Mastering this one creative skill will make you (almost) irreplaceable

Last week I got some FANTASTIC responses from other readers about my Charles Steinmetz story where I argued that we as creatives should be paid for the value we provide, not just the hours we work. (here’s the newsletter if you missed it). But the response that hit home the most was this one:

One of my academic mentors told me “You’re never paid based on your work or value, you’re paid based on how easy you are to replace.” I think about that all the time.

Which begs the question…how can we make ourselves irreplaceable?

In short…nothing. Every single one of us is replaceable within 24 hours. Period. Full stop.

But all hope is not lost, because there is one skill that if you master it will make you as close to irreplaceable as possible.

If you want to become irreplaceable, the #1 creative skill to master is time management.

Yeah I know….SUPER boring. Ugh. You were hoping for some amazing hack, under-the-radar creativity app, or macro keyboard command, right?

Time management is a hill I’m willing to die on, and that’s because without question my time management skills are the main reason I’m able to consistently deliver high quality creative work despite the demanding/impossible schedules we’re bombarded by every day.

It’s as simple as this: My job is to make complex creative decisions all day long. The better I am at managing my time, the more decisions I can make on a daily basis (without working more hours). And the more I allow myself to recover away from the office, the better my creative decisions become. Without question my time management skills are the reason I’m able to work in Hollywood while also maintaining my health, my relationship with my family & friends, and my sanity. (E.g. There would be no Ninja Warrior without time management.)

Perhaps the biggest challenge I’ve seen my students face when I teach them my time management skills, however, is not the calendar organization, creating time blocks, or frankly any of the practical stuff. The biggest barrier to becoming a time management ninja is that once you start working smarter, you no longer look like you’re working hard.

When you start working smarter instead of harder, you get to eat lunch outside instead of at your desk. You get to take walks and see the sun in the afternoon instead of being trapped in your windowless cave. And you get to be the first one out of the office at night.

And this makes you look downright lazy.

Earlier in my career I believed in the “first in, last out” mentality to create the perception that I was the hardest worker at the office. When you’re just starting out, there’s no question you have to work through a period of paying your dues and demonstrating you have what it takes. But if you’re still running on that hamster wheel after 5 years (or 10…or 20?), the only place you’re running towards is burnout.

Not only is the “first in, last out” mentality not sustainable, and not only is this not conducive to optimizing your creativity…this is a construct that perpetuates toxic work cultures and leads us to believe that we’re not worthy if we aren’t killing ourselves for the sake of the work.

As I started to become much better at time management, my biggest fear was no longer meeting insane deadlines. My biggest fear was getting fired because it looked like I was never working! While colleagues sharing a wall with me were pulling all-nighters and sleeping on the couch, I was walking out of the office at 7:30 and chided with phrases like, “Another half day for you, eh?” But the fear of getting fired for not toeing the line, looking busy all the time, and playing my part in the “Theater of Work” quickly subsided because nobody cared how much I worked.

As long as I met my deadlines and delivered awesome cuts, nobody ever said a word.

This realization was an absolute game-changer for me because it helped me understand the value my skills provide my employers beyond just the hours I punch a time clock. Creativity is a marathon not a sprint (although the occasional sprint is always inevitable). And in order to cross the finish line of a marathon, you need to understand how to pace yourself.

I get it…being the outlier in the office who shows up last and leaves first goes against everything we’ve been conditioned to believe about being productive members of society. But setting boundaries around your time (and your sanity) is the only path to sustainably doing work you love without burning out.

I’d Love to Know…

Next week I’m sharing Part 2 of my story about Charles Steinmetz, Henry Ford, and how seeing a Tesla broken down on the side of the road in the rural South was a huge Eureka! moment for me to solve the problem of helping you overcome the fear of looking lazy as you become more productive.

But in the meantime, I’d love to know friend…

If you mastered the metaskill of time management, what could you do with your time that you can’t do now?

I read every message I receive and look forward to your response!

Be well.
Zack Arnold
Creator, Optimize Yourself

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”