January 14, 2024

Creative Productivity

In this post I will reveal the things that I have found to boost creative productivity and help you scale your creative output. Bear in mind this are just frameworks that I have discovered for myself, but at the same time you can learn and apply to your own process. I try to incorporate and blend computer science and logical breakdown of creativity, redefining cliches and old archetipes of what does it mean to be a creative, ready?

Legacy Thinking

All productivity books start the same, there is a claim of a past chaotic self, then there is an event, a rebirth of sorts and finally a study or two that are cited to support whatever worked for someone and give them a bit of a scientific backing. The following is merely anecdotal brain dump.

All the online gurus will tell you to wake up, do your 5 minute journaling for gratitude, cold plunge and calendar blocking, but in the creative industry, all that is nice and good if you like to do it, but it will not really translate to anything but perhaps, give you a bit of structure or prep your day.

I have to admit, I have a sweet spot for these things. Love testing new productivity software and ways to keep track with all my information, tasks, to-dos, etc. But I always fail. I think I'm on to something interesting with the Bullet Journal method, but I just started very very recently. Let's see if I manage to survive the 2 week test.

Creative productivity has been the main driver of traffic to my website. So I will do a typical word vomit here with some random thoughts, and my future self can pick this up when he is creatively producing the book that will never be a success.

Productivity Basics

Productivity is simple in the end and can be universal. That means, we just need to be industrious about our approach to output.

More output = more productivity.

But that is only one part. Volume does not equate quality. The truth that I have found is quite simple. And if you are worried about originality, I would add also that it is within this process that originality appears. When you start to apply your intelligence to how you see your work and manage to get in and out of it. Let's break it down.

  1. Quick Start Sprint - Reduce the time that you need to think about something, put some pressure, and do quick MVP releases of your output.
  2. Test it with reality - Post it online or seek feedback.
  3. Detach - Look at it from an outsider perspective, be highly critical
  4. Iterate - And be scientific about it.
  5. Challeng It - Take notes, male a plan.
  6. Deconstruct - your next steps and prepare your next iteration.
  7. Repeat

There is no improvement without intelligence.

It doesn't matter the volume. That will help you generate muscle memory.

There is no formula we are all different, and have our quirks. Some people can only do with 4 hours of sleep, others like myself, can sustain 6.5, but 8 is best for pure mental sharpness.

Intelligence also plays a pivotal role in pattern recognition. As creatives, we often find ourselves in a tangle of ideas and concepts. The ability to discern useful patterns, connect disparate ideas, and foresee potential outcomes is a product of honed intelligence. This skill is particularly crucial in times of overwhelming creative choices or when faced with the daunting blank canvas of a new project.

A key aspect of maximizing creative productivity lies in the intelligent reflection on past work and the intentional planning of future steps. This process is not just about producing more but producing better with each iteration. It involves a keen sense of self-awareness and the ability to objectively analyze one's own creations.

The first step is to develop a habit of regularly looking back at your work. This isn't just a cursory glance but a deep, analytical dive. You need to detach yourself from the emotional attachment to your creation and view it with an objective lens. Ask yourself critical questions: What worked? What didn’t? Why did certain elements resonate more than others?

Detecting and Correcting Errors Once you've reflected on your work, the next step is to detect specific errors and areas for improvement. This is where your intelligence plays a crucial role. You need to understand not just the superficial aspects of what needs to be improved, but also the underlying principles and reasons. For example, if a design didn't resonate with the audience, go beyond the surface level 'it didn’t look good' to understanding the principles of design that weren't effectively applied.

Intentional Planning for Iteration Armed with insights from your analysis, you then move to intentional planning for your next iteration. This means setting clear, achievable goals for improvement. There will be a point where you will incorporate this directly into your brain, but in the beginning it pays off to be extremely conscious about what your intentions.

Iterative Improvement As you produce more, each iteration becomes an opportunity to apply what you've learned. This doesn't mean every new piece will be perfect, but it should be better than the last. This process of iterative improvement is akin to sculpting, where each stroke is more precise, informed by the strokes that came before. It's a cycle of creating, reflecting, learning, and improving.

