Business In Arch Viz

By Simon Oudiette

Time input vs output in creative tasks management

Every year I like to organize a little the upcoming tasks I'll go through for the year and how I will tackle them. For the past few years I had a goal-based approach, namely achieving specific things by the end of the year. But over time I've noticed that I kept less and less track of my goals throughout the year, and that I actually cared less and less about them as time passes. 
This lead me to several insight on how I want to organize this upcoming year, and thought I might as well share in a short article. Of course this will just be an experiment since this is the first year I'm gonna organize consciously this way, and all the pros and cons I'll list are purely theoretical and intuitive rather that backed by data and experience. But I think it's an important topic to discuss as it impacts directly creativity and motivation, and maybe some readers will have some valuable feedback they can share so that I can refine my approach. 

Why does all this even matter in archviz?

It's a common trope to think that what matters are goals in life. Reach a certain weight, certain revenue, reach a certain bench press weight, run a marathon, not scoff at 3ds max when it crashes for no reason for the ten times today. For some reason we also tend to make them yearly, as if 365 days was the perfect amount of days one needs to achieve anything, and all intermediary or quaterly goals, are generally subgoals to reach that final goal. 
In this short piece I'd like to discuss how goal settings is maybe not the smartest way of reaching results, and how more simple systems can maybe help us getting better at what we want, especially in creative tasks that are generally harder to track and measure. 

Output vs Time Input

The first main difference I want to point out is between Output-based and Time-input based scheduling.
What is measured is what you are producing : a rendering, a storyboard, a whole contract, a certain amount of money, a certain amount of subscribers, whatever deliverable or milestone you have in mind.
What is measured is how much time you've put into a specific task : an hour, half a day, a whole day, a week.
Interestingly, depending the type of base you choose to measure, it will lead to two completely different outcomes. 
Output-based measure will lead to reaching a specific goal (if you ever reach it).
Time-input based measure will lead to building habits over time (except if you interrupt it for an extended period of time).
Both are valuable outcomes, it just really depends on what you're after. Both have their own typical pros and cons, so let's have a deeper look : 

Pros & cons of goals and habits

  • Output / Goals
    • pros
      • Jim Collins coined the term "Big Hairy Audacious Goals" (BHAG) in his book Built to Last, and present this concept as the best approach for companies to be driven. BHAG are a sort of North star to follow, and give an ideal to strive for over an extended period of time (think landing on the moon, or becoming the first player in a specific field)
      • Goals are generally very clear 
      • Goals can drive motivation
      • Goals are easily measurable, either you reach it or not
    • cons
      • BHAG don't seem compatible with creative industries. I might be wrong on that though, but having as a goal "having the best archviz studios in the world" seems like something that is hard to measure (is it the ones that drain all the clients? the ones that create the best visuals? but what is the best visual like? is it the ones that generates the highest revenue? or the ones that end up in a museum?).
      • Goals are generally arbitrary (why do you want to reach 100k of revenue and not 150k? or 500k?)
      • Some type of goals are hard to measure ("learn a new software" when are you done learning?)
      • Goals are often not ours, but finish lines we copy from others (money, physique, possessions),
      • Goals are not always easy to break down into simpler steps
      • Goals rarely have an "after". If you reach it, what is next? and why? 
      • Typical goals include metrics that are often not directly dependent on us (numbers of followers, revenue, etc)
  • Input / Habits
    • pros
      • Easy to start
      • Flexible (can update as you go)
      • Works for any topic (practicing something, learning something, meeting people, etc)
      • Easy to measure (set a timer and you're done)
      • Success or failure is easily measurable (either you've put in the time, or you didn't)
      • Little influence of external factor (time blocking)
      • Can go on forever if you want to
      • Compounds over time
      • Good for "deadline-less" goals
    • cons
      • Sometimes hard to properly pinpoint what to do exactly
      • Can be easy to fall off the bandwagon if you have too many mishaps in a row
      • Can sometimes lose a sense of purpose of why you are keeping a specific habit.

