The untouchable day – on unstructured time

In this article here (Link to HBR), the author describes how blocking out an “untouchable” day weeks in advance has helped them be more creative and productive. It’s not a novel concept, but I did feel surprised by the effect the author claims: from writing 500 words during a normal day to about 5000 on their untouchable day.

As I was thinking about this, my first reaction was how impossible this is to implement at Bayer – I feel I simply can’t vanish for a day each week. There’s meetings to attend! Phone calls to make! But when I look closer at my calendar, I do carve out little pockets of “untouchable” time, like block out an hour or two to whip up a presentation. It’s never a full day though, and I don’t think that would work for me either. A huge part of my motivation comes from the fact that I interact with different people all day. Maybe it’s different if you do creative writing, like the author? Programmers I know have said similar things, they thrive on long blocks of unstructured time. Me, I’d rather talk to people all day and get the rest of my work done in between.

In fact, when I coach innovation sessions or facilitate workshops, restricting time seems to be a very important part of getting people to think more creative. It seems there’s a balance needed between time pressure to instill a sense of urgency and unstructured time for creative detailing. I  might need to dig deeper into this to see when time restriction is beneficial and when it is not – anyone got any good sources? I’d be curious to read more about this.


  1. Simon

    Dear Christine,

    thank you for sharing this interesting article.

    In fact, I recently came along an article that deals with the question when time restriction makes sense (Link to HatRabbit).

    The author states that especially in times of ideation too much time is harmful for the creative process as people have a lot of time to find the one little “but” in their idea. Hence, there is obviously some value to limit time for ideation in combination with a certain goal to come up with ‘x’ ideas. On the other hand, when it comes to really work on the details of a solution, time is a crucial factor to not miss the one important “but”.

    Good leadership will have a sense for the moment and is flexible enough to adapt to what is needed in that very situation.

    1. christine

      Thanks for sharing! It seems there’s a way of using time to get the results you need for each specific situation. I like the way this article describes to utilize the brain’s response to time pressure and kind of proposes a middle way through by using both time restriction and blocks of unrestricted time. They seem fun to work with as well! Thank you Simon, much appreciated.

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