Intention is your superpower.

I don't want to sound like your next-door productivity guru. I apologize for being prescriptive or cliche. But whenever I fail as a creative, its because I am completely ignorant about what I'm doing.

Nowadays its really easy to start something, draw some cubes if you are into UI, sketch something fast if you are into concept, throw some things around to get a feeling. This also relates to my consistency of vision post of maintaining intention and discipline towards creative success.

Part of this warming up process is fine. But my biggest lesson from 2023-2024 is the following: Quality (Clarity) of Briefing = Quality of Output.

The Clarity of Briefing My biggest takeaway from these years is the direct correlation between the quality of the briefing and the quality of the output. This might sound straightforward, but its implications are profound. As a director, the clearer and more intentional I am in setting the brief for my team, the closer we get to achieving the desired results, faster. And people get surprised and self esteem rises when they see how much they can create with such level of quality. I wrote about this before also how to improve productivity when working with creative teams.

Direction and Intentionality Artists and creatives, no matter how talented, require direction. This isn't about micromanaging every aspect of their work but providing a clear, concise, and well-thought-out brief that they can build upon. The more intentional you are with your brief, the less room there is for ambiguity, leading to more focused and effective creative efforts.

Harnessing Intention as a Leadership Tool As a leader in a creative team, harnessing intention is about striking the right balance between providing guidance and allowing creative freedom. It's about being clear on the 'what' and the 'why' while being open to the 'how.' This approach not only leads to better outcomes but also empowers your team, giving them a solid foundation to unleash their creativity.

Intention and Creative Problem-Solving Intentionality also plays a crucial role in creative problem-solving. When you start with a clear intention, every decision and every creative choice is made with a purpose. This doesn't mean there's no room for spontaneity or organic development, but it ensures that these creative explorations are always aligned with the core objectives of the project.

The Feedback Loop of Intention and Output The relationship between intention and output is cyclical. Clear intentions lead to focused outputs, and the results of these outputs, in turn, inform and refine your intentions for future projects. This feedback loop is a dynamic process that fosters continuous improvement and adaptability in the creative workflow.

The Power of Intention in Personal Creativity On a personal level, being intentional about your creative work means understanding your motivations, goals, and the impact you wish to make through your art. This self-awareness not only guides your creative process but also helps in articulating your vision to others, be it team members, clients, or your audience.

Artificial Intelligence is like cheating - embrace it.

It's not going anywhere. So stop with the techno-doomerism and go for it. I recently saw, within my industry some tests generated with AI that would make my job obsolete, in the next 6 to 12 months. It felt like a splash of cold water to my face. But on the other hand, I truly believe on the unlocking power of this technology and also:

"Creativity and knowledge and explanation are all fundamentally impossible to define, because once you have defined them, then you can set up a formal system in which they are then confined"

David Deutsch - https://twitter.com/DavidDeutschOxf

This is not the hope, but the wall, that should give us confidence in the beauty of the human mind. And how there are still things that we can control, our brilliance, in the pursuit of creative expression.

I recently did a gigantic pitch in two days, only using Midjourney and chat GTP, this allowed me to scale my creative vision and saved me a lot of time. The more intentional you are with what you want, the clearer the AI will provide you with the images and text that you need. But here is what I did, I used those images to brief one of the artists in my team, and the output, because it was so clear, because I could just focus on the outcome that I needed, saved us so much time of exploring.

Integrating AI with Human Creativity The true magic happens when AI-generated concepts meet human creativity. In my project, I used AI-created images as a briefing tool for the artists on the team. The clarity and specificity of these AI outputs provided a solid foundation. This integration not only saved us time that would otherwise be spent on exploratory phases but also ensured that the creative direction was focused and well-defined from the start.

Focusing on the Outcome By leveraging AI, I could concentrate more on the desired outcome rather than getting bogged down in the initial stages of concept development. This approach streamlines the creative process, allowing for more time and energy to be spent on refining and perfecting the final output.

