Here on Inc.com two kinds of posts are perennially popular: those promosing to improve your productivity and those promising to improve your creativity. The obvious conclusion from this fact is that lots and lots of business owners are really keen to boost both attributes.

But might their efforts to accomplish both actually be causing interference? Are many of the things that increase productivity actually bad for creativity and vice versa. If so, a whole lot of entrepreneurs might be putting in a ton of work only to see very little return on their investment of time as their various efforts cancel each other out.

More routine leads to more productivity...

That's the idea planted by a recent Medium post from entrepreneur Tac Anderson. Its conclusions rest on a couple of fundamental truths. First, most productivity gains come from instituting better systems and routines. You might start a new morning routine of journaling or meditation followed by careful planning, say, or on a team level, nail down consistent procedures so that no one spends time stressing about when to send reports or schedule certain meetings.

Why do these sort of routines work to increase output? As Harvard professor Robert Pozen has explained, routines conserve a critical mental resource for productivity--willpower. "Making too many decisions about mundane details is a waste of a limited resource: your mental energy....if you want to be able to have more mental resources throughout the day, you should identify the aspects of your life that you consider mundane--and then "routinize" those aspects as much as possible," he has written.

... but less creativity

All of which is a perfectly sensible approach if you're aiming to maximize productivity, but as Anderson points out in his medium piece, there's a second truth you need to bear in mind as well. All those routines you've put in place to get more done can also kill your creativity.

"Everyday you go to the same place to work, in the same environment. You see the same people and you are surrounded by the same sensory inputs (beige). And you usually have to solve the same, or similar, problem over and over again. Your company makes most of its money selling the latest version, of the same product, to the same set of customers. Yet when those same things don't bring in the same results, you're expected to come up with new ideas. How are you supposed to come up with new 'creative' ideas when you see the same people, in the same buildings, after driving the same route to work, sitting at the same desk, or in the same generic conference rooms? Our brains don't work that way," he writes.

If you want to be creative, he insists, you need to break your patterns--physically get out of the office, take a rest and try something new, do crazy ideation exercises involving collaging or drawing. All of which sound like fun but not exactly optimum ways to knock out the most work on any given day.

Of course, there's no reason you have to permanently choose to be on Team Productivity or Team Creativity. The healthy takeaway from realizing the tension between these two admirable goals is to become more conscious of which you need more of at any given moment and allowing yourself to mold your mode of working accordingly. Desperate for an innovative solution? Chuck your productivity routine out the window for awhile and mix things up. Need to pound out your work? It's time to stick to a schedule or program. But whatever you do, don't try to accomplish both at once. It's about as sensible as trying to race your car with the parking brake on.

Published on: Oct 23, 2014