Mix & match : mindful exploration

Now as we can see, both goals and habits have pros and cons (duh), so it would be a shame not to try to incorporate a bit of both in our creative lives, right?
Comes the trademark concept that you can't use without paying me some hefty royalties : mindful exploration
What's that thing? 
Nothing ground breaking, but just a more mindful way of organizing and prioritizing your time. In a nutshell : 
  • Define areas of focus
  • No big ass goals but rather a list of topics within those areas of focus
  • Dedicate, and prioritize, time blocks to explore them in your schedule
The idea is basically to build up habits around the topics you're interested in, and make regular progress in areas rather than focusing on a specific goal to reach. 
Why give up on big ass goals?
As I've mentioned in the pros and cons part, goals are not really the best approach when it comes to creative tasks that are inherently hard to measure.
On top of that, by properly organizing your day and strategically choosing what to spend time on, you will reach your goals anyway, without even noticing and obsessing over them.
The point is to favour daily exploration and enjoyment over arbitrary yearly goals
To give a simple personal example, this year I've listed books I want to read, courses I want to take, software I want to start learning, articles I want to write about, and software experimentation I want to lead. 

I then started templating my weeks around those areas :
  • 1 hour of reading everyday, where I just pick a book from my list. The goal is to read one hour per day, not to go through that whole list since I add new items on a daily basis.
  • 1 to 2 hours of experimenting everyday, where I just pick a topic for the day from my list. Again that list is always being updated, so the goal is not to go through that list. This is likely to never happen anyway.
  • 1 to 2 hours of writing everyday, where I just pick a subject and start fleshing out ideas (just like for this article), put together a proper draft, refine, and then hit send. Articles will come out when they come out. There's no "goal" of x articles submitted per month.
  • Commissioned-work then freeflows around those time blocks that I've set in advance. 
The goal, again, is not to go through the whole list within a certain time frame (any creative knows that that list is evergrowing anyway), but rather to consistently make progress on those areas of focus, daily, and to build a habit. Making this a priority over commissions is also a big mindset shift that can bring great results. One could question the possibility of merging said commissions with your habits by exploring or trying to discover new things while working. This seems, at least to me, like a less reliable way of expanding your skills (even though we always learn a little something while working on commissions generally).

Overarching goals

All this input vs output managing is only here to maximize 3 aspects that I think are paramount to reach as early as possible 
  • Minimize stress regarding goals
Reaching the end of the year and seeing you haven't made much progress on some of your goals can be quite detrimental to your motivation. 
Also discovering that some goals you thought your cared about no longer matters can give you a pretty weird feeling of time not well spent or allocated. 
  • Build healthy habits instead
Whether you're a freelancer or a company trying to build a decent culture among your employees, healthy habits are the only thing that matters when it comes to building proper foundations for any practice. 
Favouring time-input management over output focus can help in creating new routine efficiently and durably.
  • Make visible progress
Getting right the balance between habit building and goal reaching is a good way to keep track of your progress, and in that process, keep your motivation and thirst for knowledge intact. 
This is especially important in creative fields as this is a very demanding field where we can often feel like we're plateauing and comparing ourselves a lot to our peers. 
Practicing daily coupled with yearly assessment of your work can help in emphasizing the progress you've made in any area you've chosen to focus on. 
As I mentioned in the introduction, this mindful exploration is something I'll be implementing this year and therefore have no actual data on that I can use to compare to how goal settings were working for me in the past years. (I can only say that this "1 hour of reading per day" has taken me through already 7 books over the past few weeks, and the "1 hour of writing per day" got me through two full articles and several drafts, and the "1 hour of experimentation per day" made me do significant progress on some scripts I had in mind for a while. So not too bad). I do tend to think this approach is better suited for creative work, and for my lifestyle.

The idea here is obviously not to talk you out of choosing big goals if they work for you, but to give you a different perspective on how to organize your days, what to focus on, and maybe experiment more between goals and habit building for what you want to make progress on in the future.
Feel free to comment if you have a special approach towards goal and habits that you want to share!
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About this article

In this short piece I'd like to discuss how goal settings is maybe not the smartest way of reaching results, and how more simple systems can maybe help us getting better at what we want, especially in creative tasks that are generally harder to track and measure.

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About the author

Simon Oudiette

Founder at Horoma

placeStrasbourg, FR