AI as a Collaborative Partner It's important to view AI not as a replacement for human creativity but as a collaborative partner that enhances it. AI can handle the heavy lifting of generating initial ideas and concepts, freeing up creative minds to focus on higher-level aspects like conceptual refinement, emotional resonance, and aesthetic sensibilities.

Embracing AI for Competitive Advantage In a rapidly evolving creative industry, those who embrace AI will find themselves at a significant advantage. AI tools can provide a wealth of inspiration, generate diverse ideas, and offer solutions that might not be immediately obvious to the human mind. This technology is a catalyst for innovation, pushing the boundaries of what's possible in creative expression.


Finally, the magic word: Focus.

There is no way around this. I constantly have it written down in my notebooks because I need a constant reminder. Yes, a creative needs to juggle multiple things at once, but but but, the lack of focus will destroy you. You can scale focus with proper planning and blocking times for work. The industry is getting faster and faster paced, particularly with AI accelerating that change.

With more distractions, the ability to come back to the focus of the main thing, is so critical. It's easy to get your head around the next new technological shiny object. But trust me, going back with a simple plan. The plan not to get distracted from the task at hand, will put your creative output to the top 1% of creative professionals out there, and don't forget to aim to be world-class.

November 19, 2023

I recently discovered that the fastest way to improve productivity working with creative teams.

Unlocking maximum productivity within creative teams is about a combination of clarity of vision, perfect communication and preparedness. Let’s delve deeper into each aspect to harness their transformative power.

Clarity of vision

It is very easy to fall prey on the fact that you feel you have a clear vision, and are communicating it to your team perfectly but trust me, the opposite is the case, or at least you should always assume that. If you actually manage to put yourself in the place of your direct reports, producers and clients, I bet each person has a different understanding of what you have in your mind — and probably you don’t have it as clear as you think you do.

At the core of productivity lies a crystal-clear vision. This means having an end in mind downloaded from your brain to “paper”. Make sure your references are on point and not confusing and for that Midjourney is an excellent tool. Sometimes looking for references and crafting beautiful moodboards can confuse your team.

Have a hero image that your team can follow and you will make sure that you are not improvising feedback or focusing on the small details that do not make an impact on the final work. Think of it as the compass guiding your team’s journey, it prevents distractions and ensures alignment among team members.

A good hero frame that defines — Mood, atmosphere, setting, design & composition, hero object and environment.

Perfect Communication

Communication isn’t just about talking; it’s about transmitting ideas precisely.

Flawless communication means setting explicit expectations and fostering an environment where ideas flow freely. Miscommunication can derail projects, wasting valuable time.

This means that you have to communicate and get into an arrangement with your team of what you want and the decisions that you make. Bad communication leads to misinterpretations that makes the work go into wrong directions costing time to steer back.

Ensure that every team member understands their role, the broader vision, and the decisions made. Regular check-ins and adaptable communication styles cater to individual team dynamics, fostering clarity and cohesion.

In a best case scenario, you train your team to be able to make their own decisions that fit your vision and your studio’s culture.


Preparation is the secret sauce. Take your time and don’t rush things. Having even 20 minutes to prepare to communicate your vision to your team can make a huge difference.

Anticipate questions and foresee roadblocks, arming yourself with solutions in advance.

Mental scenario planning ensures you’re ready for any curveballs thrown your way. This preparation allows for smoother interactions and immediate problem-solving.

These things are really powerful, they might sound like superficial prescriptions but nailing them all together do make a difference. In embracing the power of clarity, communication, and preparedness, you’re not just enhancing productivity within your creative team; you’re fostering an environment where speed and efficiency can really unlock incredible results, giving you extra time to focus on making the final product better, and iterate more.

October 29, 2023

From Designer to Creative Director in 5 easy steps.

This is a basic how to guide to become a creative director. Besides the obvious clickbait title I will break down how you can become a creative director in no time, even starting as a dumb designer at the bottom of the food chain. This text tries to be less of a prescription and more of sharing some mental models.

