How to Win Back Time to Innovate

A strong component of innovating is to find the time to innovate. How many times have you said “I’d love to do that if I only had the time”? Time is a commodity that can be traded just like oil or coffee. Time is immensely valuable, and the more you treat it like a commodity, the more effectively you can use it to your advantage.

Where most people go wrong with utilising their time is in how they use it and waste it. Most wasted time is spent on the least important and least urgent issues in life - for example watching hour upon hour of mindless television. Even at work, you will find countless situations where your time seems to be filled with unimportant, non-urgent activities.

There are two simple strategies to help get time on your side to realise your idea. The first is to look at minimising the time you waste every day and the second is to change your mindset and find out what is possible in the time available to you.

You can easily create a little bit of time by reducing the amount of time wastage in other areas, and you can create a lot more time by committing yourself to doing more in less time. Strangely enough, the less time you give yourself to complete a task, the more chance you have of finishing it. After all, when we look at quantum mechanics, time is relative. You may have experienced this principle in your own life, when you have talked with someone for seemingly 5 minutes only to discover that is was actually over an hour, or when you have only had 5 minutes to do something which seemed impossible to accomplish yet you made it happen in even less time.


What story have you made up in your mind about what is possible in the time available? Have you already decided that the time required is more than the time you have available? If so, where did this calculation come from? How do you know how much time you have or don’t have?

We make up stories about what we can do with time based on our previous experiences of time utilisation. By changing the type of stories you tell yourself about what is possible in the time available, you can start to significantly increase your productivity. I’m not a guru at time utilisation — in fact, it’s one of my big challenges — but I do know that when I use the following mantra, I can and do move mountains: “Get twice as much done in half the amount of time”. I’ve got my good colleague Matt Church to thank for sharing this gem with me.

Just think about that sentence once more: “Get twice as much done in half the amount of time”. This means getting two days’ worth of work done in half a day! Yes, you will have to work hard, very hard, but that’s the point: to make the most of your available time. And: this philosophy will only be useful when you adopt and actually use it.

If you’re still skeptical and unwilling to give it a go, perhaps this next method will help you to see that it is possible to make time for realising creative ideas.

Speak French

Designers use the term “charrette” both as a noun and a verb to describe ideas generated during an intense period of design activity, be it drawing, creative thinking or brainstorming. Legend has it that the word originated from the Parisian School of Fine Arts many years ago.

At the end of each year, an assistant would wheel a cart around the studios collecting drawings that needed to be submitted for evaluation. The assistant would be heard calling out “charrettéz , charrettéz”. Char, means cart, and rettez turns the noun into a verb, so it literally became “cart it”. Anglicised, the expression charretéz became charrette. You can bet that in those last few minutes, students who’d been working on their projects for a full year put in as much effort as possible to get the job done.

Think of the “charrettes” you’ve had in your life or career: The last-minute proposal that knocks the socks off the client; the super-human house clean before an unexpected guest comes around; the “got to get it done before I go on holidays” push; and the brief has just changed and so has your presentation. While all of these are variations of the ‘charrette’, with different time limitations, all of them have an urgency that forces us to get things done.

The more “charrettes”, the more you’ll get done. Treat a spare 5 minutes as if they are the last chance you’ll ever get to work on your idea. Even if the result is only half-baked, it will be better than doing nothing at all and can provide you with a basis for the next time you have the “final” 5 minutes.

Create a “charrette” around your idea right now. Give yourself 5 minutes to complete it, imagining that this is the last opportunity you’ll ever have to get it done.

Set a Date Then a Life

Having a timeline to finish your project is one of the key elements to bringing an idea to life. It’s important that your time effectiveness contract includes a “lifeline” for due dates for both yourself and anyone else working on your project.

A “lifeline” is a positive spin on the dreaded deadline. When you’ve set your lifeline, remember it’s the opportunity to bring your ideas to fruition and the beginning of something, not the end. I dream about a lot of things and I’m also a realist. The one big thing I’ve learnt from my favourite — and very dangerous — sport, hang gliding, is the importance of living the life you want. Attempting unsuccessfully to bring a friend back to life was a sobering moment. It made me realise how important it is to actually create what I want to create. How would it make you feel if you knew were never going to realise your dream?

Create your “lifeline” now.

Best of luck with your new thinking around time!

Nils Vesk
Founder of Ideas with Legs | Innovation Speaker | Consultant | Author

nils vesk