Trello, Slack, and the obvious (but awesome) Google Docs have been very useful. They have saved me time, emails, and I’ve stopped carrying my laptop around all the time, which is something my back is quite happy about.

Beware of Keynote

Everything has its dark side.

Perhaps because of this growing usage of online tools, I have found that, more and more, we creatives spend a lot of time writing up our ideas (even in very early stages) so they can be seen and commented by other members of the team. The same thing applies to Keynote/Powerpoint and some agencies’ obsession to make the deck better than the idea itself.

I see this as a dangerous, unproductive practice. Let me explain why:

  1. The “thinking time” gets cut down significantly so that the creative has time to write it up, which means less time is put into making the idea better, question it, or even kill it.
  2. Once you start writing up an idea, you articulate it, you embellish it, you justify it, and you inevitably lose the perception of its raw potential—which is something necessary at the beginning of a creative process

There are ways to prevent this. You can, for instance, define internal rules that limit the length of the write-ups, or opt for other alternative formats like short videos or audio notes.

When sharing early work with clients, go for tissue meetings where things are scribbled on paper rather then projected onto a screen.

Be smart, but not too smart

Make sure you always go in with ideas. Good, bad, boring, or surreal. Putting ideas forward shows not only that you’ve done your job, but also that you respect other people’s time and that you’re a key part of the project. Most of the time attitude is more important than geniality.

There’s nothing worse than a young creative who puts more energy in their opinions than in their ideas. Doing that is lazy, and for a creative being lazy is just crazy. Better do something else.

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