  1. Develop you own ideas.
  2. Find a style that you can scale.
  3. Present, present present.
  4. Own the responsibility.
  5. Aim to be world class.

Develop you own ideas.

As the titles suggest being a director, means directing projects, people, teams. You set the vision and you bring everyone together where to go. You can't do that dry, empty, or copying everyone else. Your position only generates value if your vision is unique and clear. Solve problems, bring new ideas to the table that you can execute and always be developing and nurturing your vision and ideas. Collect them, share them, mix & match, go to the past and bring into the future.

People will take you in for your unique way of seeing the world. Do you have great taste, can communicate ideas clearly and also be business savvy enough to deliver value to your clients even from the early days? Then you are on your way.

Find a style that you can scale.

Similar as before, your style, is the personality that you bring into the table. You like clean and minimalistic things? Let that be your forte. You want to make the world a better place? Then focus on the projects that you feel are the most meaningful. Strive to be unique and find that which separates your from your peers. I remember one of my first assignments at the university, I had to design an energy drink. And everyone of a class of 300 people where coming with skinned versions of Red Bull cans. I got the highest score because I brought a bottle, at the time - a radical idea. But I wanted to differentiate myself of everything that was out there in the competition and it worked. That small lesson made me focus on always trying to be different, finding a style that I can scale.

I try to work so that my style becomes - timeless. I hate looking at Pinterest and seeing that everyone is doing the same type of work over and over. There are shape languages, color palettes, ideas that might change, but work that considers the fundamentals of design, composition, light and storytelling -and obviously- your unique (justified) spin is guaranteed to be successful in the short and long term.

I don't feel one ever masters this, but being aware is definitely a differentiating factor.

Present, present present.

For many, many years, I was always the guy making presentations at design studios. I used to design them, prepare them, and eventually go to present them. This is a very underrated task, many people fear the spotlight. Looking back some of the presentations I had in the past to clients are nothing compared to the ones I get to do on a daily basis directly to global clients, where I get to joke and convince people that the work that's been done is what was asked for and delivers value to them.

Offer always to create the presentation deck early one your career, use it to get your foot in the door the big table, be part of that meeting, see how the masters present, learn from them. And to our previous point, see what they are not doing and where there is room for improvement, but also, see how other people react to the jokes, the pacing, the editorial, the story beats. The more you present the more you will get to be yourself at the top. Obviously - try to do more public speaking and a bit of theater doesn't hurt.

Own the responsibility.

Directing projects and teams, means that you will be looked as the vision holder, and you will make decisions, and sometimes you will mess up. You will make someone on the team unhappy, you will not consider production needs, or you will make that bad joke that someone go offended. Own it. Be able and be ready to defend all your work, designs and ideas at each granular level. If you are insecure, be honest about it, maybe take more time to become more confident. If you fear things will be delayed or are heading into the wrong direction, open up, let people know. Some designers, artists, are happy just being on the other side, waiting for direction, masters of execution, the risk is easy to mitigate, but if you give bad directions, you are responsible of the output, and also for their wellbeing of your team. If you are just getting started, own each aspect of your work, and your decisions and soon you will be the one making decisions for teams and projects.

Aim to be world class.

Can't state this strong enough. Like it or not, in the era of the internet, you are competing with the whole planet, so, aim to be world class. A world class designer, with storytelling aspirations to grow, should look at whoever is on top of you that you admire and, in the beginning try to figure out what they do, that you can apply to become better. So simple. Compare your work with the whole world. Challenge yourself and be honest, own the responsibility of being self aware of your strengths and weaknesses so that you can double down on fixing both. Do you need to be more curious? Are your ideas the best in the world? Compare yourself with the best, and endure the pain of competing against the world and yourself. If you manage to tolerate that pain, understanding that it's just making you a better creative, then there is no way to fail.

You will only fail if you stop.

Photo Credit: Magda Ehlers via Pexels

© Ivan Flugelman 2022 Creative Direction, Design & Strategy in the Metaverse.